Preparing for Natural Disasters in Uncertain Times


By Jasmine Glasheen

March 2020

Fleet Playbook for Today’s Emergency Preparedness

When fleet operatives prepare for a natural emergency, they require an action plan to remain operational and safe during extreme circumstances.
Fleet professionals today face an assortment of natural disasters, both external––such as tornadoes and floods, and internal––such as viruses and mass shootings. The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) reports that there were 14 weather and climate disaster events last year alone, with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. 
Worst-case scenarios are quickly becoming commonplace––from earthquakes, fires, floods, and tornadoes, to viruses such as COVID-19 that panic consumers and disrupt the national supply chain. Just last week, a tornado touched down in Putnam County, Tennessee (about 80 miles East of Nashville) that killed 24 people and required the governor to call a state of emergency, bringing in the National Guard to sift through the rubble. 
The bottom line? Modern fleet professionals operate under extreme and unpredictable conditions, and they require actionable disaster plans to mitigate the impact of each of the most devastating natural events. 


Modern fleet professionals operate under extreme and unpredictable conditions, and they require actionable disaster plans to mitigate the impact of each of the most devastating natural events.

Create a Disaster Plan to Remain Operational
According to Patti M. Earley, CAFM, Fleet Fueling Operations Supervisor at Florida Power & Light and President of NAFA, after a disaster, the most important mission is getting people’s lives back to normal as quickly as possible. “For most organizations,” Earley says, “restoration or continuity of daily functions doesn’t happen without the fleet. While there may be some advanced warning with hurricanes, most disasters don’t necessarily give you notice before they strike.”
It is crucial to the success of your recovery efforts to have your emergency operations plans in place.” Earley adds. “Make sure your strategy is comprehensive and flexible enough to cover any crisis from natural disasters to man-made tragedies.”
Earley urges fleet operatives to have a strategy in place for natural disasters and to have a dry run when things are calm to ensure everyone knows their role and your expectations. “Having a documented plan in place and being able to execute on that plan is crucial,” she adds.

Earley urges fleet operatives not to forget the details when creating their actions plans, such as:
  • “How do you function if critical employees can’t report to work?
  • Which employees are “crucial” and need to report to your facility and which could work from home?
  • What will your work schedules be? Employees may need to arrange for care of family members when working extended shifts.
  • How do you handle repairs/replacement of damaged vehicles? Are there rentals available if your vehicles are not usable?
  • Have you arranged to house and feed your employees, if needed?
  • If your facility is damaged, where will you move your operations?
  • If cell towers are down, how will you communicate?”
 “After you have been through an emergency situation,” Earley adds, “you should capture all of the lessons you learned from the incident and update your team’s plan accordingly.”

Fuel Storage & Transportable Generators 
When fleet operatives prepare for a natural emergency, they require an action plan to remain operational and safe during extreme circumstances––this means creating a strategy to move and house fuel. Emergency response plans must include fuel storage options for every type of fuel used in their respective business, as well as transportable generators to prevent dangerous power outages at work sites. 
Patti Earley recommends that companies arrange to fuel both employee and fleet vehicles if no fuel is available commercially. “Do you have access to generators if you have a power outage?” 
Earley also advises fleet operatives to determine the resources they may need and to have contracts in place to obtain those resources quickly in times of crisis. “You may want to engage vendors that are out of your immediate area,” Earley suggests. “So, they aren’t dealing with the same crisis you are.”
Fleet professionals face new threats––both environmental and human­­––with each year that passes. As such, fleet professionals should be advised not only to plan how to acquire resources in times of extreme weather incidents but also to review and adjust their emergency response plan to respond to any developing challenges as they occur.

Mitigate the Impact of Viruses Such as COVID-19 
At the moment, the COVID19 (coronavirus) is throwing a wrench into supply chains around the world. Reports state that the virus first took hold in December 2019, in Wuhan, China. However, its mounting effects are being felt worldwide. Although COVID-19 is currently the most pressing epidemic, the impact of viruses can be extensive and detrimental.
Fleet operatives need a strategy in place to address global and local endemics. Maria F. Neve, Manager, Mercury Associates, Inc. says that although every fleet should have a fleet policy, and every fleet policy should address emergency preparedness, it's not too late to take a few steps to mitigate issues that arise from COVID-19.
 Neve suggests that fleet managers instruct drivers to take the proper precautions, such as:

  • “Be vigilant in wiping down high-touch surfaces (steering wheels, interior/exterior door handles, gear shifters, turn signal stalks, etc.) with disinfectant wipes.
  • Consider quarantining vehicles, not just drivers, if an employee becomes ill. If a vehicle can't be quarantined, make sure it is completely disinfected.
  • Step up or institute cleaning/disinfecting requirements for pool vehicles.
  • Create emergency profiles for fleet fuel cards that allow the fleet manager to relax the normal controls, so drivers have the flexibility to keep vehicles fueled and ready (e.g., permit fueling 3x per day instead of 2).
  • Shift fleet-related activities to online, if possible.”

She adds that fleet operatives need to prepare stakeholders for the reality that vehicle order to delivery timeframes will get even longer, which will affect fleet spending and lifecycle management. “The supply chain disruptions, as well as plant shutdowns in Asia, will mean longer in-service cycles for current vehicles, and those vehicles may require additional and unanticipated maintenance.”
Action Steps if Contamination Happens
Robert Martinez, Deputy Commissioner of Support Services at NYPD, suggests paying attention to the number of COVID-19 fatalities and compare those to the annual fatalities of any regular cold/flu season. However, he does have a contingency plan in place if his officers come across a vehicle that has been exposed to the virus.  
Martinez reports, “The plan is that our 24/7 roadside operation would get a call that a vehicle has been compromised by someone who had the virus. Once we are notified that a vehicle had someone in it that was sick, we are going to take that vehicle out of service for the 28 days that it takes the coronavirus to die.”
“If our police vehicles are contaminated, as with anything––asbestos, the flu––we bring them to a local location and quarantine them there. I don’t have my regular tow people do it, we have emergency tow people in Hazmat suits dispose of the vehicles.”
Martinez adds that cautionary measures have already been put in place. “We sent out notices to the whole department and we stocked them up and masks and sterilizer throughout the city. Most big cities are telling everyone you must wash your hands for 20 seconds with antibacterial soap and keep your hands away from your face. In most cases, if you do get it and you’re healthy, it’s no worse than the regular flu. It’s important to keep a balanced view of what we’re dealing with and how serious it is.”
“We can’t shut down the entire world and hope for this thing to pass,” Martinez adds. Hopefully, our bodies will build an immunity to it as well.” 
Fleet professionals can minimize the impact of natural disasters of all kinds by remaining proactive and training operatives on how to handle emergency situations. Outlining an emergency plan and identifying the correct vendors to supply fuel storage/transport, generators, and additional supplies in times of crisis are pivotal to an organization’s ability to remain operational during––and bounce back from––natural disasters in the most effective way possible. 


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