Hurricane Dorian continues toward the southeastern United States, and in the wake of the devastation it has left in the Bahamas, preparation and mandatory evacuations from Florida to the Carolinas have been taken seriously. Fleet preparation has also been swift with strategies in place to handle a direct hit as well as the powerful tropical storms reaching inland. Facing the possibility of winds up to 200 mph, sure to leave a path of destruction, fleets are hoping for the best while preparing for the worst.
With a state of emergency in place in many coastal states, trucking companies are heeding the advice of the authorities and standing by to address whatever the situation might bring. The most important aspect of fleet preparation is being alert to the status of the situation. Fleet payment partner EFS/WEX has provided a link to status updates as well as offered contact information for relief services and other resources. While fleets try to stay on top of current needs, they also know there will be steps to take after the storm has passed. Advice from HDT trucking info lays out the best steps to take in fleet preparation before the storm.
Before the Storm
Being safe before, during, and after a hurricane is largely a matter of being prepared and staying informed. To better understand how truckers can stay safe and how fleets can protect their assets during a hurricane, HDT reached out to America 1, a regional intermodal carrier and wholly owned subsidiary of US 1 Logistics, based in the heart of hurricane country in St. Augustine, Florida, to find out what steps it takes to deal with storm events, and how it coaches its drivers to be prepared and stay safe.
The first step in being safe in hurricane season is being prepared ahead of time, says Jeff Bowron, vice president of contractor services for US 1. And that means making sure drivers have an ample stash of supplies for dealing with emergencies. This includes items such as bottled water, non-perishable food, flashlights, rain gear, extra batteries, and effective communication devices.
When it comes to hurricanes, understanding how powerful the storm is and where it’s heading is critical, Bowron says. To do this, he suggests keeping up to date on the local and national news reports concerning the storm, as well as any alerts issued by the National Weather Service or the Federal Emergency Management Administration. By doing so, you’ll be able to determine where the hardest hit areas are, where emergency services with food and medical care are located, what rescue efforts are being deployed, as well as the likely timeline for the storm and its aftermath.
Get Ahead of the Weather
If you’re properly informed, Bowron says, you should have anywhere from three days to a full week to begin preparing for a major storm event. And if you act decisively, that should be more than enough time to protect your equipment and fleet assets from storm damage. You can’t do much about where your fleet facilities are located in terms of storm surge and flooding, but you can protect your tractors and trailers from wind damage.
If possible, Bowron says, move assets to high ground to mitigate damage from flooding. Park trailers as closely together as you can, with empty trailers tightly placed between the loaded trailers, to lessen the chances they’ll be blown around by high winds. Remember, hurricane winds can easily exceed 150 mph in large storms, and empty trailers don’t stand a chance against those forces of nature. Filling your fuel tanks ahead of a storm is another critical preparation step, Bowron says. Fuel is often expensive and difficult to find in the wake of a storm. Filling up ahead of time will give you the flexibility needed to evacuate if need be or get back to work quickly once the storm has passed.
“There is no freight in the world that is worth moving during a hurricane.”
— Jeff Bowron, vice president of contractor services for US 1
Moreover, Bowron says, your focus should be on keeping yourself and your family safe as a hurricane approaches. “There is no freight in the world that is worth moving during a hurricane,” he says. “We strongly recommend that our people secure their equipment, get home, and batten down the hatches. Priority number one should be taking care of your family.” For the most part, Bowron says surviving a hurricane is about being prepared, exercising common sense, and staying informed before, during, and after the storm.
After the Storm
The steps to take after the storm fall directly in line with the fleet preparation prior. Communication is key and the need to be alert in the situation can be even more critical now, especially when drivers’ lives may be at stake. The most important things to consider in the aftermath of a storm are as follows:
- Be aware of present and continuing danger
- Assess the damage
- Take steps toward recovery
- Plan ahead for the next storm
1. Be Watchful on the Roads
Even though it is clearly best to stay battened down in a safe and secure location during a storm, there are times when getting out in the weather is unavoidable. During an actual storm event, storm surges are the biggest danger to trucks on the road. Drivers should be extra cautious on elevated roadways and bridges, because hurricane-force winds can easily topple a fully loaded trailer. Once a storm has passed, flooding becomes a major issue. Never take any vehicle into deep standing water, unless you know for certain that it is safe to do so.
“Storm surges are unbelievably powerful. They can wash roads away completely. So you may have driven down a road that’s covered in water thousands of times and know it by heart—but that doesn’t mean the road is still there.”
— Jeff Bowron, vice president of contractor services for US 1
In the aftermath of a storm, it’s also important to be on the lookout for downed power lines and exposed gas mains, which can easily injure or kill people, or start fires. And you should always give priority to any military or law enforcement officials on the scene, giving their rescue vehicles the right of way and following their instructions carefully.
2. Assess the Damage
The first step in recovery is understanding what damage the storm has caused, whether structural, vehicular, or environmental. understanding the extent of the damage is critical for safety and proper recovery. Assessing business damages immediately after a hurricane and saving the resulting data is vitally important in any effort to reduce future losses. Look for:
- Loss of electricity, which can mean computer and network systems issues
- Wind and water damage to structures and vehicles
- Damage to roads, bridges, and throughways
- In assessing damage after a hurricane, one must take both big picture views and more detailed views into consideration. For fleets, the big picture includes damage to roadways, bridges, and other transportation structures. Post-hurricane storms are likely to result in more flooding and further damage. Fleet preparation after the storm must include a clear understanding of the environmental damage that will impact possible routes to come. Hurricane damage in the Gulf usually results in fuel price increases.
The detailed damage included facilities, warehouse inventory, and vehicle damage. Determining conditions after a storm is important in finding the best course for rebuilding but also important for documentation and better protection for the future. And because business does not stop after a hurricane, the demand for trucking is even greater. Delivery of building supplies and supplying other recovery efforts is even more pressing, so fleet preparation includes taking care of fleet damage first so that truckers can get back to work delivering resources to the rest of the impacted areas.
Although Dorian is steering clear of the Gulf refineries, there is still reason to be cautious. On Thursday, October natural gas saw its highest price gain since July 23, according to Dow Jones Market Data. As hurricanes are known to frequent the Gulf, the trucking industry prepares for refinery shutdowns and the resulting fuel price increases. For Dorian, the risk is minimal, but the market is still cautious.
3. Recovery and Resources
Once the damages are assessed and a strategy is developed to address them, action must be swift. As mentioned previously, the trucking and transportation industry will be busier than ever as every industry hit by a hurricane will need aid and resources to rebuild. Trucks will need to be back on the road as quickly as possible but not at the expense of their own safety. Fleet solutions for recovery should include the following tips, especially as drivers are getting back on the roads.
- Stay away from loose or dangling power lines.
- Avoid drinking or using tap water until you are sure it has not been contaminated.
- Don’t eat food from your refrigerator if its temperature has risen above 40° F for two hours or longer.
- Stay out of any building that is surrounded by water.
- Wear protective clothing and be cautious when cleaning up to avoid injury.
- Be on the lookout for loose tree branches, parts of buildings, or other types of debris when you are outside.
- Drive only when absolutely necessary and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges.
As Dorian storm surges begin to recede and people start getting back into the hardest hit areas, the trucking industry is one of the first to aid in the recovery. The American Logistics Aid Network (ALAN) is a nonprofit organization that serves as a clearinghouse for logistics and transportation services in times of crisis. Critical needs like trucks, drivers, trailers, and even distribution centers and warehouse space are often donated through the help of ALAN. A demand for truck capacity and recovery efforts is sure to arise along the Southeast Coast in the weeks to come. Fleet preparation for this demand is in full gear just days after the storm has made landfall. EFS/WEX created a thorough checklist in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. These steps are still critically relevant for Dorian.
4. Planning Ahead for Next Year
And lastly, the steps to take in fleet preparation for next year are determined by the assessment of damages from this year. Comprehensive data reporting can position the company to assess the damages done as well as analyze the tangible resources that withstood the storm. Digital assets assessment is important too. If digital systems helped maintain processes and people during critical moments, data from those successes can provide invaluable information on how to move forward. Payment leader WEX has become a remarkable partner in streamlining over-the-road fleet solutions so that processes are reliable from the day to day and in the event of a natural disaster. WEX/EFS payment systems help fleets stay ahead of the unpredictability of business, especially where a natural disaster is concerned.
So, while the damages in the aftermath of Dorian have yet to be fully assessed, fleet preparation before, during, and after the storm can go a long way in keeping drivers safe and business intact so drivers can get back on the road and deliver to the places most in need of relief.