Truck drivers delivering during coronavirus crisis need more private sector support

UPS and Workhorse test drones to help COVID-19 response

Truck drivers delivering during coronavirus crisis need more private sector support

The carrier and drone-maker are working with DroneUp and the Virginia Center For Innovative Technology to test how unmanned aerial systems can be used in the coronavirus response by speeding up testing and increasing social distancing.

As the world races to contain the COVID-19 virus and save lives, UPS and technology companies have a potential solution to increase testing and protect health care workers: autonomous drones.

Aerial drone companies DroneUp and Workhorse Group are working with UPS’s drone delivery subsidiary UPS Flight Forward and Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology to see how unmanned aerial systems can help medical professionals stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The tests in Virginia earlier in April evaluated the commercial drone industry’s ability to use unmanned aircraft to assist the U.S. health care system during the novel Coronavirus crisis. UPS has found previous success using drones at health care facilities. For more than a year, UPS Flight Forward has been using drones to transport medical specimens at a North Carolina hospital.

“Drones can be an important way to deliver medical supplies while people stay home to adhere to our social distancing guidelines,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said on April 21. “Virginia is well-positioned to be a leader in the unmanned system industry, and we are pleased to be part of this initiative.” 

Aerial drones can avoid road traffic and also reduce the number of people who come in contact with the cargo, which in the case of COVID-19 means a lesser potential for exposure to the highly contagious virus. 

The COVID-19 related test exercises were held over three days earlier this month at the vacant St. Paul's College campus in Lawrenceville, Va. The facility, which closed in 2013, made for a safe, complex community environment to test package deliveries by drones under a variety of conditions, according to UPS. 

The exercises focused on delivery to residential and commercial areas with the aim of determining the following:

  • Safe operational capacities existing technology, policy, personnel and environmental restrictions;
  • Airspace de-confliction and operator safety policies necessary for peak use;
  • Processes, policies and training to pilot efficient, safe and effective delivery operations during both day and night;
  • Proposed policy changes that would allow more use of autonomous airborne advanced technologies.

“We’ve proven through ongoing commercial drone delivery programs that effective drone delivery of medical products is faster than conventional ground-based transportation,” Scott Price, UPS chief strategy and transformation officer, said this week. “Drones offer a low-touch option for delivery of lab specimens and medical products that could make a significant impact in an urgent response application.”

Data collected during this “fast-paced simulation” — as UPS called it — will be used to determine how private-sector drone operators can effectively supplement emergency response and patient care. The findings and recommendations will be included in a report to the White House, where leaders are considering what role the blossoming drone industry could play in the coronavirus response.

“We’re proud to be able to help through the use of our drone technology and aerospace team in this crisis,” said 

Duane Hughes, the Workhorse Group CEO, noted that his company had made hundreds of autonomous drone deliveries in the National Airspace System over the last four years using its proprietary technology and electric delivery vehicles. “We have a comprehensive understanding of the benefits provided by a drone delivery when speed counts,” he said this week. “The people of Workhorse are ready to help through these trying times in any way we can.”

Virginia Center For Innovative Technology tested delivery drones at a closed college campus in April to see how multiple unmanned drones would operate in the same airspace.Photo: UPS

DroneUp provides end-to-end aerial data collection services for its drone clients and it also trains and deploys drone pilots for the commercial industries. Company CEO Tom Walker said that people have been asking how drones can help in a time of crisis. 

“Rather than speculate, it is incumbent upon our industry to conduct operationally-based exercises that produce factual data and lessons learned to ensure we can respond safely, effectively and efficiently when called upon,” the DroneUp CEO said. “Data collected now will impact our capabilities beyond the COVID-19 outbreak we are currently facing.”

Virginia’s nonprofit Center for Innovative Technology has been a driver of innovation and entrepreneurship in the commonwealth since 1985. The center also houses the Virginia Unmanned Systems Center at CIT to support this growing industry.

“CIT is committed to exploring innovative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic including emergency package delivery by drones,” said Ed Albrigo, CIT president and CEO. “We appreciate the willingness of DroneUp, UPS and Workhorse to be part of the solution.” 

Drone delivery is not new to Virginia, which was the site of the first consumer delivery by an unmanned Wing drone last year. Wing, which is an Alphabet Inc. subsidiary, transported packages from a pharmacy to a house in Christiansburg, Va, in October.

UPS launched its drone airline, Flight Forward, last fall after a successful pilot program of transporting medical specimen at a North Carolina hospital. UPS has been working on expanding its drone delivery services to other hospitals, universities and corporate campuses around the U.S. Other companies, including Inc.’s Prime Air, also are developing drone-delivery platforms.

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Sneak peek: ATA forms law enforcement advisory board, Teamsters provide 500 COVID-19 vaccines to port drivers in California, trucking celebrates National Puppy Day, and more.

As more Americans are vaccinated each day, the possibility of a “back to normal” life creeps closer, bringing peace of mind and hope to the community. The trucking industry prides itself on its focus on safety and its constant vigilance toward a better future. Here are five good things that happened in trucking this week. 

ATA forms law enforcement advisory board

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has formed a Law Enforcement Advisory Board—a new panel that will advise the ATA Federation on ways to grow and strengthen relationships between the trucking industry and law enforcement organizations across the country. The board is comprised of ATA members who have previous experience in federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as current and retired law enforcement officials who have contributed positively to the partnership between both groups.

“No two groups have a stronger and more consistent presence on our nation's highways than law enforcement officers and American truckers,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear.

“Therein lies a strategic opportunity for greater collaboration, increased communication, and new bonds.

The incredible depth and breadth of experience represented on this board will be an invaluable asset for our industry, the law enforcement community, and the safety of the motoring public a.”

The 22 members of the Law Enforcement Advisory Board will convene bi-monthly to identify areas of opportunity and provide recommendations on priority issues.

During its inaugural meeting, held virtually last week, the board identified primary issues it will focus on in the coming weeks and months, including combatting human trafficking; increasing truck parking capacity and ensuring driver safety at rest stops; commercial motor vehicle safety and security; and enhancing access to training for drivers and company safety personnel. 

The 22 Advisory Board Members are:

  • Derek Barrs, HNTB Corporation
  • Joe Allen Boyd, professional driver, Walmart Inc.
  • Rick Cates, Marsh USA Inc.
  • Tim Cardwell, National High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Assistance Center 
  • Butch Day, Yellow Corporation 
  • Jeff DeVere, DeVere Public Affairs and Consulting
  • Floyd Dixon, FedEx Freight
  • Fred Fakkema, Zonar Systems, Inc.
  • Jeff Ferber, ABF Freight System
  • Kent Grisham, Nebraska Trucking Association
  • Chris Harris, ABF Freight System
  • Parker Harrison, Old Dominion Freight Line
  • Jim Kochenderfer, Werner Enterprises 
  • Mike Martin, Old Dominion Freight Line 
  • John McKown, professional driver, UPS Freight
  • Ray Miller, McAnally Wilkins Insurance 
  • Dana Moore, Texas Trucking Association
  • Myron Rau, South Dakota Trucking Association
  • John Spiros, Roehl Transport
  • Jeffrey Tippit, City of La Porte Police Department 
  • Christopher Vinson, Midlothian Police Department 
  • Donnie Ware, ABF Freight System

Dot Foods donates supplies to Texas after winter storm

Dot Foods donated nearly 110,000 pounds of product to several nonprofit organizations that are providing relief to Texas residents. 

Some of the supply donations we made in the past few weeks include: 

  • 38,000 lbs. to West Virginia Baptist; the church sent the items to Houston
  • 37,000 lbs. to Catholic Charities in San Antonio
  • 20,000 lbs. to San Antonio Food Bank, a Feeding Texas organization
  • 13,000 lbs. to Reach Out America in Houston 

West Virginia Baptist received 38,000 pounds of food from Dot Foods and delivered it to residents of Houston.Photo: Dot Foods

“For the state, it’s been disaster on top of disaster. Texas has been hit hard by COVID-19, and many people were still recovering from Hurricane Harvey in 2017,” said Suzy Parn, the head of Dot’s corporate charitable program.

“I can’t help but think of California, Alabama, and Louisiana, which also experienced disasters alongside the pandemic last year.

We donated food and supplies to those states during that time, and now it’s time for us to do what we can for Texas.”

Dot Foods is now working with FEMA to provide hand sanitizer, face masks, and other essential items for relief. 

“People from all over the city came and lined up around the facility waiting to get food and water,” said Hope King from Reach Out America. “Many thanks for the wonderful shipment of food for the victims of the arctic winter blast humanitarian relief program.” 

Teamsters provide 500 COVID-19 vaccines to port drivers in California

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Ports Division provided 500 COVID-19 vaccines to port truck drivers on March 12 at Shippers Transport Express in Carson, Calif., along with Northeast Community Clinic.

Union and government officials attended the outdoor clinic for the port truck drivers, according to Press-Telegram, who the state considers essential workers because they are among those who ensure the supply chain operates smoothly.

Ron Herrera, Director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Ports Division, speaks during a press conference at an outdoor vaccine clinic where 500 COVID-19 vaccines were distributed to port truck drivers.Photo: Brittany Murray/Press Telegram/SCNG

According to Ron Herrera, director of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Ports Division, coronavirus cases have cut into the workforce on the docks in recent months, leading port, union and terminal officials to push to vaccinate those workers quickly — so goods can keep flowing efficiently.

Speakers at the event urged trucking companies to follow the law by providing proper protective equipment and workplace safety measures.

Four-year-old befriends UPS driver; become delivery duo

Samuel Ray, a four-year-old boy from Wister, Okla. has already decided that he wants to be a UPS truck driver when he grows up.

UPS driver Matt Thomason has been delivering packages to Ray and his mom since he was six months old, according to 5 News Online, and the toddler is excited every time he sees him.

“Sometimes there’s screaming and excitement. He’ll usually chase after him,” Ray’s mom Nicole said.

Ray says he gets excited because he gets to see and play with his best friend, and that he loves to help his friend Matt deliver packages. The two deliver packages to a strip of businesses in downtown Poteau, Okla. 

Four-year-old Samuel Ray and UPS driver Matt Thomason.Photo: KFSM

“He plays with me when he comes in,” Ray said. “He’s my favorite UPS guy.”

Seeing Thomason has made Ray want to pursue a career as a UPS truck driver. He even has his own toy UPS truck and toy.

“It’s honoring you know…it’s humbling,” Thomason said.

Trucking celebrates National Puppy Day

“The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog,” UPSers tweeted of M.K. Clinton words on National Puppy Day on March 23.

Dogs hold a special place in our hearts, at home and on the road. Trucking took to social media to celebrate the pals with four paws.  


COVID-19: Impact on Trucking Companies, Economy and Trade

Truck drivers delivering during coronavirus crisis need more private sector support

Coronavirus and the nation’s response to the emergency are rapidly changing the day-to-day realities of fleet-based businesses in the United States.

While several states are again considering stay-at-home rules, transportation, field service, utility workers, energy workers and many other fleet-based businesses have been deemed essential services and continue to operate, albeit in a vastly altered landscape.

The transportation industry continues to face challenges due to supply chain disruptions and nationwide emergency delivery needs while drivers strive to preserve their health on the road. According to Nick Beck, Owner of Beck Trucking, trucking companies are already doing their best to meet increased demand across the country.

On both sides, inbound and outbound, we’re definitely trying to help out; a few customers have asked us to help supply grocery chains. They have had an influx of grocery store loads that they need assistance with, including around 600 loads earlier this week. We’ve been able to pull resources from what we normally do to assist in keeping the grocery stores full.

Keeping track of up-to-date information is critical for fleet managers and drivers. As a company dedicated to serving fleet-based businesses, Verizon Connect will update this space frequently to provide industry updates and resources managers can use to make informed decisions.

The events of the past few months have emphasized why we do what we do: deliver the solutions, services, and expertise that help keep drivers safe, and drive efficiencies and productivity for fleet-based businesses.

Andrés Irlando, President Verizon Connect 

During this global pandemic, Verizon Connect is ready to provide whatever level of support is required.

  • We are fully staffed at regular levels. We have enabled our teams to work from home while maintaining normal levels of support and accessibility to our teams.
  • We are committed to keeping our systems and platforms up and running and have implemented emergency operations to care for our customers.
  • We will continue to work closely with our customers and suppliers to support critical business operations.

To see everything Verizon is doing to respond to the crisis, please view this page.

Relaxed hours of service: What trucking companies and drivers need to know

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has extended its COVID-19 emergency declaration until the end of the year to provide HOS relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting necessary goods in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. These goods include food, raw materials, medical supplies, paper products and the supplies/equipment necessary for sanitization and community safety. 

The new rule addresses long standing key concerns of the industry including:

– The 30-minute break rule

– Sleeper-birth rules

– Changes to adverse driving conditions exceptions

– Changes to short-haul exception

Read all about the rule change on FMCSA website.

According to the FMCSA, none of the HOS regulations apply “while the driver is engaged with providing direct assistance under the emergency relief exemption.

” This means that drivers are not required to take 30-minute breaks and the regular 34-hour restart is not required.

To help ensure safety, “once a driver has completed his or her delivery, the driver must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers.” Read more about the options provided by FMCSA on ELD devices.

Find out how you can help build a COVID-19-ready fleet with fleet tracking technology. Download this free guide.

Critical business concerns for fleets

How can businesses run efficient fleets in these pressing times? What are the practical steps to take care of your drivers' health? Watch the following webinars to hear from industry experts and editors.

  • Trucking and logistics keep medical supplies, groceries, cleaning and sanitizing supplies, and much more moving through the supply chain during these tough times. Fleets are currently trying their best to keep drivers and employees safe and healthy and stay compliant with regulations while continuing to operate efficiently. In this webinar, Heavy Duty Trucking brings together a panel of industry experts to share what they’ve learned as they monitor the fast-changing conditions—such as the current regulatory landscape and what to expect with freight and the economy moving forward.
    Watch now: What Fleets Need to Know Now About COVID-19 
  • While public fleets are providing essential duties during the pandemic, it’s no small task to pivot from normal to emergency operations. From technicians to management, fleet employees are at their jobsites, working to keep police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, trash trucks and other essential vehicles on the road. In this webinar, Government Fleet brings expertise from public fleet managers and leading consultants to help you tackle current operational challenges—including how to help keep employees and drivers safe, and how to handle the coming weeks and months.
    Watch now: How Public Fleets Are Coping with COVID-19
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards ly to cause death or serious physical harm—COVID-19 and its hazards included. In this unprecedented environment of managing a fleet during a pandemic, this webinar identifies the procedures and policies you should consider implementing to help reduce the risk to your employees and customers.
    Watch now: Fleet Policies to Help Reduce COVID-19 Risks

Recent COVID-19 news

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine soon, followed by one from Moderna.

    The Department of Transportation has recently taken measures to help ensure the safe, rapid transportation of the vaccine, including expanding the emergency exemption for trucking operations.

  • The FMCSA has extended its COVID-19 emergency declarationuntil the end of the year to provide HOS relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting necessary goods in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    These goods include food, raw materials, medical supplies, paper products and the supplies/equipment necessary for sanitization and community safety. 

  • Post-COVID shutdowns, pent-up consumer demand has boosted spot freight rates. However, a weak manufacturing sector means that things could turn downward again.

 More industry updates

  • The Center for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidelines for commercial truck drivers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The trucking industry lost more than 88,000 jobs in April 2020, a 5.8% drop from March. This was part of a record-setting 20.5 million job loss across the U.S., putting the nation’s overall unemployment rate at 14.7%.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance for essential workers to allow them to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19. The guidance covers “critical infrastructure workers,” such as healthcare workers, law enforcement, transportation and logistics workers, provided they remain asymptomatic and take precautions to protect themselves and others.
  • On April 9, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced members would cut oil production decrease by 10 million barrels per day—meaning recently low diesel prices may start heading back up.
  • According to the CDC,current domestic travel advisories “do not apply to employees of critical infrastructure industries, including but not limited to trucking, public health professionals, financial services, and food supply.”
  • On March 24, the FMCSA issued a waiver for commercial drivers whose licenses/permits and/or medical cards have expired or are set to expire after March 1, 2020. The waiver is valid through June 30.

We will continue to update this post as latest news and resources are identified.


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