Q&A With Alan Savoie: Preparing For Storms—Fleeting Best Practices

Alan Savoie
Alan Savoie

Alan Savoie has spent his long career in fleeting operations with Cooper/T. Smith, and he currently serves as director of marketing and development for Cooper Consolidated. He is a longtime officer of the Greater New Orleans Barge Fleeting Association and a key organizer of GNOBFA’s annual maritime seminar in New Orleans.

As a fleet manager on the Lower Mississippi, Savoie has ridden out more than one hurricane and has given presentations on how to prepare fleets for storms and hurricanes, ride them out and handle the aftermath.

For this special Fleeting and Harbor Operations issue, Savoie kindly agreed to give our readers the benefit of his experience once again.

Waterways Journal: Alan, what are some “normal care” storm precautions and preparations for a fleet operator that should never be neglected? 

Alan Savoie: Preparations for any severe storm forecast require attention not only from the vessel crew but close coordination with dispatcher and management. With respect to an approaching hurricane, preparation should begin months in advance. Starting June 1, first day of the hurricane season, fleet operators should publish a letter of notice alerting customers to their procedures.

As most of your readers know, the U.S. Coast Guard has established four levels of responsibilities for an approaching hurricane: Whiskey, X- Ray, Yankee and Zulu. Each of these designations raises the level of readiness as the hurricane winds increase. It is imperative that fleet operators are familiar with these requirements and respond accordingly. Fleets generally have similar procedures for severe storms but will modify them to fit their respective operations.

WJ: Have the hurricanes of the past few years resulted in changes to how a fleet is prepared for a hurricane or severe weather event? Which of these changes are the most significant or important?

Savoie: There will always be storms such as Hurricane Ida that defy the normal life of a hurricane.  It is challenging to predict the path and strength of a storm, especially in those few hours before the storm makes landfall. I believe the erosion of the Louisiana marsh contributes to a hurricane maintaining its strength.

A fleeting operation should have a simple-to-follow procedure that everyone understands. I don’t believe there should be radical changes to fleeting procedures for severe storms. Document your preparations and actions and place those documents in a secured location.

As to the question of whether the recent hurricanes resulted in changes as to how a fleet prepares for a hurricane, the short answer is yes and no! Securing a barge always requires attention to detail by everyone. I would imagine all fleets, regardless of whether they were impacted by the last hurricane, will review policies and increase training.

With respect to Hurricane Ida, many of the experts have stated that some storms will cause untold damage. Hurricane Ida was one of those. The Reserve area in Louisiana experienced winds in excess of 180 mph. for at least four to six hours.

WJ: Should a company’s fleeting manual cover any and all possible contingencies, or is that not possible?

Savoie: It is impossible to cover any and all possible contingencies. Placing barges in strategic locations, covering loaded open hoppers from wave action, doubling up wires and hard wiring wherever possible are the practical and readily available procedures.

WJ: What data management tools are helping fleet managers better understand and manage their fleets? How useful are they?

Savoie: One of the most useful tools available today is a live fleet picture.  In the days before computers, fleet pictures were handwritten. Numbers had to be erased and entered in the spot every time the barges were moved. Captains were constantly updating the information. A live fleet picture is simply click and drag. The data now is always available. Fleet pictures are historic data if the system allows for it. However, the captain has a live picture of how his fleet is organized. He can readily see if there are box loads on the head of a tier or if open-top loads are not properly covered. Also, management can see the fleet as it is—assuming the captain has entered the information correctly. Therefore, the question can be answered whether all precautions have been taken and the fleet is updated.