The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season will go down as one of history’s most devastating. Led by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, a series of storms had caused the deaths of 357 people and total estimated damages of at least $200 billion by mid-October; the season continues through Nov. 30.
When a natural disaster occurs, public sector fleets are pressed into action. Emergency and service vehicles help maintain order, transport casualties, and clear roads during and after emergencies. But they all need full tanks and regular replenishment, which is no small task when supplies are low and demand is high.
Government Fleet reached out to public sector fleet managers who have prevailed through severe weather events to learn how their emergency response plans held up and get advice for those tasked with keeping the metal moving while conditions around them deteriorate.
Strong Winds and Heavy Rain
Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc and destruction as it moved through the West Indies and Caribbean in the first few days of September. In the path of the storm and amidst warnings of a statewide disaster, Floridians scrambled to prepare. States of emergency were declared and evacuation orders issued. In Miami-Dade County, Fleet Management Division Director Alex Alfonso prepared for the worst. Knowing fuel supply lines had been crippled when Hurricane Harvey struck the Gulf Coast weeks earlier, he made requisition a priority.
Having predicted that the disruption spurred by Harvey would be compounded by closed ports on Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts and tanker drivers fleeing northward, “We were aggressive,” Alfonso said. “We provided communication to our fuel vendor [that] they could give to their supplier to increase our ration. We knew we would need 40,000 gallons per day.”
In Lakeland, Fla., east of Tampa, Gary McLean, CPFP, was feeling confident. The last time the fleet manager bid fuel vendors, he chose a Lakeland-based company. He didn’t pick the company because it was local, nor because it offered the lowest price. In fact, the city pays a 5-cent-per-gallon premium above the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS)’s rack rate in exchange for a number of considerations, including same-day delivery and use of the vendor’s facility as a secondary fueling station.
Most importantly, during a severe weather event, the company guarantees the Lakeland fleet will always be its No. 1 priority. Other vendors promised strict adherence to the OPIS rate, but McLean was unswayed.
“That would have been ideal if I was running a business,” he said. “We’re in the business of keeping our citizens safe and sound.”
Alfonso can relate: His division’s responsibilities include emergency fueling of generators at county facilities and, during Irma, at gas stations and grocery stores, where they have been required since shortly after South Florida was devastated by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
“We don’t want to incite panic. We want people to have access to food so they can self-sustain and allow county government to address other priorities,” Alfonso said.
Noting that Lakeland owns and maintains its own utilities infrastructure, McLean described his operation as adopting a “paramilitary-style” posture for emergency response. The city’s fuel strategy held up throughout the hurricane and the recovery that followed, he said, and vehicles and generators continued running despite the many threats to their supply lines.
Fueling in a Winter Wonderland
By the time a winter storm rolls into Hartford, Conn., Mark Fontaine’s plan to keep police, fire, and snow-removal vehicles fueled up and ready to go is already well underway. As the assistant superintendent for Hartford’s Department of Public Works (DPW), Fontaine supervises a carefully laid maze of fuel tanks, generators, and tankers, and he maintains a strong working relationship with his supplier.
“We think long-term and in the moment,” Fontaine said. “Here in the yard, my main concern is police and fire support.” The DPW’s main facility boasts two 15,000-gallon fuel tanks — one each for gasoline and diesel — which can draw power from a massive on-site generator if the grid goes dark. “I always try to keep the tanks no less than 40% full. If I know something is coming our way, I top them both off,” he said.
The entire DPW campus can run on generator power for up to three days. Three of the city’s fire stations have diesel tanks of their own, also backed by emergency generators, as well as 2,500-gallon gas and diesel tanks strategically located at a city park. Fontaine’s fleet includes two 2,000-gallon tankers — used primarily to carry brine used to treat city streets 24 to 36 hours before a snowstorm — as well as a 650-gallon water tanker.
All three tankers can carry gasoline or diesel if circumstances demand. This adaptability is true to form for Hartford, where city-owned service vehicles are expected to serve multiple roles.
“Even if it gets gnarly, you can always figure your way out of it,” Fontaine said. “My biggest concern would be a catastrophic storm that makes it impossible to get fuel from our vendor. We haven’t experienced that yet.”