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Hurricane Disaster Relief, FEMA and Freight

August 31, 2022 Kevin Baxter

Hurricane Truck

In the midst of hurricane season, the primary connection that comes to mind between these natural disasters and supply chains is the threat of storms delaying, diverting or destroying freight. But for transportation, another impact comes in the aftermath of a hurricane, as many freight providers - involved in trucking particularly - are contracted with FEMA for disaster relief. And even truckers not directly contracted with the government may turn their attention to disaster relief - taking a break from their regularly scheduled routes to carry loads of essential items like food, water, medical supplies and more to affected areas, both to help those in need and potentially see higher rates. Either way, it's generally accepted that some serious freight capacity shifts into disaster relief following hurricanes - and justifiably so - even if some disagree. Disaster relief efforts extend the impact of hurricanes on freight, as even before a storm's arrival, activity tends to ramp up to beat adverse conditions and get loads delivered. And once a storm has passed, while many do work to deliver to disaster areas, others undertaking regular freight operations often look to avoid those affected regions due to anticipated issues getting through smoothly. Because of all these shifts related to hurricane disaster relief, the trucking market particularly typically sees capacity issues, reliability issues and higher costs surrounding storms. And the effects reverberate to regions not directly in the storm's path, as well as other freight modes.  

What is a FEMA load?

A primary way hurricane (and other natural disaster) relief affects freight is through what are known in shorthand as FEMA loads. A FEMA load is basically cargo made up of essential supplies hauled for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to disaster areas. FEMA schedules and books transportation through pre-approved private sector Transportation Service Providers (TSPs), which can be involved with any freight mode. These providers must register with the FEMA Tender of Service Program and meet participation requirements to haul FEMA loads. As noted above, these are primarily associated with the trucking industry, partially because its largely the most flexible and responsive transportation mode. As an example of how heavily involved trucks can be in hurricane relief response, at one point following last year's Hurricane Ida, FEMA said nearly 1,600 trucks were operating FEMA loads. This encompassed resources of the more than 250 TSPs - asset based carriers, 3PLs and freight brokers - that had been registered pre-storm. FEMA does not force those registered to haul their loads, instead making spot bids for capacity. For those interested in registering as a TSP, there are a few things to consider, like 

  • Time commitment - both detention and general time at pickup/dropoff sites
  • Spotty conditions - damaged roads, power outages, unreliable cell service
  • Heavy paperwork/tracking requirements - keep detailed records
  • Slower payment likelihood - partly due to those heavier paperwork requirements

If have questions about freight during hurricane season or any other time, let us know. Just fill in our brief form and we'll get right back to you to discuss your needs. Rather do a bit more research first? Visit our Learning Center for videos, articles and eBooks on all things freight and logistics.

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