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The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Telematics to the Rescue

August 2015, by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com. 
Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

The day-to-day business of operating a fleet of vehicles is typically routine, and, with the help of a telematics system, safe and efficient.

But, there are times and situations when an ordinary day may turn into an extraordinary one, and having a telematics system can be the difference between keeping vehicles and the business running or coming to a dead stop.

Navigating Bad Weather

This past winter was one of the worst in recent memory, particularly for hard-hit Boston, which saw record snowfall that snarled traffic and kept most Bostonians stranded in their homes.

But, for Triad Isotopes, a nuclear pharmacy company, which provides radioactive medications for use in medical testing and procedures — much of which is only useable for a short period of time, weather couldn’t be an obstacle for doing its lifesaving business.

At a Glance

Telematics have become a key way, an increasing number of fleets are improving their efficiency. Some fleets have found them to be valuable in keeping fleet operations running during emergency situations, such as:

  • Severe weather
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Medical emergencies
  • Theft recovery

This is where the fleet’s telematics system came into play.

“The telematics system allowed us to stay in touch with our drivers and show us road conditions — such as congestion — allowing us to stay in constant communication and let them know if they needed to take a detour,” said Kris Peterinelli, CTP, director fleet operations for Triad Isotopes. “On a normal day drivers reroute themselves if there’s an accident, but, during the bad winter weather in Boston, we maintained more of a ‘look-see’ over the drivers. We had an employee in the office diligently watching for changes and had drivers pull off the road and tell them that something has changed and they needed to be rerouted now. We were just trying to help them ahead of time.”

There were a few minor incidents and at least one incident where drivers had to stay overnight in a hotel, but during the entire period of bad weather not one dose of the nuclear medicine the drivers needed to deliver was lost, according to Peterinelli.

The fleet operates mainly Ford Focus, Ford Escape, and Ford Transit models.

Overcoming an Act of Terror

On April 15, 2013, the Boston Marathon was the target of a deadly terrorist attack, which disrupted the normal operations of the city, including traffic and communications, but MassTran, which operates 173 transport vehicles, several of which are wheelchair accessible, ranging from sedans to Ford E-450 cutaway buses, was able to keep track of its vehicles and personnel in the wake of the terrorist attack.

“During the race and especially after the bombing incident, our dispatch center was able to locate vehicles via our telematics system and help our drivers reroute vehicles safely away from the scene,” explained Joe Yurkus, fleet maintenance and safety manager for MassTran Corporation, Inc. “The cell towers were disabled, but our satellite-driven telematics system kept us informed, and the company was able to contact clients and facilities keeping them updated in real time about the whereabouts of our vehicles.”

In the days following the tragedy, many of the streets in and around the area remained closed.

“Our telematics system’s mapping feature was a big help in finding new routes around the affected areas,” he said. 

This isn’t the first time the fleet’s telematics system has helped in an unusual situation. Yurkus was able to use the system to vindicate one of his drivers from a potential claim of liability.

“A woman called and said one of our vehicles had cut a corner too close, struck her, knocking her to the ground and then took off,” he said. “After reviewing the telematics system’s 2D Mapping History feature, I quickly confirmed that none of my vehicles were near the area where the incident had taken place. The local authorities later confirmed that it was, in fact, another company’s vehicle.”

Yurkus added that telematics hasn’t changed the way he runs the fleet, but it does make it easier. “It does make you appreciate having the capabilities to do what is needed after encountering a situation out of the normal realm of daily operations,” he said. 

Stopping Crime

Sometimes an emergency situation requires rapid response and out-of-the-box thinking.

Recently, another Massachusetts fleet found itself in hot pursuit of one of its own vehicles. It was an early Saturday morning in mid-June when employees reported that one of Holyoke News Co.’s delivery trucks was being stolen.

The quick-thinking foreman had the employee who witnessed the theft and another driver jump in another truck and begin pursuing the stolen vehicle.

“The employees went hunting via our telematics unit via the foreman via cell phone, and the police escort didn’t hurt,” said Mike Putira, vice president and general manager, Holyoke News Co. “In the past, if the vehicle was stolen, it was days or weeks before we’d recover it and it’d be stripped.”Using the mobile app tied to the company’s telematics system, the foreman was able to keep tabs on the stolen truck and direct the pursuers. Soon, the police became involved, acting as an escort for the pursuers while the foreman continued directing them, eventually finding the truck abandoned, but undamaged.

This latest example of the fleet’s telematics system coming to the “rescue” is probably its most dramatic incident, but not its only one. Putira said that it has routinely been used to monitor drivers operating in remote areas of New Hampshire and Vermont to keep them safe, helping to dispatch help if they have an accident or become stranded because of poor weather.

Routing Daily Emergencies

For some fleets, responding to emergencies is a daily occurrence. Acadian Ambulance is a privately owned ambulance company operating more than 450 ambulances and employing more than 4,000 emergency medical professionals and support staff in 34 counties in Texas, 33 parishes in Louisiana, and one county in Mississippi.

Telematics, in various forms, has been a part of the company’s technology mix for a number of years, according to C. Randall Mann, vice president of marketing and public relations for the Acadian Companies.

“In addition to our ambulance fleet, we have employed telematics in our non-ambulance fleet — wheelchair vans, delivery vehicles, sales vehicles, etc. (approximately 400 additional vehicles) throughout our six divisions — and use the data as most companies do, such as driver monitoring, safety adherence, routing, reduce unauthorized use, etc.,” he said.

The telematics syatems are tied into the company’s computer aided dispatch (CAD) system, which helps ensure that the company is dispatching units in the most efficient manner, typically the closest to an emergent situation.

“It also helps us manage our assets during large scale operations, such as hurricane and natural disaster response. We respond to approximately 1,500 calls per day,” Mann noted.

In addition to ambulances and non-ambulance vehicles noted above, Acadian also operates helicopters and fixed-wing aircrafts.

“Since its inception, Acadian has been recognized as one of the nation’s best emergency medical services in the industry. Our incorporation of the latest and greatest technology, superior service, and innovation in the medical field has earned us honors and led to our tremendous growth,” Mann said.

Planning for the Unexpected

The bottom line of planning for emergencies is being well equipped and prepared for the unexpected.

“As far as emergency protocols, no amount of preparedness will get you totally ready for every scenario,” said Yurkus of MassTran. “Every event is different so you must learn from each one and then continue to become educated. My best advice is to remain calm and use the tools like telematics as well as other resources available to get through the situation.”

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