How-to on hurricane relief efforts

Hurricane Ida’s outer bands began dumping heavy rain on Louisiana early today as its sustained wind gusts reached 150 mph.

Because of weather satellites and a range of other technologies, man’s ability to track and predict the path of hurricanes improves yearly. In North America, communications technologies give us the ability to warn residents of areas in the predicted path of hurricanes several days ahead of time that the storm is coming and its potential severity. Usually people and businesses have time to take some kind of precautionary measures, as well as evacuate if need be. 

Evacuation route sign. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

However, no one can predict the destruction a hurricane may do, or its impact on lives and property. In addition, a hurricane’s impact on transportation services and supply chains cannot be predicted.

According to AccuWeather’s Andrew Tavani, “Only two hurricanes in recorded history have ever hit Louisiana with sustained winds of 150 mph: the hurricane that hit Last Island in 1856 and Hurricane Laura, which hammered Louisiana last year, according to Colorado State University meteorologist Philip Klotzbach. As Ida made its final approach Sunday morning, sustained winds were right at the 150-mph mark, 7 mph shy of Category 5 force. Should the winds increase at all prior to and when Ida makes landfall, Ida will become the strongest hurricane to ever hit Louisiana. Record-keeping began in 1851.”

(Map: FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events. Hurricane Ida on Aug. 28, 2021, 8 a.m. ET.)
(Map: FreightWaves SONAR Critical Events. Hurricane Ida on Aug. 28, 2021, 8 a.m. ET.)
To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.

FreightWaves coverage

How damaging Hurricane Ida will be is not yet known; we can only pray for the best possible outcome. The entire FreightWaves family sends its prayers to those in the hurricane’s path and hopes for the very best.  

Since went online in 2017, it has covered the transportation/supply chain impacts of all of the hurricanes that have hit the United States. FreightWaves has been covering the storm’s path, preparations to deal with Hurricane Ida, etc., and will continue to do so through the major relief efforts. Look for ongoing updates from Nick Austin, FreightWaves’ Director of Weather Analytics and Senior Meteorologist, as well as members of the FreightWaves editorial team.

FreightWaves how-to from 2017

The following was originally published on in 2017 and written by FreightWaves founder and CEO Craig Fuller in reaction to Hurricane Harvey. FreightWaves continues to receive questions regarding relief loads, so the article is being republished to help answer some of those questions.

I started Xpress Direct in 2002 and ran the operation until 2005. I have not worked for a trucking company in over 15 years, as I chose a new path, but I wanted to share my story. 

I posted an article on FreightWaves about my personal experience running Xpress Direct, the on-demand emergency unit of US Xpress. Over the course of four years of major hurricane activity, my division handled in excess of 20,000 shipments and billed over $100 million in revenue in disaster relief loads alone (US Xpress had a much larger on-demand business, but disaster relief was significant). We happened to be involved in one of the first projects that ever used commercial contractors for logistics and experienced first-hand how challenging FEMA logistics can be.

Over the years, we became pretty good at understanding how to manage these projects and built systems and trained our staff to be prepared for it. We had a team that coordinated activity in Chattanooga in our hurricane “war-room” and would fly a group of team members to the relief sites to manage activity. While the work was challenging, we knew that we were doing something important. Over the years, we learned a few important things. I have tried to make note of these items below.

Things to keep in mind:

1. There will be thousands of loads, if not more. In our first project, we handled over 600 loads for Hurricane Isabel. This was not a huge hurricane and didn’t match the size of the Florida Four or Katrina. Some states are better prepared than others. Florida is world-class. I suspect Louisiana is also better prepared than most.

2. You will sit. When you get to the relief site, no one will have a clue what to do with you or be able to tell you where to go. Expect that there will be hundreds of other trucks waiting around with you for further instructions. The issue is that any decision requires the coordination of local, state and federal officials before any freight can be delivered. We had to get sign off from seven different agencies before delivering the first load – this is slow and painful. You will be dealing with government officials, many of whom are not familiar with logistics and don’t understand what it takes to handle such projects. 

3. Make sure you get a daily detention rate built into your confirmation sheets. FEMA pays detention. If you can prove you were involved in the project, you should get paid. In my day, it was around $50/hour, but I do not know what the going rate is today.

4. Get everything in writing. Yep. Don’t take anyone at their word. Even the biggest and best brokers are dealing with hundreds to thousands of orders and will forget what they promised you. Because of the way that the government pays, it’s in the broker’s interest to get you paid (since it is cost plus), so document the hell out of everything and put it in writing and agreed to by the broker.

5. If you take a load from a broker, expect the payment to be very very slow. This is not because the brokers are trying to screw you (although it does happen), it is more likely because they are required to send in paperwork and document everything that took place. Many of these brokers have never seen the types of volumes on a single order, so most of them are unprepared. If you work with the companies that are larger this should be less painful, but even they are slammed. An easy solution is to use a trucking payment service like Triumph. Chad Boblett of the Facebook group Rate per mile Masters can coordinate the process for getting set up. Check out his Facebook group or go to RPM Quickpay on the web. Even if you don’t want to use a factoring service for most of your freight, I strongly recommend doing it in this case. Plus, Triumph or a factoring company can tell you which brokers are shady and which ones are legit.

6. Brokers get paid cost plus. Keep this in mind when dealing with a broker. Insist on getting paid for all your work. Chances are the broker will be billing detention and other accessorials and since you are doing the hard work make sure you get paid. In our days, we were required to document everything that happened. We got paid for deadhead, detention, linehaul, and other accessorials, but we had to document it. Using ELD data, we were able to show how many miles we were on duty, where we repositioned trucks from/to, and how many hours our trucks were involved. The ELD data documentation worked well.

7. Expect cell service to suck. The hurricane will likely knock out or overpower both the grid and the cell towers. You might have to resort to CB radio for a period of time.

8. Stay tuned or subscribe to FreightWaves for updates. FreightWaves has the most complete coverage of the impact a hurricane will have on the freight market.

9. Most important of all, be safe. Do not attempt to drive when conditions are unsafe. A load of bottled water is not worth your life. There will be thousands of more loads on-site.

Hurricane relief is the biggest dog-and-pony show you will ever see in trucking. But there is a certain satisfaction in being able to help people who are suffering.

Tractor-trailer goes around fallen trees. 
(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Editor’s note: After posting the article, here were comments from driver Steve Lapp: 

Great info, Craig! I am a driver who has worked almost every hurricane relief effort since Hugo in 1989. I would add a few things:

Stop somewhere outside the emergency zone and stock up on canned or dried food and at least two cases of bottled water and plenty of Walmart bags for emergency toilets. There may be NO restaurants or even convenience or grocery stores open for weeks. 

The same is true for fuel; there may be no electricity to run pumps, or infrastructure may be damaged or destroyed. Fill your tanks up about 150-200 miles out.

Bring something to pass the time – books or games are good. There may be no cell service or TV signals for weeks. Have a satellite GPS – no cell service = no phone-based GPS and street signs and landmarks may be non-existent.

Buy a heavy-duty tire plug kit and an air hose that connects to your glad hands; there is nothing worse than having a flat tire 50 miles from nowhere with NO cell OR landline service. 

Finally, bring LOTS of patience!

Tractor-trailer enters a FEMA site. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Tractor-trailer enters a FEMA site. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)