Hurricane Matthew is serving as another lesson for the U.S. trucking industry on the important role technology can and should play in operating in and around storm-affected regions.
More than a million residences and businesses lost power in Florida alone, and at least 38 people died as a result of Matthew’s winds and torrential rains, 19 of them in North Carolina where widespread flooding in the eastern half of the state has left many communities temporarily cut off.
Early estimates are that the property damages will be around $10 billion, enough to rank Matthew as the tenth costliest Atlantic storm in U.S. history.
Matthew’s lessons on planning are even more important with the winter storm season approaching, because the truth is that trucks and their drivers can’t let Mother Nature force them off the road for days. And with the various technologies available today, they don’t have to. The different tech available for use both inside the cab and in fleet operations centers can convert trucks and drivers from being victims of a storm into key elements in the rapid response to and recovery from such a storm.
Keep trucks rolling with route mapping
Given the widespread availability of high quality weather information there’s no excuse for a driver being caught by surprise when a big storm hits. Now, trucks and their drivers still get stranded, and likely will continue to do so because of well-informed, calculated decisions made to operate in or into a region where bad weather is expected. But there’s no reason to be surprised by such an event.
But there’s also no reason for drivers or fleet manages to park their trucks, unproductively, for days simply to let a forecast storm pass by.
Technology can help keep trucks rolling despite weather. Most obviously, route mapping and planning systems can be used in conjunction with technical forecast information to direct trucks to, through, or out of storm-affected areas by using the best alternate routes available. It also can help drivers and managers make well-informed advance decisions about which roads ahead likely will be subject to weather-driven disruptions.
With the kind of advance weather warnings available to fleet managers today they can use short- and mid-term forecasts to direct trucks and drivers to use less-direct routes. Such routings might, in normal conditions, take longer and require more miles to be driven than normally would be the case, but at a time of severe weather it could ensure route completion and delivery of critical and/or high-value goods.
Tracking systems can aid in HOS management
Vehicle and freight tracking technology also can help keep a large shipping operation from getting severely backed up or clogged. Managers can use technology to look through their entire list of goods awaiting shipment and reorder and reschedule them. That might involve delaying shipments to destinations that could be shut down temporarily by a storm, and moving up shipments to destinations where recipients can be expected to remain open.
Systems can help managers track drivers’ time behind the wheel during storm-affected operations. Bad weather can mess mightily with drivers’ lives. But savvy use of tracking systems can help managers keep drivers from blowing through their hours limits unproductively or, conversely, failing to get enough payable driving hours during a storm-impacted pay period.
Sophisticated logistics management systems also can help trucking and freight forwarders make critical decisions about what items to load on trucks headed into, through, or near storm-affected areas. By delaying shipments of, say, furniture or machine parts, and taking on a load of water, food, or other relief supplies, the trucking industry can not only avoid being a victim of bad weather but a valuable contributor to disaster relief and recovery efforts. Those same systems also can be used to communicate with client companies in storm-affected areas in order to determine whether products and supplies scheduled for delivery to them should be delayed or sped up. Conversely, those systems can help trucking firms work with customers to speed up the pickup of freight before a big storm hits.
Monitor vehicle conditions to avoid system failures
Vehicle condition monitoring technology can give fleet managers advance warning of any storm-caused mechanical concerns mushrooming on those rigs operating in storm-impacted areas. If, for example, braking systems or transmissions are being unusually stressed by operating in icy conditions, onboard monitoring systems can detect that and managers can order unscheduled service checks before truck system failures actually occur.
Finally, even though cell-based phone systems often go down during major storms, many of today’s modern in-cab and fleet management technologies often continue to operate well despite bad weather conditions. That’s because many such systems use simple data transmission (as opposed to voice transmission) technology, or satellite-based communications technology, both of which tend to be less vulnerable to stormy conditions.
So, as with so many other things in life, preparation is the key for truck drivers and fleet managers when it comes to operating in and near big storms. The data available today via trucking technology can allow drivers and managers to create effective storm operating plans. The industry can’t control the weather, but it can control how effectively it operates during stormy periods in order to reduce negative impacts and better support its customers.