I was recently forwarded a YouTube video of a gasoline tanker truck that exploded on a Kansas City highway in the middle of rush hour. No one was injured, but the spectacle is horrific.
It reminded me how, in logistics, the next crisis seems like it's always right around the corner. I never dealt with something quite as serious as a tanker fire, but I could still imagine the mood of everyone in that office.
Logistics seems to boil down to crisis management at times. Then again, you might argue that's why working in this industry prepares us for the trials of life.
In this post, we'll discuss all the ins and outs of tank damage reports and some best practices for risk management. But first, how exactly does our work in logistics prepare us for life?
Managing the Highs and Lows
First of all, logistics is hard work, in a number of ways. Even without a tanker-fire-level crisis, any given day in logistics can be a whirlwind of activity as we fight against the clock to make a profit. Thus, if you've ever worked in freight, you know about the highs and lows.
And yet, because this is every day, 50+ hours a week, the highs and low become predictable. It's almost like the changing of the ocean tides. In this way, our days, weeks, and years form a certain rhythm.
If you're smart and plan to be in it for the long haul, you learn to never get too attached to the highs. That's what protects us from ever getting too low. This is how you ride out the highs and lows of a storm. This is how working in logistics gives you the sea legs to survive anything.
Find Your Sea Legs
I'm certain there are many other ways to learn life lessons and get your sea legs. In logistics, crises happen. It could be minor or it could be very serious. Regardless, you can weather any crisis using a similar blueprint.
Today, we'll drill down into what happens when your driver experiences tank damage in the midst of a routine load. Perhaps this one example will highlight some best practices for handling all crises. Let's find out!
High-Level Logistics Statistics
First of all, logistics data can be staggering. For instance, the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics website reports that over 35 trillion pounds of freight were moved domestically in the US in 2017 (the most recent year reported). That figure includes all modes of transportation. But the majority of that freight was moved by trucks. Over 23 trillion pounds of freight were moved over the road specifically.
From those robust figures, it's equally staggering to consider all the different commodity groups. After some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations, it's clear that there are hundreds of millions of unique loads of freight every year.
Don't let all the things that could go wrong with each of those freight deliveries keep you up at night! Instead, let's appreciate the need for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
For the purpose of this exercise, let's focus on the most volatile commodities that get moved most often. Which is to say, nuclear waste might be more dangerous than gasoline, but we move way more gasoline over the road each and every day. With so much freight, the reality is that something will go wrong at some point.
Which brings us back to that Kansas City tanker truck. That was a heck of a crisis. The report states that it occurred after a car collided with it. But was there preexisting tank damage? Could the crisis have been avoided? How would you handle it? Let's do some unpacking.
Common Types of Tanks Found in Logistics
Tanker trucks are all around us on the road every day. An over-the-road (OTR) tank truck is a special kind of trailer that moves liquids. Often, but not always, those liquids are hazardous. Common types of liquid freight hauled over the road are fuel, oil, chemicals, dairy, and water. In general, all tankers are designed to carry liquids in bulk.
The tank rides on the trailer chassis and is made of stainless steel surrounded by protective layers and coatings. Typical types of tankers and freight they haul are listed below:
- OTR tanker trailers: These carry fuel, oil, chemicals, dairy products, even water.
- Tank containers: Sometimes called a "tank-tainer" or "ISO tanks," these are tanks housed inside stackable steel frames.
- Intermodal tank cars: These are rail cars that carry oil, chemicals, corrosives, and gasoline.
- Tanker ships: These are large ocean liner ships, typically carrying crude oil.
By law, the driver, conductor, or captain of each type of tanker and trailer must perform a safety check prior to their shipment. As shown above with the Kansas City fuel truck, a damaged tank is a problem that can escalate quickly.
You don't want to make assumptions about your equipment, and you don't want to cut corners. Instead, you want your drivers to make the routine equipment checks and run through the proper procedures like clockwork. To put it another way, safety first!
What Is a Tank Damage Report?
The fact is, tank damage happens. When it does, don't panic—just realize there are certain FMCSA guidelines to follow. The guidelines are in place to identify and define the types of tank damage and enact the appropriate response based on the nature of your freight. Equipment damage could be many things, but it typically comes in the form of:
- Dents and cracks to the tank body.
- Broken truck or trailer components.
- Damage incurred due to freight theft or vandalism.
Document. Document. And Document.
Understand that once tank damage has been identified, a new process begins. Businesses take the tank damage process very seriously because the reporting process protects the business from escalating situations. In addition, there's a possibility that damaged equipment may result in compromised freight or delivery.
If there is freight damage, that has its own separate reporting process. In the case of both equipment damage and freight damage, it's crucial to follow the documentation processes. Failure to report properly can delay resolution, costing time—and not to mention real dollars.
Key reasons to follow a tank or freight damage report protocol:
- Establish an organized paper trail.
- Start the timeline of events.
- Help determine root cause of the damage.
- Document accurate descriptions of the damage incurred.
- Establish the failure scenarios that could have resulted from tank damage.
- Follow your insurers' protocol.
- Proactively self-document. More information is better.
As I've stated, it's most important to follow the prescribed process for reporting any event. Keep in mind that a damage report doesn't constitute a freight claim; it's only a starting point.
Best Practices: Digital Report Management
When there's a crisis, technology is our friend. First of all, if your logistics company doesn't have a TMS yet, it should get one. A TMS is the digital hub of operations for the modern logistics company. That said, keep in mind there are many TMS solutions out there. I always make two common-sense recommendations while you shop.
- Find a TMS that is the right shape and size for your company.
- Select a TMS that integrates with the best add-ons.
I'm big on imaging tech. As we trend towards the paperless office in general, it becomes apparent that image quality is the umbrella that stirs the cocktail. There's so much paper associated with a good delivery. When there's tank damage, freight damage, or an accident, the paperwork quotient skyrockets. Easy-to-organize document imaging is critical to making the reporting process go as smoothly as possible.
Templates to Weather the Tempest
To illustrate how tech can optimize your crisis process, here are three generations of a damage report:
- Here's a sample of a standard paper damage report form. Note the typical "detailed written description" box, which should be supplemented with pictures in your digital file.
- See this example of an online damage report. Note the easy-to-complete boxes and the ability to attach images directly to the form.
- Finally, here's an example of a digital, TMS-integrated damage report. I love how much easier this format on the Vector website makes the reporting process. Images and paperwork sync directly with your TMS and back-office DMS. This keeps things orderly and clean.
It's apparent that that logistics makes the world go 'round. Despite any crisis, the deliveries that preserve the fabric of our society and keep us going are still getting made. If we continue to lean on the best tech advancements and maintain an even keel, we'll be able to navigate even the worst waters.
Do Your Best, and Look for the Silver Lining
In summary, just like anything, there are best practices for crisis management. We must keep searching for the best solutions to every crisis. Let's keep a little tank damage from turning into a tank explosion.
That's the essence of risk management and continuous improvement. And that's how we gain peace of mind—by knowing we're doing everything we can with the best tools available.
One last essential lesson about crisis management from logistics: learn to laugh! In truth, those of us in logistics know how hilarious the day-to-day comedy can be when no one has gotten hurt but it feels like every other possible thing is going wrong. This laughter gives peace of mind, feels good, and provides perspective. I recommend it to all.
In these uncertain times, we can't allow ourselves to get too overwhelmed. We must remember our hard-earned experience from the trenches of logistics. Let's not swing too high, and let's not get too low. There's always more work to be done and a laugh to be had—so either way, let's lean into the moment.
Keep calm, and just keep trucking.
This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.