GPS Tracking Enables Social Distancing, Optimal Construction Fleet Productivity During Pandemic

Mon January 11, 2021 - National Edition
Del Williams

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, construction contractors, business owners and fleet managers still need to manage their fleets, but may not want to go to the office daily and risk possible exposure to themselves or others.

Fortunately, by using new technology offerings like a real-time GPS vehicle tracking system via a smartphone, tablet or PC remotely, in addition to email, Zoom meetings, etc. they can socially distance as well as dynamically manage their fleets and work crews throughout the day without missing a beat.

In fact, compared to traditional techniques like meeting face-to-face and shuffling paperwork, the advanced technology now available actually improves control and allows immediate response and adjustment to the inevitable emergencies and changing demands that occur throughout the day.

"With an advanced, real-time GPS vehicle tracking system, essentially all employees can socially distance. To avoid potential viral transmission from other employees and vehicles, they can leave from their homes in their typical company vehicle and go directly to the job site without returning to the office, except to retrieve any needed supplies," said Ben VanAvery, director of sales and marketing at Advanced Tracking Technologies (ATTI), a Houston, Texas-based designer and manufacturer of GPS tracking products.

Such a GPS tracking system can facilitate social distancing and virtually eliminate the need for routine personal interaction, while ensuring that drivers and work crews stay on task.

When logistics during the pandemic require it, emergencies occur, or work must be handled by the nearest qualified, available technician, such a system can be very advantageous. With real time GPS vehicle tracking, construction managers can see which technicians they have across the area, including who is nearest and who is experienced and properly qualified for the job. And by accessing real-time traffic data in the software, they can identify who is easiest to send to that location as well.

As an example, one GPS vehicle tracking device, the Vision from ATTI transmits 10-second updates, showing precisely where vehicles are the moment the construction fleet manager or dispatcher needs to know.

Compared with typical GPS tracking devices that may only update every few minutes, the system provides real-time location updates as well as speed and idle time alerts if something is amiss. This data is transmitted via satellite and cellular networks to a smartphone or PC on a 24/7 basis. The system has access to nationwide speed limits in its database.

Dispatches can be made throughout the day and sent directly to the driver's phone to tell the work crew the next job site address. Once they complete the job, it is recorded in the system, so the dispatcher, owner or fleet manager can stay apprised. In that way, it can serve as a remote time sheet.

Robert Hanneman, business development/fleet manager at Chelsea, Okla.-based K&D Construction Services, a specialty foundation contractor serving the utilities market in a six-state area with a full suite of construction foundation services, has already put such a capability to good use.

"We use GPS tracking to know where our equipment is so we can quickly get it to the next job site," said Hanneman. "We use it when we schedule which jobs need which pieces of equipment to ensure that everybody gets what they need and nothing extra."

He appreciates that he can use the one system to track all of his construction fleet vehicles.

"I did not want to look at multiple systems to see different things, with one set of trackers for the trucks and another for the skid steers and mini excavators."

According to Hanneman, via a PC or smartphone app approved by ATTI he can display the real-time location of his entire fleet on a map, and zoom in on any specific vehicle. At a glance, he can see if a vehicle is moving (displays green) or stopped (displays red). If he touches a vehicle icon, the app will display where the vehicle has been, where it stopped and how long it has idled. All this helps with on-the-fly coordination.

"By zooming in or out on the map, we can see everything," said Hanneman. "We can look where the different crews are and see what equipment they have with them in case we need to reallocate equipment to other places, depending on the job tasks."

Hanneman noted that job tasks are not always the same from one job site to the next.

"Maybe one crew has four skid steers, another has one, and I need to move skid steers around between the different crews," he said.

"We have multiple crews working in multiple states, so being able to track where our vehicle fleet is in real-time 24/7 is a real advantage," said Hanneman. "It also helps if we need to respond quickly to a need for emergency construction, such as for repair after a storm."

To instill greater self-monitoring and efficiency during the pandemic, construction managers alsoc can configure the system to automatically send real-time text or email alerts to individual drivers, groups or the entire fleet if factors such as traffic congestion, travel route, vehicle speed, starts, stops or idling pose a concern or deviate from policy.

Enhance Efficiency and Safety

During the pandemic or any period when a quick response is required, advanced GPS tracking systems also can improve efficiencies on more established routes.

For example, because the GPS system is automated, travel reports can be generated that analyze vital historical data, such as on-time pick-ups or drop-offs, also can be emailed without anyone having to open software. The reports can be customized as needed to include as much detail as needed, such as how many stops, how long per location, top speed, mileage, idle times of the day, etc. Identifying and implementing more efficient routing and performance, in turn, enables individual drivers and the construction fleet as a whole to accomplish more in less time.

When construction business owners and fleet managers are busy dealing with the logistical impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, such a system also can help individual drivers to drive more safely and take greater responsibility for their own conduct without the need to micro manage. A maximum vehicle speed, of say no more than 8 mph over the posted limit can be set and drivers informed of this. The system will then track their vehicle speed and compare this with the speed limit in its national data base, with exceptions automatically emailed to the driver and fleet manager in a report, if desired.

In addition, implementing real-time GPS tracking can increase driver accountability by making them less inclined to take unauthorized excursions, such as for personal errands, when not on a job. This can help to minimize unnecessary vehicle mileage, fuel use and wear and tear. On the plus side, GPS tracking also can be used to recognize and reward consistent on-time arrival, rapid response to any emergencies, etc.

For construction professionals, the bottom line however is that today's advanced GPS tracking systems can help to keep everyone as socially distanced from each other as possible, while still enabling optimal vehicle and crew management for work productivity.

For more information, call 800/279-0035 or visit www.advantrack.com.