Southeast Operators Ride Out Hurricane Matthew

Tom Halligan
Posted on October 7, 2016
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --- At 8 p.m. on Oct. 6, East Coast Transportation Dispatcher Russell Holp was at his post taking calls and monitoring the path and intensity of Hurricane Matthew as  the massive storm was forecast to slam into Central Florida early Friday morning.

“It’s probably going to be one of the worst storms on record for the Jacksonville area,” said Holp, who has been with the company since 1991, witnessing his share of hurricanes and storms that have hammered the Sunshine State.

Although the company, located three miles inland, was closed and all vehicles secured, Holp was working the overnight shift fielding clients’ calls with any questions about the hurricane and to book future reservations. Although the other major airports—Miami, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale— were closed, the Jacksonville airport was open and Holp said he was juggling a few late airport reservations.

“It's unusual when a hurricane this size comes up and hugs the coastline," explained Holp, adding that because Jacksonville is situated further west from the Atlantic Ocean, the eye of a hurricane is usually well off shore…but this is a rare case.

Get on the Bus

Tom Holden, director of operations with Charlotte, N.C.-based Rose Chauffeured Transportation, was busy preparing to dispatch eight, 57 passenger motorcoaches some 250 miles to the coastal city of Hilton Head, S.C. to evacuate people living in a senior citizen community and take them back to Charlotte to ride out the storm.

Holden said Rose participates in a state/FEMA evacuation program in which motorcoach operators sign up to contract their buses out in emergency situations.  Through a service called BusBank, a motorcoach company’s available inventory is listed and when emergencies arrive, they can be contracted to perform transportation services.

“The biggest problem is to monitor the highways and to make sure we can get out of Hilton Head especially via I-95, the main thoroughfare for people heading north from Florida and Georgia during mandatory evacuations,” explained Holden.

He added that during emergency situations, driver hours of service regulations are lifted because of the obvious traffic situation mass evacuations create.

South Florida Spared

Realizing from experience that hurricane tracking forecasts can change on a dime, South Florida operators know it’s always prudent to expect the worst and hope for the best. Even though Matthew spared the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region Oct. 7, operators were prepared given an earlier forecast that projected the possibility of a direct strike.

Located in downtown Miami, CEO Evan Blanchette of VIP Global was making last minute preparations the afternoon of Oct. 6 while the storm was still making its way toward Florida.

“We’re closed and we have initiated our backup plan in operation,” said Blanchette. “We are in the warning zone so we have our staff and dispatchers working at home and backup systems are located in another state, so we can still function and handle client calls.” He added that shutting down is an easy decision when such a storm is approaching because “safety comes first.”

Blanchette said he garaged his fleet and sent everybody home. “I had one person call that wanted their grandmother picked up and relocated, but that’s a huge risk and liability to be driving out there during an emergency situation with a hurricane coming and evacuation traffic, so we advised the client that was not a good idea.”

Orlando Prepared

Greg Moulton, owner/president of Orlando-based Orlando Select Transportation, closed up shop, placing his fleet in his garage and handling calls to keep clients up to date, especially of flight cancellations due to the Orlando airport closing at 8:30 p.m. that evening.

“Those evacuating the coastal areas are coming to Orlando hotels which will be booked. We are doing some last-minute trips from Orlando to Tampa, but that’s it,” said Moulton.  Raised in Florida and witness to multiple tropical storms and hurricanes, he added he was becoming more concerned because the latest forecast had Matthew turning west in Central Florida and said it would impact the Orlando region with heavy rain and wind.

“It’s much more serious for us now because this hurricane could cover the entire state. We all lose a significant amount of business, but that’s part of the game. You just deal with it.”

Related USA TODAY article: What Will Economic Damages Be?

Related Topics: disasters, emergency preparedness, Evan Blanchette, Florida operators, operations, Orlando, Rose Chauffeured Transportation, Tom Holden, weather

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