Tank truck carriers rock solid during hurricane season
Nov 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By James Russell
WHEN a major storm slams into the coast of Florida, supply and demand of petroleum product in the Sunshine State is anything but usual. Multiply that scenario by four hurricanes — Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne — and Tropical Storm Bonnie in six weeks for some understanding of a tremendous supply disruption.
It is the first time four hurricanes have made landfall in the same US state in the same year since 1886, when four hit Texas. Insurance claim payments to victims of the four Florida hurricanes will exceed $22 billion, surpassing the insurance payout from Hurricane Andrew, the costliest natural disaster in history, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Only the $32 billion in insured losses from the 9/11 terrorist attacks exceeds the estimated claim payments from this year's Florida hurricanes.
After rain and wind from each storm subsided, it wasn't uncommon for storage tanks at gasoline service stations in Florida to remain dry for days because of abnormal volume consumption, power outages, and gridlocked traffic. Tank trucks traveling through hurricane-stricken areas with no working traffic lights and downed power lines were escorted by state police and Florida Department of Transportation officials. Lines at stations with any product to sell were long — to say the least.
Tank truck carriers and their drivers were some off the unsung heroes in their efforts to help the residents of Florida and other southeast states in the recovery effort. Customers — even non-customers — were calling tank truck officials at their homes because regular volume demand for petroleum had spiked one- and two-fold as Floridians evacuated the state. Regular transit times were stretched beyond normal because of additional traffic from evacuees returning to their homes after the storms. Tank truck carriers have reported that drivers and equipment were diverted from as far as the Northeast and Midwest to help local terminals with the supply disruption.
Tank truck carriers in Florida haul petroleum products from terminals that almost exclusively receive their supply from ships and barges that can't operate in stormy seas. And those terminals stay closed until their electricity is restored and the local port authority says it's safe to reopen.
“First and foremost in a weather emergency is our responsibility to our employees,” says Rob Sandlin, president, Florida Rock and Tank Lines Inc. “You don't move product during a hurricane, and you have to wait until the petroleum terminals have power to load product. We don't have control of when we get access to the product.
“Previous hurricanes certainly have disrupted supply from petroleum terminals, but multiple storms compounded this beyond anything we've ever experienced. Each storm that hit Florida this year was different, at a different time, and a different part of the state. For example, it took well over a week to catch up after the last one in Pensacola, Florida. Evacuees are coming back into the state while you are servicing your customers and gasoline volume at the retail locations is very heavy.”
Transit times before and after each storm were much longer because of additional vehicles on the road. One load going from Jacksonville to Daytona, for example, might take an entire shift. Florida Rock and Tank Lines brought in drivers from other company locations in Georgia, East Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Sandlin says his company made sure drivers worked within the legal hours-of-service rules.
“We made sure everyone had their rest periods,” he says. “If our drivers volunteered to work on days off, they had to be interviewed by management before they could begin a work shift. We will not push anyone beyond safe working conditions.”
Sandlin says his company will do a post-hurricane analysis to evaluate operations during these difficult situations. “Everyone did an excellent job of servicing our customers and operating safely. I'm very proud of our drivers and support staff.”
For Dennis Waller, vice-president of Kenan Transport, a subsidiary of Kenan Advantage Group, hurricane is a word he doesn't want to hear again for a long time. Waller and other company officials used the company's existing emergency preparedness plan and fine tuned it throughout the hurricane season to protect employees and families while meeting customer needs for fuel.
Waller's strategy for battling the storms was similar to a military force in a war zone. Each time another storm hit Florida in a different location, the company reallocated personnel and equipment to the most critical area. Corporate officials and terminal managers communicated with each other through conference calls at least every other day.
“Never in the past have so many employees contributed at one time to such a critical situation — drivers, maintenance staff, terminal managers, regional managers, safety personnel, and the corporate office,” he said. “We couldn't have met the needs of our customers without everyone's help.
“When the declaration for an evacuation was made, consumption of gasoline spiked up 40%,” Waller says. “The storms created a tremendous supply disruption. We received plenty of calls from emergency responders who needed fuel. We helped them, and they were available to escort our transports in areas with no working traffic lights and broken power lines.”
To ensure electricity for telephones and computers, the company rented generator sets for all the fleet terminals well in advance of the first approaching storm. Additional company drivers and equipment were brought to Florida from other states to help haul petroleum products.
Some of the company's 230-plus drivers stationed in Florida were impacted significantly by the weather because of power outages and damage to their homes. Families with two working spouses had additional responsibilities of taking care of children at home because schools were closed. Kenan rented hotel rooms in various cities for their use as well as for the company drivers who came from outside Florida.
“We set times for everyone to report and advise us of their situations,” Waller says. “If we didn't hear from drivers, we were driving to their homes to find out if they needed help. Some did have damage to their homes, and the company provided housing, meals, and whatever personal time for employees to handle problems. Fortunately, most of our drivers are back to a normal work schedule.”
Florida also got some help from the railroads. Two relief trains operated by CSX Transportation and Union Pacific Railroad provided fuel for emergency operations after Hurricane Frances hit the state. Forty cars or about 1.1 million gallons of diesel fuel made up most the shipments with about 114,000 gallons of gasoline. The fuel shipments were requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State of Florida to be used for emergency generators at hospitals and in fire and rescue vehicles. Gasoline was used in police cars.
FEMA recently reported that the amount of hurricane relief continues to rise. Federal and state aid to hurricane and flood victims throughout Florida has reached more than $1.27 billion following Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. FEMA's Disaster Medical Assistance Teams have treated more than 9,600 patients since this year's first hurricane struck Florida.
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