Preparation and communication are critical in hurricane season

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Updated Mar 12, 2024

Imagine a scenario: a hurricane hurtles toward the coast, threatening to disrupt supply chains and wreak chaos in the trucking industry. A robust disaster preparedness plan isn’t just a luxury when it comes to natural disasters; it’s an absolute necessity.

In 2017, category four Hurricane Harvey caused around $145 billion in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center. While the Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t officially start until June, AccuWeather’s chief meteorologist Jonathan Porter warned in a February 20 report that there are “serious and growing concerns” of a potentially “super-charged” season.

This is due to two factors: the expected arrival of La Niña that might coincide with the Atlantic hurricane season and historically warm ocean temperatures. According to AccuWeather, “warm water is the fuel for hurricanes,” and so the impending record-shattering warmth across the Atlantic during hurricane season is cause for concern.

Given the looming threat of a severe hurricane season, it’s prudent for carriers and supply chain companies to conduct a comprehensive review of their emergency plans to prepare for likely disruptions.

Proactive communication is vital

For logistics company ArcBest, Chief Strategy Officer Dennis Anderson said having a comprehensive crisis management framework in place is crucial, including adverse active monitoring and proactive communications for adverse weather plans.

When January’s winter weather impacted several service centers of ABF Freight (an ArcBest company), Anderson said the teams closely monitored conditions and made appropriate decisions around closures.

“We proactively alerted customers with shipments in our network and provided employees across our internal support teams with information to help serve those customers quickly,” he said.

Proactive communication is critical to minimizing service disruptions, Anderson said.

“We regularly assess processes to ensure our plans provide for the safety of our employees and meet evolving needs of our customers.”

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[Related: Lessons to be learned in disaster recovery, even if it's not 'your' disaster]

Oftentimes, state trucking associations are key to establishing communication protocols, said Alix Miller, president and CEO at Florida Trucking Association.

“They have representatives camped out in emergency operations centers, are among the first to receive waivers and exemptions, and will have immediate firsthand knowledge of the situation on the ground based on their relationship with the executive office, state agencies and law enforcement,” she said.

During Category 5 Atlantic Hurricane Ian in 2022, Miller recalled working directly with a carrier who was trying to deliver emergency supplies in Southwest Florida.

“I was on the phone minute-to-minute with Florida Highway Patrol — as they were standing at the water’s edge of I-75 — and they relayed to me when the interstate was impassable or clear and when that was changing,” she said. “I passed on that information immediately to keep drivers and freight out of harm’s way without sacrificing efficiency.”

Besides prioritizing proactive and transparent communication, leveraging technology is also a key aspect, said Diana Brown, senior vice president of sales operations and customer experience at XPO. Brown said XPO uses AI-driven tools to efficiently adapt routes in response to traffic, road conditions and potential efficiency risks.

Preparing for the worst

Having an operational contingency plan to address various scenarios when standard protocols are disrupted or unavailable is crucial too, said Amos Rogan, LTL operations leader at freight transportation and supply chain service provider Averitt.

Keeping in mind that storms and other incidents can cause power outages, Rogan noted the company proactively implements at least a portion of its contingency plan in response to predicted hurricane or weather events. This includes ensuring associates are aware of what they’re preparing for and aware of their responsibilities ahead of such an event. 

“We always say, ‘We prepare for the worst, hope for the best,’” Rogan said, noting how the company makes a point to review how it performed with its contingency plan and tweak it accordingly.

“A contingency plan is valuable only if it is treated as a living document, updated as events unfold and technology advances. Otherwise, it becomes practically useless,” he said.

Rogan said Averitt makes a point to practice its contingency plans to instill confidence among associates, ensuring they can perform at a high level under less-than-ideal conditions.

Contingency plans are key to have in place for disaster preparedness, but insurance plans are key for disaster response. Hurricane season can also impact carriers’ insurance costs, requiring careful evaluation and may compel adjustments to coverage and risk management strategies.

[Related: Upcoming hurricane season brings carriers’ disaster preparedness plans into focus]

This is an aspect that Norita Taylor, director of public relations at Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, pointed out. Whilst an insurance policy should always cover hurricanes, she said carriers could check on how much coverage they have for towing and cleanup too.

“Those costs can add up in the normal case of an accident, and with a hurricane, it could be more costly if their truck needs to be moved out of a hurricane area if the truck gets damaged,” Taylor said. “Other than that, they need to try their best to move their truck from an area where it may get caught in the storm. This could help with increased costs later down the road.”

Pamella De Leon is a senior editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. An avid reader and travel enthusiast, she likes hiking, running, and is always on the look out for a good cup of chai. Reach her at [email protected]