Ontario motor carriers rebound from massive power outage

by Canadian Shipper

Trucking companies were scrambling yesterday to make up for time lost during the power outage that started last Thursday.

“Right now, we’re just trying to clear the backlog,” said Mark Brennan, vice-president of sales and marketing for Highland Transport, based in Markham, Ont.

According to Brennan, Highland was able to continue to operate through the power outage thanks to cell phones and a dispatch office in Montreal.

But that didn’t mean Highland customers were open for pick-up or delivery.

“We ended up keeping a lot of the stuff we’d already picked up in our trailers,” Brennan said.
Carriers carrying general merchandise didn’t suffer from the outage because they couldn’t be penalized for not delivering to companies that weren’t open anyway.

But other carriers, such as Toronto-based Source Medical, a company that specializes in just-in-time deliveries to hospitals, were forced to do what they could to keep the supply chain running smoothly.

Company drivers and dispatchers lent a hand and worked overtime to work by flashlight in warehouses where medical supplies, such as surgical masks and rubber gloves, awaited pickup and delivery.

“We even rented a reefer for one hospital that needed it for the food,” said company official Nicole Menard.
“We couldn’t pick up the skids because we lacked the power for the machinery to do it, but we were able to provide smaller items, like heart valves.”

Bulk petroleum haulers were also kept busy as the lights went out. Todd Stauffer, general manager of operations with Harmac Transportation, says his company will be caught up as soon as tomorrow after a hectic weekend.

“One of the key issues we had, especially when the power started coming back up was that (gas stations) ended up moving a lot of product out of the service stations that you couldn’t replace right away,” said Stauffer. “There seemed to be a little bit of panic-buying going on.”

Another challenge facing trucking companies was getting in touch with drivers.

“There were some real communication issues,” said Stauffer. However, when one region of Harmac’s terminals regained power, dispatchers from other offices were relocated there. The company’s dispatch staff then worked 24 hours a day throughout the ordeal. And Stauffer says many of the off-duty drivers showed up to see how they could help out.

“I’m very proud of my group,” said Stauffer. “We called in every driver we could get in, of course always being cognizant of hours-of-service. Safety always remained the top priority.”

Even though Harmac was definitely slowed down by the power outage, the company was able to keep the wheels turning.

“We couldn’t load, but we took orders and prioritized the best we could (during the outage),” Stauffer said.

Economic losses due the power outage have yet to be assessed, said OTA spokesman Stephen Anderson. “We haven’t had any calls yet from carriers,” Anderson said. “So it’s hard to say.”

OTA offices were also temporarily shut down because of the outage Thursday, but were up and running today.

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