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Unprecedented Natural Disaster Presents Logistics Challenges Across Europe

Unprecedented natural disaster During April 2010 there was an unprecedented volcanic eruption in Iceland. The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, although relatively small when compared to other volcanic eruptions, caused enormous disruption to air travel across Western and Northern Europe. An ash cloud over the Nothern European skies caused a complete halt to air traffic. Around 20 countries closed their airspace across Europe affecting more than 100,000 travellers and impacting on businesses in many different ways. Additional localized disruption continued into May 2010.

The Clinical Trial Distribution Challenge Clincial trials were already in progress before this natural disaster occurred. Sponsors still had to honour commitments to deliver clinical supplies to patients throughout Europe. If supplies were not delivered on-time and in-full, the Sponsor’s clinical trials could be compromised and patients could be put at risk. Fisher Clinical Services had to find a way to overcome the closure of air traffic in Europe by twist of nature, to continue to find a way to adhere to study timelines agreed with the Sponsors.

Proactive thinking Having contended with exceptional circumstances across the globe from other natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis in the Asia Pacific region and in Latin America, to industrial strikes in South Africa, the Fisher Clinical Services teams in Basel and Weil am Rhein were able to consult with their global colleagues for advice during this unexpected turmoil. Three consistent messages came through – prioritize the patient; openly communicate with your contacts in the industry; relay the message that “a patient is waiting.”

The Distribution Teams’ Plan: Even though today most clinical trial shipments are shipped via air freight, historically most clinical trial supplies were transported across Europe via the normal freight schedules of integrators. An assumption was made to accept that normal freight schedules would not resume for some time and that an alternative approach had to be devised for the movement of all clinical supplies across Europe as soon as possible. Due to the centralized locations of Fisher Clinical Services Basel and Weil am Rhein, the decision was made to revert to ground transportation with immediate effect and to continue with this revised logistics strategy until the volcanic ash cloud subsided and European airspace opened again.

Working in partnership at all times The Fisher Clincial Services Logistics Team immediately consulted with its well established carrier contacts and asked for all ground transportation resources to be put at their disposal. These carriers already fully appreciated the need for Fisher Clinical Services shipments to arrive on-time and in the right condition. During this time it was a matter of executing properly and staying calm during these exceptional circumstances to ensure continued delivery of all clinical supplies to patients across Europe.

The importance of an up-to-date contact database came to light as project managers had to contact Sponsors to explain that all shipments would be moved across land until the crisis was over. It is standard procedure to provide Sponsors with visibility of supplies across the supply chain and to track and trace inventory in motion and at rest. During this turbulent time Fisher Clinical Services was able to provide Sponsors with complete visibility of their supplies.

Innovation & Efficiency Deliveries for Europe are usually scheduled just-in-time, e.g. ship day 1, deliver day 2. This revised logistics strategy of sending all clinical supplies via ground transportation during an act of nature beyond our control, did not result in any late shipments. All shipments were correctly packaged to sustain ground transportation over a 2 day period. The pro-active nature of the team, their combined skills and expertise allowed them to switch from air to ground transportation within hours. In partnership with reliable carriers across Europe, all supplies were delivered on-time and in the right condition, meeting all patient treatment schedules.

Customer satisfaction At times of crisis, open communication is of utmost importance. In addition to creating an emergency distribution plan to ensure delivery and timely arrival of shipments during this force majeure, the Fisher Clinical Services teams kept Sponsors informed in real time. A daily newsletter was circulated to Sponsors advising them of any recent updates on the ash cloud situation and giving them visibility of clinical supplies deliveries to investigator sites. Sponsors regularly communicated how pleased they were to be kept up-dated on latest developments during this time of uncertainty. More importantly, patients were not put at risk. They were not kept waiting.

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