If it seems like there have been an increasing number of natural disasters and severe weather events over the past few years, it’s because there has been.
Since 2017, when hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma caused over $328 billion in damage to the Southern United States and Puerto Rico, there has been a significant increase in the number of natural disasters per year. Already in 2023, even with a few months to go, the U.S. has experienced a record-high 23 climate- and weather-related events costing over $1 billion. These events include everything from hurricanes, tornados and wildfires to severe storms (both summer and winter), floods, droughts and more.
These types of events devastate entire communities and regions, and what can often go unnoticed is the struggle that survivors and their families face in the aftermath. Government organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) play a critical role in responding to the wreckage. They provide essential supplies and equipment to help prevent further death and devastation and begin rebuilding efforts.
To do that, however, these organizations rely on carriers to transport these resources to communities in need. With these events only becoming more frequent, read on to learn more about how carriers can get involved with federal disaster recovery services.
Commonly transported items.
After a natural disaster hits, first responders are deployed to impacted communities to provide medical care. Meanwhile, federal organizations will begin assessing the damage to provide estimates on everything required to restore and redevelop those communities.
Following the event, they’ll arrange for the transportation of valuable resources and equipment, which can include items such as:
- Search and rescue materials
- Clean water
- Power generators
- Medical equipment
- Mobile command stations
- Wheel loaders
- And more
How to register (or volunteer).
To transport these resources, FEMA and USACE will work with contracted trucking companies (both large and small) and owner-operators. However, not just any carrier can haul loads for the federal government in the event of a natural disaster.
To help ensure security and prevent fraud, carriers are required to register for the government’s System for Award Management if they’d like to provide disaster recovery services. Registration is free and contractors will need to re-apply each program year in order to continue providing transportation services for the federal government.
As part of this registration process, you will need to prepare and upload all necessary compliance documents as outlined by the government organization you want to perform contract work for. The Association of Procurement Technical Assistance Centers offers more than 300 locations across the U.S. if you need help throughout the process or have any questions.
Once you register and are approved to work as a government contractor, you’ll need to enroll in that organization’s payment system to be compensated for your work. You’ll then need to monitor online load boards for any opportunities to haul emergency relief loads, which will typically involve working with a broker.
If this process sounds too extensive and complicated, there are still ways that drivers can provide disaster recovery services. Volunteer organizations like Trucks With Room to Spare allow for drivers to transport critical items to areas in need using their own equipment. They also use donations to help cover the cost of fuel.
What to know about providing disaster recovery services.
As you might expect, drivers will need to take a different approach when hauling disaster relief loads. Here are a few important things to keep in mind beforehand:
Keep your vehicle and equipment prepared.
Make sure you regularly inspect both your truck and your equipment before agreeing to perform disaster recovery services. And although it’s always a good idea to perform preventative maintenance on your truck, it’s especially important in emergency circumstances. You’ll likely be hauling critical supplies and equipment and any delays could lead to significant problems.
Restrictions will (likely) be lifted.
Time is of the essence in emergency situations. While you will still need to follow all government regulations while hauling disaster relief loads, the FMCSA and USDOT will often enact emergency protocols to help get these loads delivered as quickly as possible.
These protocols often mean lifting restrictions on both load size and hours of service to help drivers reach their destination ASAP. As a precaution, always double check before you begin.
Be aware of hazards and weather conditions.
Weather events and natural disasters can be very unpredictable. Conditions can change quickly and there is a very real possibility of running into extreme weather along your route. What’s more, roads are often covered in debris or high water during these situations.
You’ll need to practice extra caution throughout your entire route and frequently check in with dispatchers. These situations are where investing in advanced trucking software can greatly improve your ability to communicate and find the safest route to your destination.
Keep yourself prepared.
Related to hazards and weather conditions, it’s also important for drivers to be prepared for anything that may happen along their route. When driving to the site of a disaster, fuel up ahead of time as there might not be an operating gas station near the area. Additionally, make sure to stock up on extra food and water in the event of closed restaurants or gas stations, or if you do become stranded.
You should also be prepared for poor cell phone service due to damaged power lines, so write down directions prior to leaving. And, as always, make sure all your paperwork is safe, organized and easily accessible.
Providing disaster recovery services takes a considerable amount of coordination from start to finish. These situations are fluid and unexpected changes can occur before you leave, during your route and when you arrive at your destination. It’s important to be flexible and adapt to changes as they happen.
When you reach your destination, be prepared to wait long stretches of time for direction. There will likely be several other trucks delivering disaster relief loads at the site also awaiting direction. This scenario is why FEMA pays a daily detention rate, as it may take multiple days to unload your freight.
Understand your payment options.
Speaking of pay, it’s common for drivers hauling emergency loads to experience a slow payment process. FEMA loads often mean dealing with brokers, who themselves have to deal with significantly more paperwork than with normal loads. That may mean drivers have to wait longer to get paid for providing disaster recovery services.
In these instances, drivers can either wait to get paid for their work or use services like factoring to get paid faster. With the help of a dedicated support team, you can get paid on your freight invoices in 24 hours or less.
Hauling emergency loads, whether through a government agency or through a volunteer organization, is an incredibly challenging yet rewarding experience. While not every trucking company has the capability to do so, those who can provide an invaluable service that helps communities through their darkest times.