By Bernie Kavanagh
Imagine waking up one day to no fuel, damaged roads, and unknown damage to your fleet. It’s the ultimate nightmare for a business with any exposure at all to mobility.
With the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season June 1, managers of fleets and transportation systems across the United States return to the annual game of unpredictable risk through November 30, the official end of the season.
Historically, the most damaging tropical storms and hurricanes have occurred in August and September. But officials who manage fleets, fueling systems and transportation networks should be implementing best practices now in order to avoid a doomsday scenario later.
While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a “near normal” or slightly “above normal” hurricane season, any scenario is possible given the complexities of climate, including the ever-increasing likelihood of isolated catastrophic weather events that aren’t full-blown cyclones.
Even in a “normal” year, hurricane damage can be devastating. It only takes one — poorly timed and poorly placed — to crimp mobility, hamstring business operations and leave companies vulnerable to big losses. For small businesses, such losses may not be tenable. And, as we’ve seen repeatedly, a regional hit in the Gulf will be felt nationally as gas price increases ripple out from shut-in ports and refineries.
There are businesses out there that could fail if cut off from their customers for a week — or even a day. For others – such as the rescuers and first responders during a storm — 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 refining patch around Houston, the U.S. had gone a full decade without a major landfall.
But as Harvey struck, U.S. refineries shut in about 30% of total U.S. capacity, crude oil imports dried up, ports closed, and pipelines not damaged by the storm had to shut down or operate at less capacity without enough product online. Roads and bridges closed. Gas prices spiked. Businesses in some areas saw spot fuel shortages.
It can be ugly. 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 YESTERDAY as hurricane season gets started:
- 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 vehicles, 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, but that’s how insurance works. WEX Emergency Fuel provisions this service using an array of fueling partners with military-grade capabilities.
- 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 Connectmobile 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.
To learn more about the hazards associated with hurricanes and tropical storms, visit The National Weather Service webpage: www.weather.gov/hurricanesafety
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. Disaster planning isn’t fun but it may help your business keep its head above water.
About Bernie Kavanagh
A 27-year fleet professional, Bernie Kavanagh currently serves as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Large Fleet at WEX Inc. He joined the company in 1996 and his career has been a steady progression of increased sales and marketing responsibility. Kavanagh serves on industry related boards and is a frequent speaker at payment industry conferences focusing on fuel trends and technology in the payment space. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of New Jersey and is an active member of NAFA, AFLA, NCSFA and AALA. Prior to joining WEX, Kavanagh held a number of roles with Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Enterprise Fleet Management.