Mobile devices and other technology speed up how we do our work every day, but it can also create more efficiencies and boost speed when it’s needed most – during emergencies or other situations where chaos and confusion are commonplace. Field Technologies Online takes a look at Phillips & Jordan, a contractor hired to clean up debris after tornadoes hit Joplin, Mo. Reprinted with permission.

It’s one thing to track a truckload of, say, canned goods or furniture from a warehouse to a retail store. But what if you had to track millions of cubic yards of storm debris using dozens of subcontractors, and you had to set up your automated tracking infrastructure on a moment’s notice?

That was the challenge faced by Phillips & Jordan (P&J), a nationwide contractor that specializes in emergency response/recovery services. The company used rugged tablet computers manufactured by DLI and a specialized software solution to manage debris removal after tornados ripped through Alabama and Missouri.

In order to facilitate cleanup after disasters, companies like Phillips & Jordan and a host of subcontractors haul tons of vegetative, construction, and demolition debris to dump sites. For large cleanups, hundreds of truck drivers may haul millions of cubic yards of material and other debris to these sites. Contracting municipalities, states, or federal agencies (like FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [USACE]) agree to pay these companies by the cubic yard or ton, but accurately tracking exactly who hauled which pile of debris (and where that debris came from) has been difficult.

The use of paper tickets was inefficient and often inaccurate; contractors had to reconcile these tickets daily in order to be paid (using dedicated data entry staff), and the records often didn’t match.

“We got really good at processing paper tickets, but there was a lot of duplica- tive data entry,” says Steve Rasmussen, VP of information and technology at Phillips & Jordan. “Each contractor was entering that paper; the Corps of Engineers was entering it, and the subcontractors were entering it. When it came time to reconcile, nothing matched.”

In response, FEMA and the Corps of Engineers launched initiatives requiring contractors to use automated, electronic tracking to help streamline the debris management process and reduce fraud. Beginning in 2005, contractors with the Corps of Engineers were required to supply an automated debris management system (ADMS).

Rugged Tablets Streamline Debris Cleanup

Phillips & Jordan, through a relationship with Transport Tracking, developed the STORM Automated Debris
Management System, which provides electronic ticket- ing at the loading/dumping sites. While other solutions used smart cards to identify the trucks and loads, the developers used 2-D bar codes to track load information (GPS coordinates, date/time, truck identifier, etc).

The company chose the DLI 8400 rugged tablet for dump site operations, because it needed a rugged unit with an integrated 2-D bar code scanner that could provide additional processing power and display real estate. The tablets also include an integrated, backlit QWERTY keyboard and are manufactured and serviced in the United States.

“These sites run 12 hours a day, in all kinds of weather, and we thought the DLI tablets provided a good platform because of their integrated features and ruggedness,” Rasmussen says. “We needed something with a little more processing power and a larger footprint so the application would be easier for the operator to navigate than a handheld computer.”

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Field Technologies Online provides is a resource for the optimization of field workers, service and assets. The publication's goal is to provide companies in the field service, transportation/distribution, government, public works and utilities industries with information on mobile technologies that can be used to improve productivity and drive efficiency.