History: Logistics Plus and our challenges after 9/11

911-History-ImageEveryone remembers what they were doing 16 years ago, today, and most everyone has a story of what happened to them on Tuesday, September 11th 2001, and in the days following.  Luckily, everyone working for Logistics Plus at the time was safe that day.  However, the events of 9/11 did end up having a huge impact on our industry, and Logistics Plus has an interesting story that transpired in the days following the attack.

September 11th 2001 started like any other at the GETS Routing Center, which served as LP’s main office at the time.  We were housed onsite in building 14-2 of the GE Transportation Erie Plant.  A couple hours into our day, the phones rang off the hook, as usual, and GE buyers, material expediters, and production managers came in and out of our office to verify that the parts the plant needed to get through the day were being delivered.

Our international intern reported to work a few minutes before 9:00 am, and was the first to relay the breaking news that an airplane had just crashed into the World Trade Center.  There were few details yet, and while most everyone took quick note of the bizarre news, we all kept going about the work of the day.

Maybe 10 minutes later, news came sweeping through the office that a second plane, believed to be a passenger airliner, had crashed into the other tower of the World Trade Center.  In a matter of seconds, the general turmoil of our routing center albeit stopped.  As the reality that our country was under attack set in, work throughout the facility froze, and the phones were suddenly silenced.  A TV was turned on in a small conference room down the hall, and most of us crowded together with open jaws for the next several hours as we watched the rest of the attack unfold, and all the horrors that came along with it.

The hours that followed were the quietest I remember in all the years we managed the Routing Center at GE.  The phones barely rang, and did so only with friends, family, and suppliers from overseas making sure we were ok, and expressing their condolences.  Ironically, this was the calm before our own little storm began.

By that afternoon, the realization that we still had a job to do forced our eyes from the TV screens and back to our computer screens.  Reports came in that all non-military flights were grounded indefinitely, commercial border crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders were halted, and all US seaports were closed.  In logistics terms, it was the perfect storm.

The following day, the government was still offering no firm timelines as to when ports and airspace would reopen.  We were faced with the fact that the supply lines that kept our biggest customer running had been cut off.  GE Transportation was only a couple years into their global sourcing initiative, and relatively new suppliers scattered across Europe were already struggling to keep up with GE’s busy build schedule.  Routine airfreight shipments from most of the suppliers had been required to keep GE’s production running.  We didn’t know when flights would resume, and it was obvious that the backlog would be so great when it did, that we could be waiting weeks to get freight moved via normally scheduled passenger and cargo flights.

Additionally, LP was still very young at the time, and facing a contract renewal with GE that represented almost our entire business.  There was a very real sense that if we could not offer GE a solution that would minimize the impact of this event on their production, that the loss of confidence could feasibly be the end of our small, young company.

By the end of the following day, our small international team, then headed up by Gretchen Seth and Rita Serafini, had developed the outline of a wild plan to try to keep freight moving as well as possible.  We’d engineer a ‘Pan-European’ airfreight consolidation.  We would take all the critical components from GE’s 9 suppliers in 6 different European countries, and consolidate them at 1 central location in Western Europe.  We would then charter an aircraft to stand by, and take-off with the material as soon as the FAA permitted international flights to resume.

The next several days were some of the most challenging we’ve ever seen as a company.  Even as the borders and ports reopened, our routing center struggled with vehicle shortages, massively increased security, and immense backlogs.  Trucks from Canada were taking 24 hours to cross the border, and the wait at the Mexican border was measured in days.  Domestic flights were reinstated, but the backlog to fly any cargo would be over a week, and there was still little indication as to when international air flights would again be permitted.

The international team struggled to move all the critical European freight into Hahn, Germany, which came with numerous transportation and Customs hurdles.  The details of the story are too numerous to share here, but in the end, after many long hours, hundreds of issues resolved, and a lot of stress, our charter came together.  Logistics Plus moved almost 100,000 lbs of cargo from 6 European countries and got all the freight onto one of the first international charter flights booked into the US after the attack.  Our flight,  MNB 681, landed in Pittsburgh at 22:50 on Tuesday, September 18th, just hours after the FAA lifted the unscheduled international flight ban.  Our trucks lined the tarmac, and had delivered the freight to 7 different locations in Pennsylvania and Indiana by 5 am the following morning.

In the days and weeks following 9/11, none of GE Transportation’s assembly lines ever stopped due to missing parts.  We never failed to get a single part into production before it was needed.  I’ve included the original timeline that Gretchen Seth put together that week as an overview of the project, as well as a letter that Jim sent out the day after the flight landed.

To this day, I truly believe this is LP’s biggest single success story.  It came when our international operations were only a couple years old, and our company relatively inexperienced.  It proved that “Passion for Excellence” was more than just a motto, and that the Logistics Plus team was an international family that could persevere tremendous adversity, and find the way to get a job done.

Onward and Upward.

God bless everyone who was affected by the events of 9/11/2001.  Thank you, to all our colleagues that shared that terrible day.

Memory recounted by Jeremy Chaffee