Providing warnings that a Texas Coastal port will be closing its gates due to severe weather

Discussion in 'Experienced Truckers' Advice' started by Mike Murphy, Jul 29, 2021.

  1. Mike Murphy

    Mike Murphy Bobtail Member

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    I am a senior research engineer with the University of Texas - Center for Transportation Research. We are studying how to improve truck driver safety and reduce risk of damage to trucks and cargo during severe weather. Our website is at the following link to help verify this is a legitimate post:

    Center for Transportation Research | Collaborate. Innovate. Educate.

    Click on People in the upper right hand corner of the webpage then Leadership, you will see my name.

    I am conducting a survey of truck drivers about driving during severe weather, however I was asked a question during a meeting yesterday and would appreciate your thoughts about providing the best answer:

    I was asked, How many miles / or how much time warning does a trucker need before arriving at a Texas port city (Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Freeport etc.) that a port will be closing its gates due to severe weather? I know the obvious answer is 'As many miles / or as much time as I can get !' However, the reality is that there will be a constraint on how many miles away from the port DOT message signs can display 'port abc will close September ww at noon'

    Another idea is to create a system somewhat like Amber Alert but would send truckers who provide their cell number with a message that the port will close on a certain day and at a certain time.

    Some truckers have responded to the survey and said 'just close the port 48 hours before the hurricane hits !' However, often the exact path of the storm might not be know that far in advance.
    We've found that more truckers have had damage due to high winds than flooding, high winds occur due to hurricanes, tropical storms along the Gulf Coast and also occur at Laredo / Nuevo Laredo and in the Franklin Mountains near El Paso ------ strong enough to roll a semi.

    You thoughts and comments on these questions would be appreciated.

    Thanks very much,
    Mike Murphy
     
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  3. RockinChair

    RockinChair Road Train Member

    I'm not trying to be snarky, but as soon as the Port makes the decision they need to put the word out to the carriers, media outlets, TxDOT and other relevant websites, and then TxDOT should display the message on all of their electronic signs that will be displaying other warnings about the approaching hurricane. I don't know what radius they use, but the port closure(s) should be displayed for at least a 300 mi radius that way drivers can temporarily shelter in other cities away from those likely to be affected by the approaching storm.

    The Amber Alert-style system is also a good idea.
     
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  4. Mike Murphy

    Mike Murphy Bobtail Member

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    RockinChair -

    Thank you very much for this information - Dallas is about 230 miles north of Houston (+/-) on IH 45. So 300 miles would be just south of the Oklahoma / Texas border. Austin is roughly 170 miles north-west of Houston on US 290 ---- then a straight shot north on IH 35 to either Fort Worth or Dallas. San Antonio is about 200 miles west of Houston on IH 10 - so 300 miles would be getting into the rural western part of Texas around Junction. The Texas / Louisiana border is about 100 miles east of Houston on IH 10. Thus it looks like TxDOT could cover the bases north, and west ---- but not 300 miles to the east within the state's jurisdiction. Problem is that the section of IH 10 between Houston and Louisiana was the part that flooded during Harvey - extremely unusual; 18-wheelers parked along the IH 10 shoulder with water over their fenders!. Besides the ITS message boards and the 'Amber Alert' idea, are there other methods for getting the message to truckers when they are on the highway? Some truckers say 'CB radios are the fastest communication' but few truckers still use CBs.

    A second question I've been exploring is providing 'safe' parking for truckers on the approach routes to the coast and what truckers would consider to be 'safe parking'. One trucker stated in the survey that 'safe' means off the highway, not parked on the shoulder or along ramps. However, it seems that there would be other issues such as parking far enough away from the hurricane impact area such that truckers aren't fighting high wind speeds. I watched a trucker's video while he was driving in Wyoming in 65 mph winds, he lowered speeds and stayed left - but from his video cam he was in a dangerous situation with no place to park. He said one problem was other truckers sometimes drive faster and when they pass his truck their trailer sways so there's risk of a collision. High winds are more dangerous to truckers than flooding based on comments from the survey.

    Thanks again ----- I'd appreciate hearing from other truckers on this point.

    Mike
     
  5. God prefers Diesels

    God prefers Diesels Road Train Member

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    Aren't most of these trucks company drivers? Would it be possible to mass-email their companies and let them filter the info down to their drivers? You could add O/O's to that mailing list, and fire off one email to let everyone know what's going on. Just spitballing. This level of logistics is way over my head.
     
  6. bzinger

    bzinger Road Train Member

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    With the tech available to drivers today there's really no reason to drive into bad weather that has been forecasted days in advance , at the end of every day I check the forecast where I am and ahead of me .
    If I'm headed into severe weather such as a blizzard I'm parked while I can still find parking and I don't wait for the road to be closed.
     
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  7. bzinger

    bzinger Road Train Member

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    And if some desk jockey doesent like my decision....TFB!
     
  8. PacoTaco

    PacoTaco Light Load Member

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    That is the best answer.
     
  9. Wasted Thyme

    Wasted Thyme Road Train Member

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    It's really a mute point. If the weather is bad enough to shut down the port. It's going to be bad enough to shut the driver down, too.
     
  10. Mike Murphy

    Mike Murphy Bobtail Member

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    God Prefers Diesels -

    I appreciate your suggestion and actually, I can't say whether email would be a good way to communicate with drivers on the road or not. I would expect that driver's can't read an email while their driving - in fact even the Amber Alert idea would require a driver to pull out their cell phone, punch 'text message' and read the Alert. Waiting until a driver stops to rest to read emails might result in the information arriving to the driver too late. Inward facing cameras likely make it unpleasant if uploaded video shows a driver looking at their cell phone even if it's a message from their dispatcher?

    Regarding email communications with drivers - I am not exaggerating when I say that I've sent approximately 800,000 email survey invitations to trucking companies and owner operators (US and nationwide) to take the survey we are conducting. I realize that not everyone wants to take a survey - perhaps people don't realize that University faculty and researchers are often the subject matter experts that legislators and state agencies go to when making these kinds of decisions. In any case, I've gotten 437 100% completed surveys from over 800,000 emails sent. I do definitely appreciate the 437 surveys I've received.

    Why is this?

    1) Some email providers automatically place mass email distributions in the SPAM folder - which might be buried two levels down from the email inbox screen. Thus, the driver never sees the email unless they think to look in the SPAM folder.

    2) Truckers might receive dozens of emails every day and literally don't have the time or energy to read them all. Driving 11 hours, then having to stop to sleep whether you are actually sleepy or not can't be pleasant.

    3) Even if the email was sent from the port to the company dispatcher - think of a large freight company likely has well over 100 managers nationwide, some on vacation, some out sick, some at training etc. etc. ----- some driver's aren't going to get the forwarded email message. Not every driver actually needs to hear that a port in Texas will be closing its gates ----- but it's hard to know actually which truckers need to know. Maybe the trucker is delivering semi-conductors to Dell in Austin that uses those components along with others arriving by other trucks to fabricate computers. The computers are then transported by trucks to a cross-docking facility 15 miles from the port, where the computers are placed in 40' ocean containers along with other freight for shipment to Brazil. There are so many scenarios to consider.......

    Maybe I'm making this too complicated.......but that's why I'm asking the questions.

    Thanks again for your reply, I appreciate it.

    Mike
     
  11. Mike Murphy

    Mike Murphy Bobtail Member

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    Bzinger and Wasting Thyme -

    I think you're giving the answers that experienced driver's know are the right answers. However, there are apparently situations that place drivers and their trucks at risk in the path of a hurricane or other bad weather events that occur. Some survey responses have indicated that the most vulnerable drivers are the younger, less experienced drivers who don't yet know what danger looks like. I think you answer is correct - but rolled trucks, damaged trucks and cargo still occur and drivers are sometimes injured or killed. TxDOT's goal is zero fatalities and improving safety for truckers (and four wheelers of course).

    I've asked some of the truck company CEOs I've talked to if there are manuals or printed materials about what to do when you are on the road and drive into severe weather. The answer was 'no' we do provide training ------ and most often its experienced drivers talking to the newer drivers.

    Thanks very much for your comments

    Mike
     
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