Fleet’s Finest Hour
Of these, the public may have lost an estimated 700,000 vehicles. In addition, 65 new-vehicle dealerships were completely wiped out by the storm in the New Orleans metro area and many more in nearby areas were heavily damaged. Bob Israel, executive VP of the Louisiana Automobile Dealers Association, estimates that between 250,000 to 500,000 new vehicles were under water at these dealer lots.
There were approximately 20,000 commercial fleet vehicles in the Gulf Coast with as many as 2,000 destroyed or damaged. It is difficult to determine the number of government, Postal Service, and transit vehicles that were damaged, but in all probability the number is substantial. For instance, the New Orleans Police Department alone lost as many as 500 police vehicles, perhaps more.
Thousands of company vehicles were saved because for many employees this was their sole transportation to evacuate the area. For those fleet vehicles that were damaged, many employees had to choose between saving their personal car or the company car. In these situations, the company vehicle was left behind. In addition, there were an unknown number of fleet vehicles at repair shops damaged by either the storm or flood damage after the levees broke in New Orleans. In addition, some fleets reported vehicles vandalized by looters in the chaos that followed. Dealers also reported new vehicles stolen from their dealerships following the evacuation. As of press time, it is unknown exactly how many vehicles were damaged by this Category 4 hurricane. But even if the low estimate of 250,000 holds true, it is still a staggering number of vehicles destroyed or damaged by a single event, which has never-before been seen in the history of the world.
Redeploying Vehicles and Mobilizing Assets
Although local, state, and federal governments have been criticized for being unprepared for the catastrophe, this was not the case with many corporate fleets. Most were well prepared. In fact, many national fleets operating in the affected area reported that none of their vehicles were damaged. The overwhelming majority of fleet drivers left the area before the storm made landfall. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that disaster recovery plans that many fleets had in place did indeed work. Almost universally, fleet departments immediately initiated proactive efforts to determine the safety of drivers in the affected areas after the storm subsided. Within 24 hours of the storm, many companies had determined exactly which vehicles and drivers were in the specific disaster areas, although many of these employees and vehicles remained unaccounted due to the collapsed communication system. Many fleets quickly redeployed vehicles in bailment pools and replacement units at dealerships in nearby cities to respond to the emergency situation in the Gulf Coast area. Fleet departments, especially telecommunication companies, moved operational vehicles from various locations to the Gulf Coast staging areas, primarily Baton Rogue, to jumpstart the rebuilding efforts.
Other fleets pulled vehicles out of the resale pipeline and put them back into fleet service. The GSA Fleet placed all auctions on hold until further notice so vehicles could be available to meet the needs of the federal government. In addition, surplus federal vehicles were donated by federal agencies to state agencies involved in emergency relief. The U.S. Marshals Service immediately dispatched all of its motor pool vehicles to Louisiana and Mississippi. Maximizing fleet utilization, these vehicles were driven to the storm-devastated area packed with supplies. In addition, vehicles from the U.S. Marshals Service’s seized-assets inventory were put into service in the Gulf area. This allowed vehicles such as Hummers and Escalades to be utilized by the government’s emergency operations in areas requiring four-wheel drive.
Fleet management companies immediately set up 24/7 hotlines to assist in the disaster recovery, functioning as communication nerve centers for hundreds of companies. They expedited the new-vehicle delivery process and some even allowed their online ordering systems to be used by client employees to order replacement personal vehicles. Upfitters performed Herculean efforts to quickly deliver vehicles to staging areas outside the disaster zone.
Unsung Fleet Manager Heroes
Corporate America succeeded in delivering relief supplies quickly to both victims and relief workers. Company fleet departments, shipping truckloads of water, food, and supplies to the devastated area, executed many of these relief efforts. Never in the history of fleet management has a disaster of this magnitude occurred, requiring fleet managers to quickly marshal corporate resources using their logistical expertise to assist the drivers they serve. When the history of fleet management is written, your mobilization of corporate resources immediately after Hurricane Katrina and the lives you helped to save will go down as your finest hour. To all of the unsung fleet managers, I salute you.
You truly are heroes.
Let me know if you agree.