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Weather watch

Oct. 8, 2015

Company: Transport America, Eagan, MN

Operation: Truckload operation provides freight services for retail and industrial customers as well as logistics services throughout the U.S. and parts of Canada and Mexico.

Problem:

Like many carriers, Transport America and its customers were adversely affected by the frigid cold and series of storms that blanketed much of the U.S. in snow and ice during the winter of 2013-2014. Weather led to delays and unsafe driving conditions, putting freight and drivers trying to meet deadlines at increased risk.

To help navigate drivers around treacherous weather, dispatchers were using manual searches of local weather conditions near the current locations of vehicles and then sending out alerts fleet-wide. Without the ability to customize an alert for specific drivers or regions, every driver in the fleet was receiving this information.

Transport America was looking for a solution that provided more accurate weather details, the ability to personalize that information to only those drivers affected, and automatically re­route vehicles as needed.

“We weren’t optimistic when we went to the marketplace, and we ultimately realized there was no such product available,” CIO Tom Benusa says. “There was no way to automate our manual process of eyeballing weather alert areas, identifying trucks within the affected area, and then notifying drivers of the potential dangers.”

Solution:

The carrier turned to ALK for an answer. Using its Maps platform combined with its Weather Alerts module, ALK was able to craft a solution that sent alerts with potential weather-related disruptions. This allowed fleet managers to reroute vehicles quickly and safely, leading to more fleet utilization.
The ALK Maps Weather Alerts product was tested by the fleet in October 2014 and implemented by the middle of the following January.

“Weather Alerts worked as promised throughout the ultra-snowy winter,” Benusa says. “For example, we were able to book the appropriate number of loads around the multiple blizzards that impacted the Northeast. This helped minimize a utilization drop because we had the data and insight far enough in advance to work with our customers and make the appropriate and safest decisions.”

When searching for its solution, Transport America had a checklist of what it wanted the product to do: full automation, cross-reference of projected routes with weather events, and daily customized and personalized weather forecasts for every driver and route.

The ALK Maps Weather Alerts fulfilled each requirement. The solution pulls in severe weather-alert information from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including winter storm warnings, wind advisories, hurricanes, and flood alerts. According to ALK, it categorizes those based on severity, urgency and certainty.

This critical information is then displayed on the ALK Maps platform and color-coded, allowing managers to quickly see affected vehicles and drivers. In the case of Transport America, weather information is scanned every 20 minutes, and alerts are produced and sent to “fleet leaders” if conditions change. Otherwise, Weather Alerts produces three automated weather emails per day, again sent to fleet leaders whose trucks may be affected.

“When we started notifying drivers of poor weather conditions, they appreciated our proactive communication,” Bonnie Audie, fleet team leader, says.  “If in any case they became uncomfortable continuing the route, they now felt empowered to shut down. Our first priority is their safety and the safety of others; this relieved any stress related to the driver potentially missing a pickup or delivery time. It gave them confidence that we truly care about them and their need to get home safely.”

About the Author

Brian Straight | Managing Editor

Brian joined Fleet Owner in May 2008 after spending nearly 14 years as sports editor and then managing editor of several daily newspapers.  He and his staff  won more than two dozen major writing and editing awards. Responsible for editing, editorial production functions and deadlines.

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