Matthew. Harvey. Irma. Maria. Before 2016, these were simply names, perhaps associated with a loved one or a friend. Today, these names evoke memories of devastation, destruction and chaos.
Hurricanes are among nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena. On average, six hurricanes form each year over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico during the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30. Over a typical two-year period, the U.S. coastline is struck by an average of three hurricanes, one of which is considered a major hurricane.1
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the United States experienced one of the most catastrophic hurricane seasons on record in 2017 with two major storms striking the U.S. mainland and back-to-back hurricanes devastating the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.2 But these storms did not merely affect the areas where they made landfall; they impacted the entire country thanks to massive supply chain disruptions.
Hurricanes often cause major highway closures or congestion, forcing transportation companies to either wait for the roads to reopen or take more indirect routes, wasting driver time and fuel. When disaster strikes a supply chain hub, then distribution centers from other regions have to pick up the slack. For example, after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, distribution centers began to supply markets ordinarily served by Houston from regional hubs in the Southeast. Then when Irma attacked Florida, those same distribution centers had to refocus and move goods south instead of west. Meanwhile, the Midwest had to supply the Northeast to compensate for the freight that would normally have come from Atlanta.3 Thus the ripple effect from these storms in the southern region of the country spread across the entire nation.
Beyond simply being a supply chain nightmare, hurricanes are extremely dangerous. It is essential for companies that conduct business in regions that are often targets of massive storms and/or are supplied by those regions, to prepare for and heed all warnings about potential hurricanes. As we approach the height of hurricane season – mid-August to late October – keep the following tips in mind to help keep your fleets safe and prepare for any potential supply chain disruptions.
During and immediately following a disaster, having real-time data on the status, locations and safety of your fleet is more important than ever. New telematics technology can help you stay apprised of what is happening with your fleet at all times. For example, Great Dane’s soon-to-launch FleetPulse trailer telematics and data system features a built-in GPS system, allowing users to view the location of their equipment at all times. This information can be used during a hurricane to help fleets locate available or underutilized equipment to help compensate for potential shortages in trailers due to the storm. FleetPulse also sends real-time alert notifications if an issue occurs on the road – such as low tire pressure, unsafe wheel end temperatures or lights out. When navigating through inclement weather, knowing immediately when a potential problem occurs and what that problem is can help prevent major disasters.
Practice Storm Safety
While properly maintaining your equipment and performing pre- and post-trip inspection checks is always important, it is especially pertinent during hurricane season. Whether you have a fleet that is in a frequently-affected region or one that may be used to haul supplies to a storm-ravaged area after a hurricane hits, it is important to make sure your equipment is in good shape and that drivers have properly-stocked emergency kits with them at all times.
Another useful feature of FleetPulse is the built-in pre-trip inspection checklist. Using a mobile device, drivers can quickly view any alerts or issues with the trailer and access a pre-trip checklist that they can easily complete and submit. With this pre-trip application, drivers have the ability to detect lights that are out, check the status of the ABS and tire inflation systems, monitor weight, detect open doors and more. By utilizing this feature, fleets can streamline the pre-trip inspection process to save time and prevent overlooking potential issues.
Awareness and preparedness are key to staying safe in all weather conditions, which is why it is extremely important for truck drivers to keep emergency kits with them at all times, especially during hurricane season. Items that should be included in a trucker’s emergency kit include:
- Enough non-perishable food and drinking water to last at least three days
- Cell phone, charger and battery-operated chargers
- First aid kit
- NOAA weather radio
- Clean towels
Learn from the Past to Prepare for the Future
The biggest disaster is always in the future, so we have to prepare by learning from the past. In late 2017, MIT’s Humanitarian Response Lab at the Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL) held a roundtable on supply chain resilience in the face of large-scale disasters. The roundtable used Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria as a focal point to gather multiple points of view from the public and private sector to gain an understanding of how critical supply chains are managed in these kinds of crises and how they might be better managed in the future. Below are some of the key insights gathered from the roundtable discussions:
- Optimized supply chain networks are too rigid to adapt to crises. The three hurricanes did more damage to the supply chain than they did to actual supply, because, under normal conditions, supply chains are optimized to maximize efficiency, leaving no slack to adapt during a crisis. This trend will likely continue with the accelerated pace of freight volumes and the rapid rise of e-commerce. To manage critical supply networks during future crises, early information regarding potential supply chain bottlenecks will be crucial.
- Without drivers, critical commodities like food and water cannot be distributed, but during a crisis, drivers and workers across the supply chain will need to address their family needs before their jobs. During preparedness planning, it will be important to consider the personal obligations of these workers along with trends like the driver shortage and new ELD regulations.
- Supply chain failures cause a ripple effect. The issues that occurred during the 2017 hurricane season reiterated the importance of supply chain contingencies – such as fuel and repair/maintenance parts – which are often hidden during normal operations. To be more resilient in the future, preparedness plans need to take into consideration these supply chain essentials and the cascading effects a failure in one of these areas may cause.4
To learn more about what was discovered during this roundtable discussion, check out the summary report, Supply Chain Resilience: Restoring Business Operations After a Hurricane.
Hurricanes are one of nature’s most dangerous occurrences, but they are also one of the few natural disasters that can be predicted and prepared for. Remember to follow reputable news outlets, such as the National Weather Service, for hurricane updates, make sure your equipment is properly maintained, and to heed any and all warnings.
 Hurricane Safety Tips and Resources. Retrieved from: https://www.weather.gov/safety/hurricane
 Hurricane Preparedness Week 2018: Make Your Safety Plans in Advance. (2018). Retrieved from: http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2018/05/hurricane-preparedness-week-2018-make-your-safety-plans-in-advance/
 DAT: Freight Flows Shifting Following Hurricanes. (2017). Retrieved from: https://www.trucker.com/business/dat-freight-flows-shifting-following-hurricanes
 Supply Chain Resilience: Restoring Business Operations After a Hurricane. (2018). Retrieved from: http://ctl.mit.edu/resilience-operations-hurricane