Nothing tests the mettle like a natural disaster. The management of the Wal-Mart Transportation private fleet demonstrated just how innovative their systems and people were when Hurricane Katrina forced the closing of over 125 Wal-Mart stores in the Gulf states.

Even as local, state and federal government agencies struggled to cope with the devastation, Wal-Mart Transportation managed to re-supply the majority of the closed stores within days, enabling them to distribute essential items to persons remaining in the storm-ravaged region.

The fleet also shipped beds and other relief supplies to the Houston Astrodome shelter. All told, Wal-Mart's truckers were credited with hauling some $3-million worth of goods to the hurricane zone in the immediate days after the catastrophe

According to Tim Yatsko, Wal-Mart's senior vp-transportation, it was a technologically advanced supply chain system guided by the fleet's previous experience assisting after other natural disasters driven by the professional dedication of each employee from drivers on back that enabled Wal-Mart Transportation to perform so admirably and effectively.

“Our private fleet relies on about 8,000 drivers, all of whom are the most dedicated, committed professionals I have known,” says Yatsko. “Their job, along with delivering store freight, is to operate our 7,500 tractors and 40,000 trailers safely and efficiently. They deliver to Wal-Mart stores and Sam's Clubs and return to our 42 U.S. distribution centers with product from our suppliers.”

Yatsko says Wal-Mart's safety program is a key driver of its operational prowess. “We have very high hiring standards for our drivers,” he relates.

“Also contributing to our safety performance,” he continues, “is how our fleet is maintained in house by our own maintenance associates.”

Yatsko says unequivocally that the Wal-Mart fleet has “the best drivers, the best maintenance, the best approach to safety,” pointing to how it has “finished in first place in our category for seven of the past eight years in the ATA safety awards program.” He points out, too, that Rick Foster, director of fleet safety, was named the 2005 ATA Safety Director of the Year.

Wal-Mart's fleet safety staff also includes 42 field safety managers, one based at each distribution center, who work directly with company drivers and interact with DOT and local law enforcement.

“These relationships are already established,” points out Yatsko, “so we are not going into an area after a disaster without proper security support. We have both hourly and management staff on hand at the distribution centers and at Bentonville headquarters who are up for all hours in these situations," he adds.

“Really,” Yatsko says modestly, “disaster response is just normal trucking business. But it's happening in a much more intense environment that stretches our people around the clock.”