Tallahassee’s Continuity of Operations Plan calls for supplies to be stocked and for the fleet’s...

Tallahassee’s Continuity of Operations Plan calls for supplies to be stocked and for the fleet’s 12 service trucks to be fueled and prepared for use. One is pictured here.

Photo: City of Tallahassee

Crisis management is a moving target. In some cases, like an earthquake, there is no telling when a crisis will happen. In other cases, like a public parade, you may know when it will happen, but there is no way to anticipate whether unexpected events will pop up as a result.

Whether you’re anticipating a crisis or responding to one, the key is having a plan. It may not cover every detail, because by nature, a crisis is unpredictable. But advanced planning can provide a strong foundation from which to start. With a plan, even a totally unexpected event won’t catch you entirely off guard.

While the type of crisis a fleet may face varies based on location, the size of the community, and the territory covered, learning what other fleets have done can help improve any response plan. Here, three fleet professionals share their experiences.

Foundational Best Practices

Regardless of the type of crisis a fleet might deal with, two factors will be very important: people and fuel.

The public works department in Oakland, California, has a plan in place for both. On the people side, the department’s overarching crisis protocol includes after‐hours standby shifts as well as a 24-hour A/B shift operation model for extended emergency operations. The protocol also includes emergency response plans to provide vehicular and contract vendor support.

For instance, in the event of a fire, a mobile repair unit and a mobile fuel truck are on standby to ensure firefighting equipment has uninterrupted capabilities. The city also maintains gasoline and renewable diesel fuel supplies at its bulk fuel sites, which serve as designated fuel providers should an emergency or nature disaster arise.

Over the years, Oakland Public Works has revised and improved its fleet response plan. “We’ve tried to expand participation and identify resources and potential vendor support prior to these events,” said assistant director Richard Battersby. “We created a response manual and checklist along with after‐hours contacts, vendors, and procedures as references to assist in response management.”

In Tallahassee, Florida, all fleet management employees are considered essential. In addition to fuel and equipment-related support, administrative staff supports efforts by delivering food to crews on job sites, operating equipment, and delivering water to citizens.

When a crisis happens, the city’s fleet emergency response schedule divides fleet employees into two shifts (A/B) to cover department operational hours. Accommodations are made for employees selected to stay during an event. These schedules run throughout the event and until department operations have returned to normal.

Fleet management’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) also calls for supplies to be stocked and for the fleet’s 12 service trucks to be fueled and prepared for use. To avoid having these service trucks all in one location, they are often sent home with employees, which helps improve response times.

Like Oakland, Tallahassee also prioritizes fuel availability in a crisis. The fleet’s emergency fuel storm plan outlines the actions fleet employees should take before a weather event. It starts with coordinating with the fleet’s fuel supplier to ensure the city’s fueling sites are at capacity and staging auxiliary fuel tanks at strategic locations. Three fuel trucks are used to remotely fuel generators for water wells, sewer lift stations, emergency operations and traffic devices.

Fleet staff also travel to equipment being used in the field, which enables other city workers to continue restoring services to user departments and citizens as quickly as possible.

Adjusting this plan over time has helped the Tallahassee fleet improve its response when disasters happen. “We note shortcomings and adjust accordingly,” said fleet management director Jeff Shepard. “We improved our response plan, improved communications with our customers, and added additional service trucks and a mobile repair trailer stocked with parts to our fleet.”

In Knoxville, Tennessee, the city’s fleet also has fuel and staffing protocols outlined in its COOP, including keeping reserve fuel on hand and never letting tanks run empty. The fleet department also has an emergency action plan for shop facilities as well as an evacuation plan in case a natural disaster or other event damages the facilities.

Providing emergency fuel cards to first responders is another strategy the fleet department employs. This gives them access to nearby fueling sites, which frees up time to respond to the crisis at hand. Fleet also opens the cards up for purchases beyond fuel so that users can buy food, drinks or other necessary supplies as needed.

“When the crisis comes, it’s up to public works, police, and fire to respond — our job is to support them and make sure they have the resources they need, be it equipment or fuel,” said fleet services director Nicholas Bradshaw. “The overarching theme for us is we prepare for emergencies year‐round so that when an emergency occurs, we’re ready.”

Natural Disasters and Severe Weather

Fuel and appropriate staffing are critical for severe weather events and natural disasters, but fleets can also build on those foundational elements to tailor their response to specific circumstances, such as severe weather and natural disasters.

Tallahassee utility crews work to repair power lines after they were damaged in a storm.

Tallahassee utility crews work to repair power lines after they were damaged in a storm.

Photo: City of Tallahassee

In Tallahassee, area‐wide severe weather briefings help staff prepare for the coming events. All critical equipment is inspected, repaired, and returned to fleet customers before the event happens. Securing equipment and removing potential debris also helps the fleet prepare for potential storm damage.

Teamwork and clear communication are central to the fleet’s response plan. “We are in constant communication with our Leadership Team, emergency management, and critical departments allowing us to be prepared to help,” Shepard said. “We have citywide practices in place that ensure each department is working in unison to address the situation that is imminent. This includes most of our user departments, including electric crews, water and sewer crews, solid waste crews, police, fire, and of course our staff at fleet management.”

The Tallahassee city fleet has put its plan into action plenty of times. In the last five years, fleet staff have responded to or assisted with nine hurricane and storm responses in their own and surrounding areas. The fleet team has additional opportunities to practice its crisis management plan by assisting other fleets. For example, trucks, equipment, and fleet staff were flown into St. Croix to provide help in four two-week rotations. Fleet staff have also been deployed to serve alongside the fire department’s urban search and rescue team on three deployments, including the Surfside Building collapse and Hurricane Michael recovery.

The Oakland fleet has responded to several fires, wind events, and major rain events in recent years, too, the most notable being the Ghostship fire, the Oakland Hills fires and the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Severe weather preparation includes readying seasonal equipment and expediting repairs to equipment that will be needed for the response.

For example, before major rain events, the fleet may expedite PMs and repairs to drainage and sewer equipment. Prior to major wind events, tree equipment gets priority. “We also secure any needed rental equipment and identify where we might source equipment from vendors,” Battersby explained. “Here in California, when there is a high wind event, we can now expect a phenomenon known as public safety power shutoffs (PSPS), whereby the utilities deenergize power lines to minimize risk of fires started by downed wires.”

Because the fleet gets advance notice for natural disasters like wind and rain events, it has been able to plan, prepare, and make sure the emergency operations center is staffed and ready. Battersby said fires and earthquakes are a much different circumstance.

“It’s in responding to an unforeseen event such as earthquakes or fires that really test an organization’s response capabilities,” Battersby said. “Through our efforts responding to these types of activities we have been able to learn and expand our capabilities to support other municipal agencies when they experience something similar. For example, in addition to providing fire crews in response to the Sonoma fires, we were also able to send hydroflusher units to assist in recovery efforts related to collapsed culverts. The proliferation of fires in frequency and severity have also introduced another variable in unhealthy air quality days, which also must be anticipated and planned for.”

Beyond affecting fleet customers, natural disasters can also directly affect fleet operations. Battersby said the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the primary maintenance facility. There are also indirect impacts, such as the increased need for mobile and onsite repairs, remote fueling, and deferred PMs. “The recovery process from a typical event usually includes inventory and inspection to ensure damaged equipment is made ready for the next event.

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and GPS play a key role in tracking dispatch, location, and use of equipment during and after a natural disaster,” he said. “The events that directly impact the operation such as earthquake-damaged facilities could take years to recover from.”

Knoxville and its neighbors have seen their share of natural disasters, too, including several flooding events outside of the city, wildfires, tornados, and assisting with hurricane recovery in South Carolina.

“When a crisis comes up, our job is to support police, fire and public works and make sure they have the resources they need, be it equipment or fuel,” Bradshaw said.

Examples of that support is readying trash and debris removal equipment after a tornado, supporting police responsible for evacuations during wildfires, and giving the fire department personnel all they need when they travel in state or out of state to provide mutual aid.

“If we’re in a position where we know a crisis is going to happen, we give the vehicles a good PM before they leave, coordinate as much as we can, and make sure the person has a fuel card,” Bradshaw said. “If it’s a flood situation, we also make sure they have a raft and an AED (automatic external defibrillator). Or of it’s post-storm cleanup, we’re not going to send the entire fleet of brush collectors, but we find our best ones and make sure they’re serviced and will be prepared for the job they’re about to do.”

Bradshaw said the fleet also uses communication to keep first responders safe and prevent vehicle damage. “‘Turnaround don’t drown’ is messaging we put out during flooding events,” he said. “It’s a message that applies to the public, but it also applies to first responders. Sometimes, we see damage to police cruisers trying to rescue people. If they get stuck in the water, we may have repair work to do on the back end. Our job is to support them however they need — that’s the name of the game with fleet.”

Large Public Events

Large public events such as sporting events, parades, and protests also require fleet preparation and assistance.

In Tallahassee, emergency services, which includes the fire and police departments, is present at all college games and events. The fleet team is on standby to provide support as needed.

“We have on-call technicians to assist with any repair or fueling needs that may arise during this time,” Shepard said. “We also support our police and fire staff when they have an emergency by fueling command centers and have technicians on‐site during a major police event to monitor and repair any and all equipment.”

Large events get fleet support in Oakland, too. For instance, the city has hosted the Golden State Warriors for three of the team’s NBA title victory parades. To prepare for those events, one of the critical steps Battersby’s team takes is making sure street sweepers are operational and staged for post-event cleanup.

“Those are high-profile events that require participation of multiple organizations to execute successfully. For our agency, an example would be using Class 6-8 trucks to block side street access,” Battersby said.

Protests are another event where fleet resources are needed, but may also be subject to damage. “During the protest activities over the past few years, we learned to advise staff to remove city vehicles from public streets and also would perform AVL/GPS reviews and conduct sweeps prior to these activities in order to avoid or minimize damage to city vehicles,” Battersby said.

Knoxville has also seen protests over the last few years, which has required fleet assets to be used in non-traditional ways. “In those situations, the truck fleet turns into mobile barricades. We’ve used dump trucks, medium-duty trucks, and trailers to close off a demonstration area, block streets, that sort of thing,” Bradshaw said.

Knoxville is a university town that is home to an SEC football team, the city fleet is no stranger to large events, either. Each year the fleet provides fueling and equipment support for eight home games, each of which attracts 100,000 or more fans. “The biggest impacts of those events are on the fuel supply. Because fleet vehicles are operating on the weekend and longer than a normal week, they use much more fuel than is typical,” Bradshaw said. “We make sure city fuel sites are stocked in advance to support having more assets in the field.”

Mutual Aid to the Rescue

Having a crisis management plan in place can help fleets provide the best response to these events. But a mutual aid program, where fleets lend support to other communities and can also receive it in return, are also a key part of handling crises.

The city of Tallahassee often responds to surrounding areas during disasters and has mutual aid agreements with many other organizations. In the last five years alone, its fleet management has responded to nine mutual aid requests from North Carolina to St. Croix and has assisted in urban search and rescue missions three times in the past four years.

“We provided mutual aid to many municipalities over the years and received assistance from others as well,” Shepard said. “Due to our location, this is usually hurricane and tropical storm events. For the first time in February 2021, we aided Louisiana with an ice storm and then again in January 2022, we traveled to North Carolina for another ice storm. During these events and outside of our normal preparation practices, adjustments were made such as purchasing tire chains and cold weather products and de‐icing agents. Per our normal protocol, fleet technicians travel with the user department crews that are keeping the equipment operating throughout the disasters. Often, the fleet technicians assist the user department crews with their duties.”

Hurricane Michael provided another opportunity to provide mutual aid when the Florida State Fire Marshall’s office requested assistance from organizations statewide. “Fleet was asked to provide maintenance and repair of all fire apparatus. We traveled to various locations to facilitate the necessary repairs as well as had the vehicles transported to our facility when these repairs were more complex,” Shepard said. “Additionally, we assisted with the demobilization and inspection of this equipment before those organizations returned home.”

Battersby said the concept of mutual aid can be applied well before a crisis arises. He suggests coordinating with other fleet managers in the area or those who have previously experienced the types of events fleets anticipate facing. Attending fleet industry events can yield helpful knowledge, too.

“I’ve learned quite a bit from others in these venues and have participated in a panel discussion or two on this topic myself,” Battersby said. “One of the best strategies is to develop a network of colleagues in the area you can call upon for advice, guidance, or support when needed. Mutual aid works at all levels, not just for law enforcement or firefighting. We’ve collaborated with local fleets extensively over the years and these relationships can play a crucial role in preparing and responding to natural disasters or emergencies.”

Crisis Ahead: Preparing Fleets to Handle Emergencies
Crisis Ahead: Preparing Fleets to Handle Emergencies
About the author
Shelley Mika

Shelley Mika

Freelance Writer

Shelley Mika is a freelance writer for Bobit Business Media. She writes regularly for Government Fleet and Work Truck magazines.

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