In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Schneider National recently shared some of the successful measures the company took to help protect its employees, its customers’ freight and its own assets before and during the megastorm --- steps which may be of use to others when the next big one blows through. 

Even in an industry where dealing with unexpected challenges is all in a day’s work, the super storm was unique, observed Walt Fountain, director of safety and enterprise security for Schneider.  “What made Sandy different was the size of the storm,” he told FleetOwner. “It was one thousand miles wide and it just kept moving.

“Currently, the size of our network is such that we knew we’d be hit someplace,” Fountain explained. “The minute we saw it come up on the Hurricane Center reports, we were energized. This one had trouble written all over it.”

Schneider was more than energized, however; the company was also well prepared to go into immediate action. “We have a whole set of contingency plans broken out by facility,” Fountain said. “We give each facility a ‘general’ plan that is about 80% percent complete and then ask them to customize the last 20% percent to the particular needs of their own location. In the Midwest, for example, tornadoes are a problem. In the southeast, it is hurricanes; in California, the big worry is earthquakes.”

Contingency plans are backed up by practice drills. “We do drill rehearsals each year,” noted Fountain. “Our leaders have confidence that they will be supported [during an emergency]. We actually did two drills this year and we’ve done some of these drills with our customers to help them.”

Supply chain partners and federal and state agencies also like to participate in Schneider’s disaster preparedness exercises when possible, he said—something the company would like to do more often, “but it takes lots of resources and time.”

According to Fountain, Schneider also has a “crisis communications team” to help assure that everybody has the same view of the crisis and that all resources are shared appropriately.

 During a natural disaster, it is definitely not business as usual, according to Fountain. Extra care has to be taken in communications with employees, customers and other associates-- and safety always has to come first.

Those contingency plans and drills allowed the company to hit the ground running when Sandy arrived. “We took a lot of mitigating actions in the week before the storm,’ said Fountain. “We were engaged with customers by Tuesday. We had our call lists corrected and verified, our plans updated and we’d moved equipment around.

“Although the storm turned out to be not anywhere near what we had prepared for, those actions helped us a lot,” he added. “I am absolutely convinced it was not wasted energy. They helped us to shift quickly to take pressure off areas hardest hit while still servicing customers.

When it comes to offering advice, Fountain said that “communications are the key. You have to get people engaged; open up the lines. Ask yourself, ‘What do I know and who else needs to know it?’”

“We have a real feeling of family here,” he added. “It is great to know that everybody is working hard together to look after one another. Our hearts and prayers go out to those who really suffered during Sandy and are suffering still.”