How to Use Real-Time Ground Conditions

Tags: Transportation, Safety

Speed, safety, and reliability are paramount in today's supply chain, and shippers and consignees want an optimal balance between all three. But it's a difficult task as companies continue to optimize their networks, enhancing responsiveness but often increasing their risk exposure.

Better demand forecasting and visibility can go a long way toward smoothing out variability. But the risk of unforeseen exceptions—weather- or human-related—can have a marked impact on service, safety, and cost. The 2013-2014 Polar Vortex, which incapacitated shippers across the United States, is a good example of this volatility.

One way shippers can better prepare for these types of events is to tap into real-time road and weather data as delivered by Helios™ from Exelis, Inc. While fleet dispatch has become acclimated with GPS satellite communications, shippers can also integrate environmental intelligence into their data streams to provide a more complete picture of over-the-road conditions. A wealth of information is available—from National Weather Service alerts to Department of Transportation camera feeds—that can help shippers make better informed decisions about assets on the road.

This kind of hyperlocal information can be used in other ways as well. A fleet manager can regularly, and visually, record and evaluate different routes, then pick the one that is best. Shippers moving over-dimensional cargo can simulate routes and identify possible infrastructure problems along the way. Or companies can simply use "geographical bread crumbs" to analyze past performance in the case of exceptions or accidents, and can use recorded data for archiving incidents or for training purposes.

A more accurate assessment of real-time ground conditions allows dispatch and operations centers to proactively identify problems and adjust routes, thereby improving efficiencies and keeping drivers safe.

Do You Need Environmental Intelligence?

Here are four questions shippers can answer to better understand their spatial and temporal shipping requirements.

  1. Is a regular weather forecast enough? Consider whether a regional National Weather Service alert or Accuweather report provides enough information to ensure that your assets on the road are properly prepared. If you need a more accurate assessment of road conditions over varied geography—mountains, for example—hyperlocal data will be more useful.
  2. Do you need more frequent updates? If you're shipping time-sensitive, high-value freight, an hourly broadcast over the radio may not be enough. When delays can have dire consequences, it's important to have a more timely assessment of ground conditions.
  3. How do you want information delivered? Determine whether you want to be a passive weather spectator—reliant on radio or cable news for critical information—or a proactive participant who wants to integrate critical data feeds into your system.
  4. Do you want to use this data for other purposes? Shippers can use environmental intelligence beyond real time. Recorded data can be analyzed to optimize routes, and even facilitate driver training. A company may similarly leverage such documentation for insurance and liability reasons.