Image: Adobe Stock | Trucks / Vans GPS Tracking

A Look at Verizon Telematics and the Challenges of Recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Before we learn a little about the world of telematics and logistics in disaster areas, a look back at the dark ages of navigation and logistics.

In 1992, I was living in St. Petersburg, Florida for about two years running a small sign business I had started after I moved from Missouri to Florida.

It was my first real entrepreneurial adequately funded business, and I was still just enjoying the whole experience. 1991 hurricane season had no storms in the Gulf of Mexico, so to me, hurricanes were an Atlantic side occurrence.

HURRICANE ANDREW

But all that changed 25 years ago in mid-August of 1992 when Hurricane Andrew made landfall on Florida’s east coast and moved over the peninsula into the Gulf of Mexico.

I did not sustain any damage from Hurricane Andrew, my house and business were well north of the path the storm took across the state.

But I gained a lot of respect for the power of hurricanes and was moved to help out the victims in South Florida in some way.

At a local Chamber of Commerce Business Show, I took up a collection to purchase water and deliver it to South Florida.

Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Image: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

We filled the entire van full of One Gallon bottles of water, and I bought a street map of South Florida and headed south. I had with me a couple of addresses from television coverage that contained collection points for water and relief supplies.

Remember, this is 1992, no internet, minimal cell service, and forget about GPS navigational devices. It was a trip into the unknown!

THE TRIP

The first part of the journey was pretty straight forward. Once I got to Ft. Myers and Naples areas, I did notice highway signs were blown over or missing.

From that point it just got worse. When I entered Broward County from Alligator Alley, navigation became a challenge. The number of standing highway and street signs was minimal at best.

As I entered Dade County and approached Kendall, the large metal poles that hold up highway signs were now gone too. This storm destroyed everything!

Hotels looked like buildings one saw on the nightly news from Beirut; there was just nothing left but the concrete structure. No signs, no windows, and often no roof.

After lots of trial and error in navigating and asking folks for directions, I finally found one of the places that collected relief supplies. I delivered the water and headed back home.

It was a journey I never forget.

As a side note and still valid today. After Hurricane Andrew, Florida painted exit numbers on most highway exit ramps. This small improvement was one of many lessons learned from Andrew as I was not the only one completely lost trying to get around an area that was completely flattened and devoid of signage.

LOGISTICS TECHNOLOGY 25 YEARS LATER

It is hard to imagine that 25 years ago, delivery services relied on paper maps. We have come a long way with consumer GPS navigations systems now available for under $50 and GPS mapping apps installed on every smartphone.

The trip I took 25 years ago would have been so much easier and more efficient if I had just today’s consumer tech.

While every delivery of food, water, and other relief supplies is important in a major disaster, the real movement of goods happens by trucks.

THE LOGISTICS REVOLUTION

The movement of goods and services in retail has been going on ever since the first truck entered the nation’s roads.

If people had online access via dial up 25 years ago, it was likely with services like AOL and Compuserve. Users were lucky to have news and messaging services, interest based forums, and basic encyclopedia research.

Image: Verizon
Image: Verizon

Today, the IoT (Internet of Things) and wireless connectivity is the heart and soul of logistics.

Private and public databases are connected.

Real-time information is provided wirelessly to drivers. Traffic and map data is updated as new information becomes available to the system.

And goods move from manufacturer to warehouse, to sorting facility, to retail store based on customer analytics.

In short, everything is tracked and analyzed to maximize efficiencies, improve delivery times, and increase customer satisfaction.

The term for this is Telematics, and this interdisciplinary field includes telecommunications, vehicular technologies, road transportation, road safety, electrical engineering (such as sensors, instrumentation, wireless communications, etc.), and computer science (such as multimedia, the Internet, etc.).

The success of eCommerce is a direct result of improved logistics and supply chain operations that provide higher customer satisfaction at lower prices. Advanced Telematics is what makes it all possible.

TELEMATICS TO THE RESCUE IN DISASTER SITUATIONS

Image: Verizon | Vans
Image: Verizon | Vans

The movement and deployment of relief supplies and people is a real test for telematics.

It pushes the technology to extremes as it has to manage special situations not commonly found in typical logistics operations of goods and services.

Hurricane Harvey and Irma appear to become two of the costliest and most destructive hurricanes in U.S. history. Telematics will play an important role in the recovery effort.

The flooding from Hurricane Harvey is unprecedented from the storm dumping more than 50 inches of rain. This rainfall is a record for a tropical cyclone in the contiguous U.S.

Once the flooding recedes, the business end of the recovery starts. Many retailers in the area need resupply of products. Service industries will deploy cleanup crews and contractors.

Distribution centers will need to be restocked. Grocery stores will require new deliveries, especially perishable products, and relief agencies will require truck loads of supplies and food to help victims that lost everything.

All of this has to happen in areas where flooding destroyed houses, buildings, roads, street signs, and electricity and communications systems are down or operating at minimal capacity.

ADVANCES IN TECHNOLOGY MAKE IT HAPPEN

Kelly Frey, VP at Verizon Telematics

We asked Kelly Frey, VP at Verizon Telematics, to give us some insight on how Verizon Telematics helps solve the unusual problems due to a hurricane or other natural disaster.

Mr. Frey, we appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions on how your company solves the challenges of disaster relief or providing your clients with services in a disaster area.

Q: Please tell us a little about Verizon Telematics and how your company differs from others in the field?

A: Verizon Telematics is changing the way the world connects vehicles, people and the work they do, by developing and bringing to market the world’s leading IoT and connected vehicle and worker. By combining Telogis, Fleetmatics and Networkfleet, Verizon Telematics is now the largest provider of fleet and Mobile Resource Management (MRM) software solutions in the world. Our customers include small and medium-sized businesses, government agencies and some of the world’s largest enterprise fleets.

Q: Wireless connectivity is an important part of Telematics. But with any major disaster, there are wireless outages as cell towers are damaged. As a division of Verizon, how much input do you have to prioritize restoration of wireless services or deployment of temporary cell towers on important delivery routes?

A: In times of emergency, lines of communication are crucial. You can find out more about Verizon’s emergency preparedness capabilities here. Although Verizon Telematics cannot direct their restoration prioritization, our customers see the benefits of communication services that support important delivery routes being restored, along with the communities and businesses they serve.

Q: Most disaster relief efforts are an “All Hands on Deck” operation. Drivers and staff unfamiliar with local roads and conditions are often recruited to help in affected areas. Does your system offer features that help your client’s unfamiliar team members navigate safely through areas with damaged or missing street signs and landmarks?

A: Applying solutions such as Telogis Fleet to determine current location of vehicles without calling the driver and use of real-time traffic and crowd-sourced road data, can have a huge impact when first responders are reacting to emergencies in unfamiliar territory. Telogis Share also helps enable the sharing of fleets between partners to gain visibility into all assets and resources responding to an emergency event. These solutions can be very useful when navigation is hampered by downed street signs, damaged landmarks and where coordination of multiple service providers can improve the speed and efficacy of the response.

Q: How much experience and training can Verizon Telematics provide a client in disaster area operations?

A: Verizon has a long history of emergency preparedness training for our employees, partners and first responders. One of our leaders in this area is Jeff Scweitzer, our Chief Innovation Architect, who is very involved in a program called Operation Convergent Response. Our Operation Convergent Response (OCR) was the first large-scale demonstration of how networked services could be used to instantly provide information to first responders.

Q: Does your company engage in any internal disaster exercises to test your systems to either help disaster relief or provide operations in disaster struck areas?

A: Verizon has a long history of emergency preparedness training for our employees, partners and first responders. One of our leaders in this area is Jeff Scweitzer, our Chief Innovation Architect, who is very involved in a program called Operation Convergent Response. Our Operation Convergent Response (OCR) was the first large-scale demonstration of how networked services could be used to instantly provide information to first responders.

Q: Have you ever developed a feature in your telematics services that came from the experience learned during a natural disaster?

A: Verizon Telematics has a long history of unique and innovative solutions to support fleet operators and first responders in times of crisis. These capabilities were developed out of necessity for our numerous enterprise customers in the energy sector such as electrical and gas utilities, oil and gas producers and distributors, as well as law enforcement and governmental and NGO (non-governmental organizations) emergency service providers.

Q: Specific to Hurricane Harvey. Is there any aspect of this natural disaster that you believe is or will be different from others you encountered?

A: The sheer scale of the event is unprecedented and will be felt for months to come.

HURRICANE IRMA & CENTRAL MEXICO EARTHQUAKE

This story and interview was completed just before Hurricane Irma hit Florida and the Southeast United States and the 7.1-magnitude earthquake rattled and destroyed many buildings in Central Mexico.

Of course many of the technologies and systems discussed here apply to the relief efforts for all disasters.

eCommerce sellers are genuinely concerned about shipping products to areas that are impacted by natural disasters. How do logistics companies take on the challenge of delivering products in a disaster zone?

With Verizon Telematics, we see a side of logistics that is rarely seen. And this is one being used today to help bring goods to impacted areas by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The company is able to provide solutions for any size business and NGO to help rebuild areas. Small businesses with local delivery services are able to take advantage of the latest technology to help deliver goods to areas that need them the most.

Out of area suppliers can rely on logistics firms using advanced technologies to efficiently and accurately deliver their products.

Rebuilding will require materials and goods that may not be available in the local area. In that regard, an eCommerce business may be the lifeline for someone who is rebuilding their home or business.

And companies such as Verizon Telematics provide the necessary technology to get those supplies delivered.

We hope you found this in-depth article interesting and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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