Using Fleet Technology with Telematics to Optimize a Mission-Critical Response

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When a public works truck breaks down in a blizzard during snow removal in Brookline, MA, dispatchers know exactly where to find the vehicle. That’s because Brookline’s public works department uses fleet management with telematics that tracks the progress of their fleet and crew in the field.

Telematics, GIS (geographic information systems) mapping, GPS and cellular communications have been playing an increasing role in guiding teams, tracking progress and assigning workers in the aftermath of blizzards, thunderstorms, floods, heat waves and events where the public’s safety is a concern. These technologies already are being used extensively in organizations with large fleets and field services organizations to run day-to-day operations. Now they are also playing a role in storm damage assessment and cleanup.

As organizations take advantage of telematics, GIS mapping or GPS systems – or a combination of them – the technology is becoming more sophisticated, offering new ways to be efficient and responsive. Tying these technologies together is workforce management, which is becoming popular at field services organizations with large vehicle fleets. And as it becomes so, organizations that respond to mission-critical events such as floods and blizzards are bound to start adopting it as well.

Another technology, workforce management, leverages technologies such as fleet management and GPS data to deliver real-time information about worker and vehicle locations and the progress of their work. It provides dynamic scheduling tools to optimize in-day and scheduled work, and performance analytics that help make on-the-spot resource deployment decisions as well as prepare for future events.

Technology for the Unexpected

Extreme weather events have become common around the globe. Sometimes the damage is limited to a few downed power lines, but in some cases there is widespread damage, with flooded basements, broken gas lines, impassable roads and interruptions in cable and phone service. While first responders get a lot of attention for rushing to emergencies, in the aftermath of a hurricane or storm, there is a flurry of activity by highway workers, utility crews and repair and maintenance teams to restore normalcy and protect public safety.

That includes restoring power, repairing downed telephone lines or gas, heating and cable connections. Road-clearing crews and utility workers for instance, get dispatched as soon as the situation permits to restore power. Plumbers, electricians, construction workers and HVAC technicians are sent to the scene to reconnect services and rebuild damaged structures.

There is a lot of pressure on agencies and organizations that respond to these disasters. Restoring power and HVAC, for instance, is critical for medical care facilities, where lives may depend on how long repairs take. Field service crews have to fix downed wires, broken gas lines and damaged water mains. Cleaning crews work to prevent contamination. Mobile repair crews work to restore cable and Internet connections.

Where it is used, workforce management solutions such as Trimble Work Management, give dispatchers and managers full visibility into work in the field so they can better plan and track the work. Centralized consoles and dynamic GIS maps give dispatchers real-time visibility on crew locations. A dispatcher knows exactly when crews arrive at a job, how long they spend there, and when they leave. So when a crew finishes an assignment, the dispatcher can send the crew to the next task in a smarter, more efficient way. Now, rather than sending a crew across town for the next assignment, the dispatcher looks on the digital map to see where the nearest job is. Shorter distances between jobs mean less time traveling and more time restoring service.

The municipal utility in Anderson, IN, has adopted Trimble Field Management, a GPS-based field services management technology. Before that, when ice storms, blizzards or thunderstorms pulled down power lines in Anderson, the utility department tracked its crews by making phone calls and writing their positions on a chalkboard.

“When there were storms, the board looked like a chess game. Now, we know exactly where each vehicle is and can schedule repairs by a truck’s proximity to the outage,” says Jason Tuck, GIS consultant and former GIS Manager for Anderson Municipal Power & Light Division. “We can see our trucks real-time on a map and make faster and more confident decisions because we know their locations are more accurate.”

Like Anderson Power & Light, any organization that gets involved in disaster response, including pest control, building maintenance, telephone and cable, plumbing, heating and electrical contractors, water supply, construction and various agencies, can improve its response by leveraging field services technology.

Dynamic Response

Work Management delivers lots of data that can be used in real time for on-the-spot decisions and for later review. In real-time situations, managers receive information on how much progress field teams have made, which assignments need coverage, and which workers are available for upcoming tasks. Its dynamic scheduling tools deliver visibility into work plans while next-generation assignment tools like the Self-Learning tool match skills to tasks.

Next-generation workforce management solutions like Work Management, collect data on the experience and preferences of workers. If a field worker is more familiar than others with a certain area of town, it makes sense to send that worker to assignments there because the worker already knows back roads, shortcuts and the general lay of the land. In addition, Work Management features advanced learning tools that “learn” workers’ preferences on geography and types of tasks, which helps fine-tune the assignment of workers to needed jobs. It also helps to reduce overtime costs, travel time and missed assignments.

As a workday progresses, managers and dispatchers receive a constant stream of information on GPS location coordinates and the amount of time spent on each assignment. If certain roads are impassable, dispatchers can plan alternative routes to avoid delays. Using Fleet Management, dispatchers can route drivers around roads shuttered by fallen trees, flooding or slides.

This helps optimize drive-time and labor optimization, while improving safety. The public works department in Brookline, for instance, can immediately respond to stranded crews by tracking their progress constantly. Now if there’s a snowstorm and a truck breaks down, they know exactly where to find it.

Work Management increases accountability as well, by collecting accurate, reliable information on field operations and associated costs. Managers are better equipped to make the right decisions regarding resource deployment during emergencies and on a daily basis. Beyond that, organizations that base decisions on accurate, meaningful information that reveals historical patterns, trends and metrics can respond more effectively to not only day-to-day tasks but to the next hurricane, thunderstorm, heat-wave or blizzard.

For more information on Trimble Field Service Management solutions, visit www.trimble.com/fsm.

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John Cameron is general manager of Trimble Field Service Management (FSM), where he is responsible for worldwide operations and development. He holds a bachelor’s degree with highest honors in mechanical engineering from UC-Berkeley and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. www.trimble.com/fsm