Owner-operators and small carriers who spend time on the road know that natural disasters can have a major impact on getting freight to its final destination on time. But more importantly, these natural disasters can also be very dangerous and even life-threatening.
Take California roadways in 2020, for example. In many other years, recent natural disasters included earthquakes, floods, and avalanches, which pose serious threats for commercial drivers and motorists. But in 2020, one of the biggest threats was the wildfires that ravaged the state. From the beginning of the year to the beginning of October, more than 3.1 million acres burned throughout the state, which is roughly the same size as the state of Connecticut. These same wildfires ripped through Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
And in another part of the country, hurricanes and tropical storms struck the Gulf Coast throughout the year, posing very different challenges for those in the freight industry operating in the southeast.
But how does one adequately prepare for these kinds of natural disasters? What can small carriers and owner-operators do to stay safe knowing these natural disasters might be looming? And what opportunities do carriers have to pitch in when people are in need during and after a natural disaster?
Natural disasters don’t happen in a vacuum; even if you’re not in the immediate area where a natural disaster is taking place, you may still be affected. Carriers need to know how to prepare for navigating through natural disasters, but you also need to be aware of how natural disasters in other parts of the country can affect your operations.
There are always ups and downs within the freight industry, but not all of them pose such serious threats. Here’s what you need to know about staying safe and ready for possible natural disasters on the road.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Hours of Service, and Natural Disasters
Small carriers and owner-operators are very familiar with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and its regulations regarding Hours of Service (HOS). HOS refers to the maximum amount of time drivers can spend on duty and on the road. Also specified are the number and length of rest periods. These regulations have been put in place to help drivers stay alert and awake, and all carriers and drivers operating commercial motor vehicles must comply with these regulations.
But these regulations can ease or shift during natural disasters.
In the case of natural disasters, the FMCSA may alter HOS requirements to facilitate safe passage through dangerous regions.
For example, during August 2021, the FMCSA eased hours of service in six states while facing the effects of Hurricane Ida. As the administration enacted their emergency ruling, drive time caps were lifted for commercial vehicles and covered truck drivers who were “providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts, transportation, supplies, goods, equipment, and fuel into the [affected states].”
But what qualifies as “direct assistance?” In this case, the FMCSA clarified that HOS were only waived for operators who were transporting cargo or providing services in support of emergency relief efforts related to the hurricane.
With this temporary ease of HOS regulations, drivers were still not exempt from following the rules of the road, including adhering to speed limits, not texting while driving, and not using alcohol or drugs. They were furthermore still required to pull off the road if they became fatigued or needed to rest.
Also of note? There was no waiver of electronic logging device (ELD) requirements.
Coming to the Country’s Aid: Driving During Natural Disasters
When facing natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, those who live close to the wake of the disasters are often told to evacuate; to leave the affected area. Carriers, on the other hand, often drive into the natural disaster to deliver important (and sometimes even lifesaving) shipments to the areas:
50 percent will drive in areas experiencing wildfires
57 percent will drive in winter storms
65 percent will drive in areas anticipating a hurricane
55 percent will drive in areas experiencing flooding
71 percent will drive in areas experiencing extreme heat
Take Wayne Cragg, an experienced truck driver who shared his experience with an ABC news affiliate: “In 2012, when I just got my CDL, I actually did relief supply for the hurricane that hit New York and New Jersey. I was teaming [with another driver], I was training and it hit. They asked me to stay on for another month.”
Cragg was talking about Hurricane Sandy, and since then, he has delivered supplies during and after countless natural disasters. Like other carriers, he brings necessary equipment and supplies and has had to take special safety precautions when traveling to impacted areas. When Cragg first delivered emergency freight to New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, they still had standing water at the dock, which can be incredibly dangerous.
The key to navigating these dangerous conditions? Being prepared and staying vigilant.
For any loads available during these times of natural disasters, owner-operators looking to pitch in and help – and benefit from emergency rates – could find and book freight through Xpress Technologies.
Staying Safe and Carrying Freight During a Natural Disaster
In nearly a decade of driving, Wayne Cragg has learned a thing or two about safely navigating roads while carrying freight during a natural disaster. He always sees to it that he has three essential supplies when headed towards a natural disaster, whether he’s carrying emergency supplies or delivering loads nearby:
He explained, “It’s huge, especially the fuel. A lot of other things you might be able to get off of other people, but fill up. One tanker full for our trucks, we can go a long time when you fuel up and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Fuel, food, and water are essential, but what else can carriers do to stay prepared whether they encounter a natural disaster or are driving into one to deliver relief?
Another valuable resource during natural disasters is Ready.gov, which provides severe weather alerts. Owner-operators and dispatchers of small fleets can also get emergency and disaster alerts sent directly to their mobile devices through Ready.gov.
Whenever checking these resources or using your phone, be sure to pull in to a safe location and never drive while texting or distracted. You can also dial 511 for local road closures.
Ready Your Vehicle
Of course, it’s important to make sure to have fuel, water, and food when operating around disasters so that you are prepared. But your vehicle should be ready too. Depending on the disaster, there are several ways to prepare your truck:
Always make sure to run your routine inspections on time: A pre-trip inspection should take about 10 to 15 minutes. During this time, service brakes, trailer brake connections, parking brakes, steering mechanisms, lighting devices and reflectors, tires, wheels and rims, the horn, windshield wipers, rear vision mirrors, coupling devices, and emergency equipment should all be thoroughly inspected.
Check weather stations regularly: There are plenty of great apps available to stay apprised of emerging weather situations—only when not operating your vehicle, of course.
In addition to fuel, non-perishable food items, and bottled water, there are a few other things you should have ready in the event of a natural disaster. Have tools, and clothing appropriate for the weather on hand, keep your phone charged, and store a blanket in your vehicle just in case. You will also want to have flashlights, rain gear, extra batteries, and similar types of survival gear readily accessible.
Be Mindful of Local Law Enforcement
During a natural disaster, law enforcement may ask you to stop, re-route, pause, and wait for more instructions. These officers are working to ensure your safety, which means you should follow their instructions and be patient while they respond to evolving conditions. As Fleet Owner shared, “law enforcement did not create the situation, they simply want everyone out on the road to get to their destination safely.” If you need to adjust your schedule because of law enforcement’s expectations, communicate the possible delay with your dispatcher or broker.
Stay a Step Ahead
While some storm events like earthquakes are difficult to predict, you usually have some warning before most weather events. Usually, you’ll have at least a couple of days to prepare and take action to plan routes that will limit your contact with adverse weather, or take steps to prevent damages to your truck. For example, you can move your truck to high ground if there’s an anticipated flood, or strategically park trailers close together if a hurricane is on the horizon. Even if you’re not in an area that will be directly impacted by a natural disaster, stay on top of how these events in other parts of the country may impact your operation and adjust routes accordingly.
What to Do During Extreme Natural Disaster Events
We may think of operating safety in terms of driving around other vehicles or when loading and unloading trailers, but there’s so much more to safety when a natural disaster strikes. Carriers should always make safety their first priority; dangerous truck driving helps no one and could place many lives in jeopardy.
During a hurricane, you should pay attention to weather forecasts and be aware of your route and local road conditions. Never drive through standing water and be prepared for high winds. Be on the lookout for debris and be flexible with delivery times as you navigate blocked or flooded roadways.
Tornado season is usually between March and August, but tornadoes can occur at any time, seemingly out of nowhere. If possible, safely drive out of the path of the tornado and seek shelter immediately – in a hotel, restaurant, gas station, or rest stop – but when not possible, get low in your vehicle. If you have to be outside, find the lowest part of a ditch and use your arms to cover your head. Above all, remember that your life is not worth your cargo.
Do not seek shelter under an overpass in the event of a tornado. Wind going under an overpass can create a tunnel effect, which increases its overall speed. Overpasses also tend to not have girders, so you can’t access a crawl space that’ll protect you from the wind and flying debris.
There’s no great, reliable way to predict when an earthquake will happen. If you are driving your vehicle, or unloading or loading your trailer, take shelter somewhere safe, and avoid areas with buildings, powerlines, bridges, and trees. If you are driving, slow down, find a safe place to park, and remain in your vehicle. Never drive over downed power lines and listen to the radio for information from authorities.
Both gradual and flash floods can be dangerous. It can be tempting to try to drive through flooded roadways, but carriers should never drive through floodwaters. Only 2 feet of running water can carry away a truck. Avoid water with electrical wires and check your brakes if you think they have gotten wet.
There are plenty of winter truck driving tips out there, but it’s important to remember that snow and ice can make road conditions extremely dangerous very quickly. Slow down, increase your following distance, and only pull over in a safe area like a parking lot. If you are expecting a snowstorm during your winter trucking routes, ensure your truck is ready, with properly functioning brakes, heater, lights, and washer fluid, and fill your gas tank. Stock your truck with water, food, and warm clothing and blankets.
Support During Natural Disasters
At Xpress Technologies, we know how critical it can be for carriers to get lifesaving freight during a natural disaster. We also know that carriers, owner-operators, and small fleets are vital to delivering these supplies where they are needed most during an emergency.
The Xpress Technologies App also allows drivers to select routes on a map while still letting you use your preferred navigation tool, like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, or TruckMap to avoid potential road closures and other disruptions.
On top of preparing for disasters, carriers are crucial for responding to them as well. Not only can their service mean the difference between life and death, but carriers can also secure great rates that can ultimately help them grow their businesses—if they put safety first.
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