The trucking industry faces a host of challenges during natural disasters. Ultimately, local authorities, federal agencies and victims turn to companies like Ruan to quickly respond to deliver critical goods in the affected areas. Simple enough.
But a number of factors are at play in the supply chain, including the location and status of distribution centers and stores; road and weather conditions; fuel cost and supply; and, most importantly, the safety of our professional drivers. We must balance these factors with our obligation to ensure that people have the goods they need in the wake of natural disasters—like milk, bread, eggs, bottled water, car batteries and liquid oxygen used at hospitals, among many others. Ruan is up to the challenge.
Ruan’s Guiding Principles of Safety Focus and People First are our top priorities during storms like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. First and foremost, we confirm that our team and their families are safe and that they are supported during and after the storms. Many Ruan locations in the affected areas were evacuated to ensure our team members and their families stay safe and follow recommendations of local officials.
Before storms, our operations teams work with our valued customers to determine what lanes will be impacted, and to monitor the storm path and any evacuation orders in those areas. Our operations teams communicate continuously with our customers to plan efficient loads that get the most products to needed areas—before, during and after storms. Especially with grocery products, we not only want to guarantee shelves are stocked but also that our drivers and equipment are safe once the storm hits, as high winds can easily topple whole semi-trailers. We made every effort to ensure that our Florida operations near the coasts secured the equipment, then our team members followed state evacuation orders. Like everyone else, we then wait for the worst to pass while our thoughts go out to everyone affected.
Once Hurricane Harvey hit, our teams immediately got to work with relief efforts. Several of our customers generously donated bottled water and other supplies to the affected areas, and our operations team and drivers were anxious to help by providing transportation.
For instance, the following drivers were out for a number of days making deliveries of bottled water to the affected areas in Texas.
- Thomas Johnson, T272 Braselton, GA
- Roy Lucas, T668 Tyler, TX
- Mark Sarver, T668 Tyler, TX
- John Highfill, T561 Muscatine, IA
Our mantra for our professional drivers is, “They are the Captains of the Ship.” It is the responsibility of each driver to assess the situation and proceed ONLY if they feel safe. With that in mind, these drivers were expected to be out for only a short period of time, but because of road closures and weather conditions, they were away from home for up to four days. They encountered flat tires, flooded roads and lack of fresh clothes and amenities because of the unexpected travel time. But, like the rest of the Ruan team, they were just happy to be able to help.
The trucking industry—and many other industries in the U.S.—will continue to feel the effects of these storms for months.
According to the freight research firm FTR Transportation Intelligence, there are four broad effects to the trucking industry in natural disasters. First, idle trucks must wait for water to recede from roads and loading docks. Second, extra shipments of relief and construction supplies are needed and often take priority of other loads. Third, out-of-cycle supply chains require extra shipments and produce lower productivity. And finally, operations are stalled due to congestion, circuity and backed up loading docks.
Certainly, these issues have an impact on cost. The first full week following Hurricane Harvey, the national average van freight rate increased 12 cents per mile, according to Fleet Owner, due to a higher fuel surcharge, the rearrangement of supply chains and the difficulty of shipping in the flooded region. That includes everything to rerouting around flooded roads to excess time spent loading and unloading at battered and crowded distribution centers.
The volatility of fuel costs and availability will continue to be an issue. Texas provides 30 percent of U.S. petroleum refinery capacity, and many refineries closed for a time or remain closed after Hurricane Harvey. Some that are up and running are not back to full capacity. As a result, fuel is more expensive that it was before the storms—and more volatile.
Diesel prices are up almost 20 cents from a month ago, and gas prices are up more than 30 cents over the same time period. Ruan’s procurement department has worked diligently with key bulk suppliers to monitor the supply situation throughout the country—not just in the most affected areas. Fuel disruptions can cascade in unexpected ways; for example, Georgia has experienced disruptions because fuel has been diverted to affected areas, leaving “local” supply insufficient.
Our operations teams in the affected areas are doing everything possible to ensure our tanks are full. This includes planning routes with fuel stops in mind. If a domicile is in less affected areas, we’ve mandated maximum fill-ups before departure or along routes before reaching affected areas. Sometimes, non-standard routes are preferred if they have more truck stops.
They say it takes a village, and in times of crisis, this is definitely the case. Ruan has a team of experts located across the country who are equipped to handle any emergency of any magnitude. Our customers often comment on our ability to adapt, which is something we pride ourselves on. We will continue to work as a team to keep our drivers safe and our customers satisfied during challenging times, just as we have for the past 85 years.