Q. How should fleets prepare for harsh weather events such as hurricanes?
A. Imagine waking up one day to no fuel, damaged roads, and unknown damage to your fleet of 500 vehicles. It’s the ultimate nightmare for a business with any exposure at all to mobility. That’s a scenario managers of fleets and transportation systems across the United States would rather not contemplate.
But it only takes one that’s poorly timed and poorly placed to crimp mobility, hamstring business operations and leave companies vulnerable to big losses. Some businesses fail if cut off from their customers for a week -- or even a day. For others, 100% uptime isn’t just nice, it’s mission-critical.
It’s easy to not prepare for something that only has a minor chance of affecting your business. After all, prior to last year, when Hurricane Harvey blasted the petroleum refining patch around Houston, the U.S. had gone a decade without a major hurricane landfall.
If you’re among those of us who don’t like pushing our luck, here are some of the biggest issues for fleet-focused businesses and agencies to monitor.
Develop a written preparedness plan, and train your employees to implement it. The plan should outline how you will protect vehicles and equipment, and identifies which employees play essential roles during a disaster.
Within the physical plant, patch roofs and windows, check security and flood lighting, identify loose items in outside areas that may become missiles, check your emergency backup generator (and consider renting or purchasing one if you do not have one), and move vehicles to any obtainable satellite parking areas at higher ground.
Determine if computer support will be available for users who need to remain operational.
Verify that communications equipment is operational.
Identify and protect vital records such as accounts receivable, customer records, tax records, human resources documents, etc.
Review insurance policies. Are you in an evacuation area? Does your insurance include wind/storm coverage? Is the facility in a flood prone area? Is the flood insurance adequate?
Speaking of insurance, get an Emergency Fuel plan. It’s not too late to sign up now for a plan that functions basically like insurance: You pay a pre-set monthly fee and sign a contract that assures you will have access to a set amount of fuel, delivered right to your fleet, even if the civilian distribution network is idle. For firefighters, first responders, utility companies and other mission-critical fleets, Emergency Fuel means 100% uptime and at least a little peace of mind. The downside is paying for something you may not need.
For drivers: Check with your dispatcher to verify operational status before hitting the road. If you are operational, strategize routes less affected by river rise, sewer overflows, low-lying areas and other flood risks. Use a premium GPS tracking solution like WEX Telematics to help optimize routing and avoid chokepoints, in any weather.
If you are driving in heavy rain, safely exit the road, stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers. Never drive into flooded areas; if flood waters rise around your car, abandon the vehicle and move to higher ground.
Contact your local emergency management agency for information before you drive.
In a damaged area, avoid contact with electrical equipment, cords, metal and water.
After the event: Prepare for price shocks that averaged 10 to 30 cents per gallon during Harvey, for at least a week. The WEX Connect mobile app can help you and your drivers locate which gas stations are still in operation in your area, and which have the best pricing based on real-time fueling data.
Hurricanes are a fact of life for everyone. But many of our businesses simply cannot allow them to cause major disruption. Profits are one thing, but protecting public and employee safety may be the ultimate test of how a business weathers a tough storm.