Editor's Note: This article was written in mid-April; as Alaska has tentatively reopened for business, the transportation companies that contributed to this article have adjusted, and will continue to adjust, their policies and procedures accordingly.
Alaskans have some experience both with isolation and sudden emergencies. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, seasonal flooding, and wildfires seldom schedule their arrival. And while emerging technology and developing infrastructure have allowed Alaska to become more connected, as Alaskans we know we're still at the end of the road--even more so for those living beyond the road in Alaska's remote communities.
So while the sudden appearance of COVID-19 in our lives, quickly followed by orders to stop leaving our homes or socializing with anyone, was definitely not normal, at its root it wasn't completely unfamiliar, and across the state Alaskans demonstrated once again their willingness to do what needs to be done to take care of each other.
In stark contrast to most of the goings-on in Alaska--marked by upheaval and change--the flow of goods and supplies into the Last Frontier hasn't altered, at least in the eye of the casual consumer. "The supply chain is fully functional: it's uninterrupted, it is efficient, it is reliable," says Terry Howard, president of Carlile Transportation.
A Culture of Safety--Upgraded
What's impressive is that Alaska does continue to receive essential goods, even as the entire transportation industry has needed to adjust their operations. It's undoubtedly no small help that industry-wide Alaska's transporters have emphasized a culture of safety for decades.
"Safety is one of Carlile's core values ... the safety of our team members, our vendors, our customers, and our industry partners in all the communities we work in," Howard says. "We spend a tremendous amount of time on safety ... so it's not a tremendous shift for us to be safety-centric ... it wasn't like we really had to gear up and say, 'Okay, we need to be more safe now.'"
"Keeping everybody safe within the TOTE network is our number one priority, as it has always been," says Alex Hofeling, TOTE vice president and general manager for Alaska. TOTE is closely engaged with local and community authorities to ensure the protection of its workforce.
Bal Dreyfus, senior vice president, Alaska for Matson, says "Our first priority is the health and safety of our employees."
Carlile, TOTE, and Matson all report taking immediate common-sense actions early in the COVID-19 crisis: following all recommendations of the CDC, increasing cleaning and disinfecting protocols, securing and distributing personal protection equipment, and enabling as many workers as possible to work remotely.
But "transportation" is a varied business, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution for coping with a pandemic. Span Alaska's President Tom Souply says, "We are especially focused on the 6-foot rule. For example, the only time we allow two dock workers in the same container is when freight cannot be moved safely by a single person. If [that is] required, both employees must wear masks.'
TOTE has implemented "special provisions to minimize ship-to-shore interface" with its vessel crews to limit their exposure and has limited or eliminated...