The wheels on the bus

Keeping them going round and round during fuel supply disruptions


Whether caused by a cyber-attack, shortage of qualified drivers, global pandemic or a more “traditional” disaster, such as a hurricane, the odds of facing a fuel supply disruption are higher than ever. As a member of South Carolina’s emergency response team and the EMS association, I have been exploring ways to keep essential services up and running and hope the following advice is of service to you.

When the tones drop or disaster strikes, the time to prepare has ended. What can we do today to prepare for the next fuel supply disruption? Deputy Chief David Greene with Colleton County (South Carolina) Fire Rescue recommends 3 strategies for EMS agency leaders to manage fuel supply:

  1. Become familiar with state emergency plans for disaster refueling. After reviewing your state’s plan, pay attention to emergency fuel storage locations close to you. These may be state or federal fuel depots, like those used by departments of transportation or education.
  2. Another key piece of information to track is an estimate of your average daily fuel consumption. Depending on your response model, it is helpful to have this information available by response area or specific apparatus. This will help you calculate how many days of fuel you have on hand. Additionally, state or federal emergency managers may need this information in order to help you find fuel as part of a disaster response plan.
  3. Finally, Chief Greene and others recommend that you discuss and even exercise ideas for reducing fuel consumption.
When the tones drop or disaster strikes, the time to prepare has ended. What can we do today to prepare for the next fuel supply disruption?
When the tones drop or disaster strikes, the time to prepare has ended. What can we do today to prepare for the next fuel supply disruption? (Photo/Getty Images)

Recommendations for private ambulance services

While many private ambulance services provide 911 care in addition to interfacility transports, I spoke with Josh Watts, CEO of MedTrust Medical Transport for his thoughts on managing a fuel disruption from the interfacility transport service perspective. In many jurisdictions, private ambulance services have written or verbal agreements in place stating they will run 911 calls when those systems exceed capacity. What often does not exist is an agreement about how those private services will acquire fuel, or other supplies during a declared disaster.

Watts recommends private ambulance services consider adding arrangements for emergency/disaster fueling to their agreements with 911 providers and hospital systems they support. In some jurisdictions, simply having a written agreement could be enough to get your service plugged into already existing governmental fueling plans. On a related note, many private ambulance services and an increasing number of 911 services rely on commercial fuel card systems to pay for fuel at public pumps. He recommends your service have a backup plan in place in case you are unable to locate a gas station that accepts your fuel card, or your fuel card system becomes inoperable due to computer or other issues. This could include a plan for using petty cash or, as a last resort, reimbursing employees.

Planning for a fuel disruption emergency

Kim Bailey, inpatient emergency manager for the Medical University of South Carolina Charleston Division, encourages us to consider what other equipment may need fuel during a shortage. This could include generators and extrication equipment. When considering these items, particularly generators, it is useful to know how many hours of fuel you have on hand and how many gallons of fuel you need per hour to sustain operations. This information is necessary when requesting emergency/disaster fuel from state or federal sources.

Kim also reminded me we need to consider our most valuable resources – our employees. In doing so, it is important to have a plan for how employees may get to and from work. Do you need a plan for housing and feeding people in extreme cases? What about showers and hygiene? The list could go on, but thinking about these problems before you have to solve them goes a long way in helping you to be a successful leader during a fuel disruption emergency.

President Woodrow Wilson once said, “I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.” I am thankful to Chief Greene, Mr. Watts, Ms. Bailey and many others for contributing to this article and for setting the example that during times of emergency and disaster, our path toward success must include as many stakeholders as possible. The time to develop those relationships is before the crisis arrives. If I can help any of you foster relationships or make connections, please reach out to me.

It’s time to go to work.

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