Hurricane Maria cost Puerto Rico nearly 3,000 lives and $90 billion in damage. Moreover, it left most of the population without essential supplies like food, medicine and drinking water. It is circumstances like these that highlight the importance of truck drivers, who are one of the last lines of defense against total catastrophe. Our present situation gives us yet another opportunity to look at how the trucking industry helps people during times of crisis – by using Hurricane Maria as a case study.
There are very few exceptions to what a cargo truck can haul. After Maria hit, truckers were lugging everything from food and generators to water, fuel and vital medicine like insulin. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, truckers around the world are keeping civilization afloat by transporting masks, gloves, ventilators, sanitizer and soap, groceries, and supplies for manufacturers to make more masks, gloves and ventilators. Puerto Rico’s no different. At the time of writing, 23 cases have been confirmed in the territory, of which one was fatal. Trade restrictions are in place that result in more work for domestic industries. Truckers will be relied upon more than usual in these coming months.
Puerto Rico is at a geographical disadvantage when it comes to the acquisition of emergency aid, which Hurricane Maria exploited: it’s a small island cut off from mainland USA. When Maria hit, relief came trickling into Puerto Rico from the USA and other countries, but there were few ways to get it *through* the island. Trucks became an indispensable liaison between ships bringing supplies and the people needing these supplies. As shipping containers piled up in San Juan’s ports, trucks were dispatched from across Puerto Rico by various means, but there were plenty of communication obstacles.
Technology has brought about huge improvements in efficiency in the trucking industry: working closely with Google Maps, Titanwinds trucking dispatch software allows drivers to stay in touch and choose strategic routes. The improved communication results in maximum efficiency, but with electricity and cell service out in most of the territory, this kind of technology could not be used to keep all trucks and drivers in the loop. As a result, the mainland took over communication. Even the Teamsters union made a plea for extra truck drivers to help with hurricane relief.
Our present disaster differs from the disaster caused by Maria in one fundamental way: the roads are clear. There’s no physical destruction of infrastructure as a result of a viral outbreak. Contrast this with Hurricane Maria, which made plenty of roads and entire regions impassable. This road-exclusivity is trucking’s one weakness, which metastasized into chaos after the hurricane left drivers unable to access their trucks or drive any significant distances. When only 20 percent of truck drivers showed up for hurricane relief duty, they were called out for their negligence, even though the head of Air Force relief efforts stressed that “There should be zero blame on the drivers. They can’t get to work, the infrastructure is destroyed, they can’t get fuel themselves, and they can’t call us for help because there’s no communication.” In any event, all roads are clear due to COVID-19. Trucks can make their deliveries unencumbered by car or virus.
Whether the natural disaster comes in microscopic or macroscopic form, truck drivers are counted on to clean up civilization. Never has this been more apparent than now. Puerto Rico’s trucking industry has picked up from where Hurricane Maria left it.