Irma and Harvey. Wildfires and record snowfalls. The string of natural disasters to hit the U.S. over the past decade has been historic and devastating with property damage costing tens of billions of dollars. Pictures of submerged cars, scorched lands, and collapsed roofs have become all too common and serve as a stark reminder that a fleet’s emergency preparedness is critical to protect drivers and minimize losses.
The Calm Before
Every fleet and organization is different. Some may need to move assets and workers away from threatened areas, while others may send more in. Regardless of the situation, managers should have plans and policies in place before everyone is under duress. It is much easier to execute a plan everyone knows ahead of time than scrambling in the heat of the moment when communication, fuel availability, and roadways may already be compromised.
Step one is a regional risk assessment. Historical climate data as well as updated Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps show areas prone to flooding and those at greatest risk of major weather-related events. When evaluating how operations may be impacted and which fleets will need to be relocated, it is critical to look not just at the business’s physical locations, but also the routes in and out, particularly evacuation corridors because timing is critical. Wait too long to get vehicles out of harm’s way and drivers could get stranded. The same holds true for moving assets into place to help during and after an event if your fleet includes emergency responders, utilities, and civil services. What routes will they take and where will they be stationed? If you are grounding vehicles, do drivers know where they should take them and will there be transportation in place to shuttle them after drop-off, if necessary?
Integrated telematics systems are invaluable in these situations as fleet managers can track all vehicles, make sure they are where they need to be, and quickly provide assistance to any drivers that have run into trouble because they know exactly where they are located.
Do Your Drivers Know What to Do?
When emergency protocols go into effect, drivers need to know where to go, and they also need to know what to do if they can no longer get there. Abandoning a vehicle should be a last resort but personal safety will always take precedence. Just as with all other fleet policies, drivers should be provided with a clear understanding of emergency procedures on day one: what the expectations are for working during weather events, where to take their vehicles, and what support systems are in place such as roadside assistance, rentals, and fuel access.
Two days before Irma made landfall in Florida, fuel supplies started running low. By the time evacuations were in full force, 65 percent of the stations in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale region were out of fuel and metropolitan areas on Florida’s west coast were reporting similar shortages. This was a one-two punch after Harvey’s impact had caused gas prices to increase the week before and it illustrates the importance of a fuel strategy in any fleet’s storm preparedness plan.
Fleets using fuel cards should have a “storm profile” in place that anticipates the impact of fuel scarcity. Prices may be rising and stations may ration fill-ups in emergency situations which means the card limits that are in place to prevent fraud can keep drivers from being able to access the gas they need. Storm profiles ease restrictions as soon as the trigger is pulled on them. Depending on the fuel program, this may need to be done by the fuel card provider, but in some cases, fleet managers can control these parameters themselves. Merchants Fleet Management’s TotalView, for example, allows managers to change card limits on the fly and monitor transactions in real time. It also gives updates on which local stations have fuel available and at what price.
If fuel becomes too scarce, fleet management companies like Merchants can help get fuel deliveries to their clients directly. Some fleets may want to consider an on-site fueling option as part of their emergency preparedness or even regular fuel management. They can set up a fueling station for drivers to gas up before heading out or they can have fuel trucks gas up the fleet each evening, for example. The costs need to be weighed against the benefits for each organization, however, as this can be expensive, but for those operating in storm-prone areas, it may be worth it to keep operations running because fuel supplies may be compromised for some time.
There is no “normal” in recovering after a storm of Irma or Harvey’s magnitude. Businesses, municipalities, and homeowners are overwhelmed. Insurance companies are overrun with claims. And insurance adjusters will barely be sleeping. Having the right partner and vendor relationships already set is critical because companies that provide the services you will need are going to be focused on their current clients and may not have any additional capacity in wide-spread emergencies. You need to be able to pick up the phone and have the person on the other end know you as their valued customer instead of “caller number 154.” Receiving priority-level service from a partner that understands your business will make a tremendous difference.
For any fleet, when storm-related vehicle damage occurs, it is treated like any other kind of accident. If you have an accident management program, your fleet partner should jump in to help with filing claims, providing rentals, assisting with repairs, and getting the most value in the secondary market when equipment is still viable. A fleet management provider with buying power can also get vehicles replaced quickly and at a good price.
The country is still reeling from these warm-weather storms and yet many regions are already preparing for what winter may bring. Blizzards, ice storms, and winter flooding cause damage and disruptions that impact fleets all over the U.S. The key is to be forward thinking so you are not trying to make decisions when you are in disaster mode. You should be able to essentially flip the switch on the plan you have in place, and your fleet management partner should be standing ready to make that happen.
If you would like to know how Merchants Fleet Management can help your organization with storm preparedness, please contact:
(866) 6LEASES or email@example.com