Are You Really Ready? NAFA Event Prepares Attendees for the Unexpected

Select Year to View:

Release date: 7/5/2018

Fleet managers play an absolutely critical role in preparing their employers and communities for natural disasters. That level of importance increases exponentially during the response to and clean-up after those disasters.

That’s why NAFA brought together some of the brightest minds – and most experienced disaster response experts – a for half-day workshop designed to share knowledge and best practices.

Are You Really Ready? The Critical Role of Fleets Before, During, and Post-Disaster, put attendees, figuratively speaking, in positions they might not have wanted to be: knee-deep in flood waters, bracing for hurricane-force winds, and staring down a wall of fire descending from the mountains.

Setting the scene for the day, NAFA President Bryan Flansburg, CAFM®, Location Manager for First Student School
Bus Transportation, spoke of the dramatic weather that battered North America in 2017, notable for a hurricane season featuring 17 named storms, 10 hurricanes, and six major hurricanes.

This was especially true for the day’s first presenter, NAFA Regular Member Patti Earley, CAFM, Florida Power and Light.

In early September, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys as a large Category 4 hurricane. Initially a Category 5, Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean outside of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, yet it was not the only one.

“When it comes time to respond to the hazards from disasters, fleet is the central point for any kind of response,” said Earley. “It’s crucial that your fleet is ready.”

Before the Storm

As she reviewed guidelines for developing an emergency operations plan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website,, Earley said, “It is advised that you form a collaborative team, which gathers together individuals from different roles in your organization. That helps you have different points of view.” This approach also helps to define each person’s role in the plan so that when it is time to execute it, the appropriate individuals can be called upon.

Assessment of risk is imperative, as some emergencies will have a greater damage potential than others. A cited scenario imagined floods that might not affect large areas but would directly affect where fleets are housed. In this instance, the risk is high if the vehicles required to resolve a crisis are those in jeopardy. “Look at the frequency and severity of a potential problem,” Earley said. Knowing that a specific hazard is more likely – imagine flooding in lowland regions – one can presume heightened severity of outcomes.

Determine your operating priorities. “When Irma came into Florida, we had six-and-a-half million people evacuate,” she
noted. “During Hurricane Katrina, people were trying to evacuate from New Orleans, and fuel was a big problem. Stations ran out of fuel, vehicles ran out on interstates just as they’re attempting to leave,” underscoring how critical fuel will be in emergencies.

Part of your plan must include how you are going to address that. Be sure to know in advance where your fuel is coming from in an emergency so that you will know if you’ll actually have access to it. Who is your supplier? How and where will you dispense it?

If your fuel pumps are not run with a backup generator, you may not be able to pump in a power outage.

When planning your goals – your broad, general statements – indicate your “big picture” aspirations in an emergency, what you want to do, such as having your recovery equipment available and serviceable in the thick of the event. Your objectives are more granular, specific actions and operational processes, like where those vehicles should be located in an emergency to be easily accessed but far enough away from the main risk zone.

Develop and analyze your courses of action. “Establish a timeline,” Earley said. “This can vary from incident to incident.”

A hurricane warning can provide a fleet with two to three days of advanced warning, enough to potentially prepare for it. Fast-moving events like tornados that pop up from nowhere require a completely different planning mindset. “Scale your operations for both events you can plan for and those you can’t.”

Both plans are vital because one situation – a slow-moving brush fire that one can map out a timeline for – can transform into another – a wind shift moves the fire to dry terrain, closer to houses and communities. “It’s best not to have just one course of action,” Earley said. “For anyone who has been involved with a disaster, you know that all of them are different.”

During the Storm

NAFA Regular Member Joe Suarez, Director of Fleet Services for Florida Power & Light, and NAFA Regular Member Kevin Fareri, CAFM®, Deputy Director for the Fleet Operation Division of the Texas Department of Transportation, discussed the difficult process of executing relief operations. For both men, being able to divert a part of their primary tasks to assist other communities is seen as yet another necessary function of any fleet. Yet for each, remediation
can wait until it is safe to carry it out.

NAFA Regular Member Ray Brisby, CAFM®, does not have the ability to wait for the worst to be over before initiating recovery. As the Calgary Fire Department Fleet Manager, his vehicles need to be in the thick of it.

“The 2013 floods in Alberta, Canada, were categorized as ‘floods of the century’ – we’d never seen anything like it,” Brisby said.

“Twenty-six of our neighborhoods, a community of one-and-a quarter million people, were affected. We had to evacuate 100,000 of our residents, and that was mandatory. Five billion dollars in damage and five fatalities were attributed to this…and throughout all this, we had to conduct business as usual.”

How did they do this? Brisby described three plans that were imperative to Calgary Fire’s ability to stay up and running.

“S.E.M.P., or Strategic Emergency Management Plan, is a very high-level plan, as the name implies,” Brisby said. This plan acts in the same manner as the planning Earley previously described, with the addition of requiring that operations are active throughout the catastrophe. This plan identifies the “who does what,” but also identifies how one communicates with the individuals who must see things through. It also identifies the need for cross-training should
necessary work positions be left unattended.

The Emergency Operations Response Plan, which is tactical in nature, lays out how fleets will operate in such events. By attempting to imagine the best- and worst-case scenarios, this plan takes anecdotal information and past history into account to best determine which way to proceed. In a fire, how quickly do you move toward evacuation? That depends on the infrastructure.

If you glut the roads with people leaving town, will that only slow the evacuation effort down? Will you be able to get your response team in?

But how can such unexpected possibilities be known? An educated guess can be made through “table-top exercises,” which are literally war game scenarios played out among key planners to presume the most effective ways to proceed (or not to) in any situation. While such activities can only speculate upon actions and outcomes, they are nonetheless effective in gaining a mindset that looks for best operational practices while being able to think with a clear head.

The Business Continuity Plan deals with the intent of the organization and how that intent continues in a crisis. For a
manufacturer, how can you keep what you make going and how do you protect what you make from being damaged? For first responders, what is the minutia that enables them to keep doing what they need to do?

This plan draws upon the previous two and helps clarify how things will be handled. For example, this plan will identify who will fill in for key workers if they are unable to come to work, an ever-present possibility should fires, floods, or icy roads displace individuals. It also will determine what cross-training they should have in order to do jobs that aren’t their usual workload.


The workshop concluded with a spirited panel discussion about lessons learned from living and working through a disaster.

Brisby, Fareri, and Suarez joined Patrick Burnett, Associate Vice President, Technical Claims Material Damage for Nationwide Insurance; and Alex Moore, Director of Account Management and Sales, Copart Auto Auctions, in the post-mortem.

The panelists provided insight concerning vehicle condition and how fleets handle replacement issues after the fires, flood, and freeze. Burnett fielded inquiries about the insurance side of replacement, while Moore detailed what could and could not be sold at auction.

Fleet and mobility managers do not seek out catastrophe, but events like the Disaster Preparedness workshop prove they are enthusiastic about preparing for situations over which they may not have full control.