Hurricane Florence had the makings of being a "storm of the century," but it lost power and made landfall as a much less powerful Category 1 story, which still resulted in more than a dozen deaths and billions of dollars in property damage.
 - Photo courtesy of NOAA

Hurricane Florence had the makings of being a "storm of the century," but it lost power and made landfall as a much less powerful Category 1 story, which still resulted in more than a dozen deaths and billions of dollars in property damage.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

The images were chilling — a massive, Category 5 storm bearing down on the Carolina coast promising to destroy everything in its path. September’s Hurricane Florence had the makings of a “storm of the century” and even though it quickly lost energy and became a more “benign” Category 1 storm, the devastation was no less catastrophic — with at least 15 deaths reported initially and $18 billion in property damage. And it also meant that there were fleets on hand to respond to the disaster, more than 40,000 utility workers from 19 states descended on the region to help restore power, according to a report by fortune.com

The report didn’t mention that these fleets of vehicles and their technicians were relying on telematics to get the job done, but it wouldn’t be surprising if a routing solution was used to help these fleets coordinate their personnel to get power restored as quickly as possible.

As an example of how these utility fleets might have used a telematics solution, University Park, Ill.-based Western Utility Contractors uses its GPS Insight solution to more efficiently dispatch its trucks, decreasing the response time in cases of an emergency. Managers are able to see where every vehicle is in real-time, and the built in maps eliminate the time needed to pull up a third-party routing solution to get a suggested route.

Responding to Emergencies  

Bad weather, such as Florence, is only one emergency that telematics can help fleets navigate through. 

In today’s complicated world, acts of terrorism have become all too common. In the chaotic aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing a paratransit company was able to use its telematics solution to keep track of its vehicles and personnel. Since cell service had been disabled in the wake of the attack, satellite-driven telematics became crucial in making sure everyone was safe.

In the days after the bombing, as the police investigation caused the closure of several streets, the telematics solution routed ways around the closed roads to allow it to continue to efficiently serve its customers.

While Western Utility Contractors have come to rely on its GPS Insight solution to handling routing in emergency situations, one of the motivating factors to install the solution was to guard against theft. The company had suffered several vehicle thefts, which resulted in the trucks being stripped of more than $35,000 in tools. The company knew that there was a likelihood their vehicles would continue to be stolen, but wanted a way to recover the vehicles quickly enough so thieves wouldn’t have the time to strip the vehicles of its valuable equipment. 

Planning for Disaster

For most fleets, disasters are few and far between, but they do happen, and having a plan is crucial to meeting and overcoming it. Not every fleet will be part of emergency recovery efforts, but every fleet does need an emergency plan to meet the challenge of any type of disaster that could occur in its operational area(s). 

Developing an emergency plan will take the guesswork out of what a fleet should do in those first hours after disaster hits. Planning may require prepping for several disaster types and possibly in different locations if the company operates a dispersed fleet of vehicles. Ready.gov offers planning resources specifically designed for businesses, and is a good place to start.

Fleets should consider including telematics within its emergency planning framework. Whether you’re an old hand at telematics or are still considering it for your fleet, routing software could be a key component to keep your drivers and company assets safe and secure during a disaster.

For example, with a GPS Insight solution during an emergency you will:

  • See all your vehicles and assets in real-time
  • Be able to determine who’s closest to the next job (if you’re providing emergency services)
  • Be able to send safe routes to your drivers instantaneously
  • Be able to provide accurate ETAs to customers or first responders (if you’re providing emergency services) or to management personnel tracking if a driver was able to get to safety

With advanced planning and the right tools in place, you will be able to respond to any natural or manmade disaster efficiently and safely.