Disaster Relief: Fleet To the Rescue

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When bad things happen, fleet can play a major role in disaster relief.

As a former military fleet manager, I have a good understanding of the importance of fleet management in crisis situations. I will date myself with my recollection of the Kosovo border back in 1999, just days after the air war finished and the seemingly endless line of trucks trying to cross the border from Macedonia into Kosovo to get needed supplies to the right place at the right time.

This could not have happened if fleets were not well maintained and managed. Recent international and North American events have reminded me of just how important fleet is in disaster operations.

A 2010 estimate from the United Nations declared that there were more than 100,000 vehicles involved in humanitarian assistance with an annual operating cost of one billion U.S. dollars. This figure is expected to triple by 2050.

Wildfires and hurricanes

Closer to home, and more recently, we can look to the wildfires that forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, Alberta and to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which had devastating effects in southern U.S.

Many of you have been to Fort Mac. For those who haven’t, there is one road in and that same road out. Fort Mac is 450 km north of Edmonton and if you cannot move south to Edmonton, you can only go north to the oil camps. This was the dilemma many faced in the evacuation last summer – try to move south on a highway that became a parking lot, or go north where there is very little infrastructure. Tens of thousands made this difficult decision as the entire area was evacuated.

Teamwork and leadership

How did fleet help? Well, municipal resources, oil company resources and other private company resources all played a roll. In fact, the Fort Mac Transit Services team won unprecedented recognition from the Canadian Urban Transit Association for evacuating residents, protecting and servicing buses and equipment, providing storage for food and supplies, transporting first responders and emergency crews, transporting supplies and equipment, and providing leadership and support to staff and volunteers.

Fleets featured in a similar fashion in recent disasters in the southern U.S. An example of a grocery chain from Texas really impressed me. The chain, H.E.B., was able to keep 60 of 83 stores in Houston open during the height of the storm and they did it by extensive preparation (including ensuring the right type and location of their fleet vehicles and drivers), along with employee dedication.

Some key things to take away from H.E.B.:

– Most of their truck (fleet) drivers were stuck in their homes or had lost homes so H.E.B. flew in drivers from other cities.

– The company had moved critical fleet assets to locations that would be outside of the disaster zone so the vehicles would be ready when needed.

– During the disaster, trucks were sent directly to stores where supplies were needed and bypassed warehouses.

Then we shift to Florida and the efforts of Florida Power and Light which we heard much about in the media during the crisis. To prepare for the storm FP&L assembled the largest pre-storm workforce in their history of 17,000 people (and the vehicles they needed to do the work). Once again, preparedness, or readiness, was key.

Testimonials from the fleet managers involved will be forthcoming as the dust settles, but the respect of the industry goes out to the fleet professionals involved.

Categories : Fleet


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