Quadrant proves powerful tool during tsunami warnings

HELCO truck

HELCO truck

In addition to the Hawaii Electric Light Company’s (HELCO) success with reducing fuel consumption, using Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant location-based services (LBS) and telematics solutions (see previous Blog post), HELCO has also found Quadrant to be a necessary tool in times of crisis.

With its own home-grown volcanoes, the Hawaiian Islands are no strangers to nature’s fury. At the center of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii must also be prepared for dangers from its far-flung Ring of Fire neighbors—in the form of tsunamis.

Tsunami from Chile

The effectiveness of the Quadrant system in emergency situations was tested in February 2010 after the devastating 8.8 Mw earthquake in Chile, which put all of the Hawaiian Islands on tsunami alert. HELCO’s emergency plan was kicked into high gear, which meant immediately locating all of the company’s mobile resources and redistributing them to key points on the Island and HELCO installations, away from areas that could be vulnerable in a tsunami event. “It made such a difference to have that information available in real-time and on my computer so that I could easily direct our staff, and if needed, share that information with other emergency organizations,” said Kelvin Kohatsu, HELCO’s Fleet Administrator.

Fortunately, Hawaii was unaffected by the quake, but it was a good test of HELCO’s preparedness and the Quadrant system.

Quadrant GPS map showing HELCO truck locations on the Big Island of Hawaii

Quadrant GPS satellite image showing HELCO truck locations on the Big Island of Hawaii

Tsunami from Japan

On March 11, 2011, the tragic 9.1 Mw Sendai earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan, again demonstrated Quadrant’s usefulness in times of crises. As Pacific Rim nations raced to secure their coastlines before the tsunami hit, Kelvin was able to use Quadrant GPS to allocate trucks and drivers, and to prepare to assist with evacuations and clean up on the Big Island.

With a tsunami bearing down on the Hawaiian Islands, Kelvin rushed to HELCO’s headquarters to check that fuel acquisition, standby contractors, dispatch, and equipment were available and ready. In addition, he hurried to ensure HELCO trucks located in the tsunami inundation zone were relocated to higher ground.

As Transportation & Maintenance Unit Leader for the Logistics Team at HELCO, he credited Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant solution (particularly Dispatch Management) as crucial in supplying needed vehicles to support Operations. “GPS remote vehicle management technology is invaluable in these situations,” he claimed, adding that “having a comprehensive GSP system allows us to instantly locate units and plan for dispatch of those resources. Other organizations would use two-way communications, if they’re operational.”

During tsunami alerts, the main evacuation route requisitions the Hilo International Airport runway

During tsunami alerts, the Hilo International Airport runway becomes a main evacuation route

This first operational period lasted until the tsunami warning was lifted, which came the following day. After the emergency period passed, HELCO transitioned to the recovery period, where it supported Operations in clearing and cleaning up debris and damage from the tsunami, which fortunately was minimal.

Quadrant has also been of use in more minor situations such as when a localized oil spill affected Hilo Harbor and HELCO vehicles and personnel were involved in containment and cleanup efforts.

Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) renews its service contract

Citing safety and savings as its primary reasons, Hawaii Electric Light Company (HELCO) has decided to renew its Quadrant Enterprise service contact for an additional two years.

HELCO-SavingsWithin the first two years of deploying the Quadrant solution (2008-2009), HELCO realized a fuel savings of over 22,000 gallons (US). In 2010, HELCO saved an additional 18,000 gallons. Kelvin Kohatsu, HELCO Fleet Administrator, credits the impressive reduction and subsequent cost savings for their decision to renew the contract and attributes lower fuel costs to a combination of “GPS technology, driver training (operator knowledge), more fuel efficient vehicles, and improved dispatch management.”

HELCO, a subsidiary of HECO currently has Quadrant Locators in approximately 220 of its 240 vehicles and as part of the renewed service contract, will implement Job Management, using Garmin® in-vehicle navigation devices, which integrate fully with the Quadrant system. With the ability to enhance communication with drivers even more, it is expected that HELCO can expect even more dramatic savings over the next two years.

MTS Sales & Service sees a tangible reduction in fleet management costs with Quadrant

The MTS Team

The MTS Team

Quadrant customer, MTS Sales & Service, has reported “a tangible reduction in the cost of fleet management costs of 69%.” This figure is based on the difference in the cost of their old fleet management solution and savings in vehicle usage using Webtech Wireless’ Quadrant. Gino Venditti, VP of Operations, says that in addition to the superior quality of service and reliability (at the above-mentioned reduction in cost), it is now possible to manage routes, forecast fuel usage, and monitor assets with real-time notifications of unauthorized vehicle use.

He added, “Having used other GPS-based solutions we knew of the positive ROI that this type of technology created, however other providers were unable to provide the quality of service and up-time that we found with Webtech Wireless”.

In addition to tangible cost reductions, they have also seen improvements in another, often less tangible way a company can make great gains: customer service. “We have improved customer satisfaction through the use of GPS based dispatching and resolved conflicts with customers revolving around service times using the GPS technology”, says Mr. Venditti.

MTS Sales & Service installs commercial kitchen equipment, such as dish machines, beverage equipment, and all other types of hot and cold commercial kitchen equipment.  They also provide on-site repair and preventative maintenance services to their clients in western Pennsylvania.

BCIT, technical writing student, February 2011

Thank you for a great and challenging class. I am sad that I will be missing your instruction for the Comm 1008. It has just been posted that there are two instructors. They have big shoes to fill—that must be why it takes two!

Writing a corporate blog

I recently wrote a corporate blog and came upon some interesting considerations. It’s one thing to write a blog for one’s own site, but to write on behalf of someone else (i.e., a company) is another matter. There’s of course the matter of style and tone, but what is appropriate especially if there are no clear guidelines.

You may have to spin things slightly to represent the best interests of your employer, but don’t be insincere—people sense it. The story I wrote, Iridium satellites not affected my recent solar storms, concerned the effects of recent solar storms on the company’s GPS location-based tracking services. I realized that it was important not to represent their technology as vulnerable or the solar storms as alarmist.

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Focus on the positive – plays down concerns in the title
  • In first sentence, I use end focus to draw attention to reliability of products/services of company “…has had no affect on Iridium satellites”.
  • I chose a beautiful and re-assuring image of the aurora borealis, instead of something that might cause concern.
  • I was given permission to use images found on the internet (always something to consider), but because I didn’t think the site where I found this image was one I wanted to highlight, I buried the source credit in the code for the image.

Iridium satellites not affected by recent solar storms

Aurora activity is brighter and more vigorous during solar storms

Aurora activity is brighter and more vigorous during solar storms

Leading scientists’ warnings that a massive solar storm, which could adversely affect satellite communications worldwide, has had no affect on Iridium satellites.

In an email to partners, Iridium CEO, Matt Desch, said “Low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellite systems, such as ours, are actually less susceptible to solar storms than geosynchronous (GEO) satellite systems. Solar storms generate an increase of radiation that can cause issues for satellites and even some electrical systems on Earth.  However, due to our satellites’ robust design, along with our system fault detection and mitigation processes, we have little concern over these kinds of storms. This is because of the altitude at which our satellites fly as well our continued investment in our network.”

WebTech Wireless VP of Quadrant sales, Harald Fritz, said, “We chose Iridium as that critical link when regular cellular coverage is unavailable. Iridium provides the global network coverage as well as best-in-class coverage in northern regions where we service energy, resource, and government customers”. He added that this is important to WebTech Wireless clients, because “customers usually choose this dual mode hybrid solution in mission-critical or worker-safety related applications. This means their staff must always have coverage and be in constant connectivity.”

On February 15, 2011, scientists observed solar flares emitting billions of tons of charged particles that could trigger a $2 trillion global Katrina to communications satellites, electric power grids and GPS navigation systems. It was the largest solar storm in four years. Solar particles interact with Earth’s magnetosphere.

Usability Fun and Games

I convinced myself that applying for a job through the IBM web site was a good use of my time, but I didn’t factor in how much fun it would be.

Like many mega corps, the IBM site asks us to upload our résumés and then goes on to ask us to enter all the same information again manually, field by field. By the end, we’re likely to conclude that any job we should ever get at IBM will net us similar mindless work. But who knows, filling out online applications is my form of Vegas—’cause ya’ never know…

Here’s the kicker. In the section for language competency, I was given a list of languages and a ranking system from which to choose: fluent, intermediate, basic knowledge, and no knowledge. I don’t know what the value is in adding information about a skill in which one has no knowledge. I mean, I could go on and on.

I couldn’t help myself, so I obliged!

No Knowledge required

Three Ways to Improve Your (Technical) Writing Skills

I get asked more frequently about how to make inroads into the field of technical writing and my response generally comes down to three key points:

  1. Get educated: Many technical schools and universities have technical writing programs. They often offer their courses on an iterative basis (i.e., you don’t have to commit to the entire program; you can just take a course or two to try it out). Apart from the training you’ll get, formal training is also a great way to network and immerse yourself in the milieu of technical writing.
  2. Get Informed: Check out the job boards and read the requirements for various jobs in technical writing. If you find the requirements daunting—don’t be discouraged. Many job descriptions are little more than wish lists, but they’ll give you an idea about the kind of skills you’ll need to succeed and the range of industries that need technical writers.
    Tip – rather than searching for “technical writer” over a large date range, I view all posted jobs in, say, the last three days. Positions that require technical writing skills are frequently posted under other names than “technical writer”.
  3. Get involved: Find opportunities to write—don’t wait for a paying job. You may want to volunteer with some non profit or other group as a writer just to get experience. Everyone needs good writing and if you can provide it, you’ll start to acquire samples of work (ensure that any freebie work you do comes with the understanding that you’ll use finished writing as samples of your work).
    I volunteer as a writer for the Vancouver Observer (an online magazine) and it is definitely helpful for keeping my writing skills honed as well as for networking.

Some notable Vancouver job boards:

Steve Bain, Technical Writer and Instructor

Allow me to introduce Jason Hall. He is a fellow instructor with BCIT’s technical writing program and teaches on a variety of subjects and is quite well regarded by the students.

Seminar: What’s the real job of a technical editor?

The Editors’ Association of Canada-BC presents

What’s the real job of a technical editor?

A One-day Seminar

Editors' Association of Canada

If the job of the technical editor is to make complex subjects accessible to normal people, why is it that so many technical documents fail. What is the real job of a technical editor?

Using real-life examples and humour, Jason will demonstrate just how spectacularly technical documents can fail and how you can become an advocate for excellent documentation. This hands-on workshop helps you assess your own skills while exploring what it is technical writers do. By the end of the workshop, you’ll have developed your own toolbox of skills that technical writers need to succeed.

When: Saturday, November 27, 10 AM- 4 PM

Where: SFU Harbour Centre, room TBD
515 W. Hastings St., Vancouver, BC

Instructor: Jason Hall

Cost:

  • Early Bird (on or before Friday, Nov. 12, 2010) Member: $100.00  Non-member: $160.00
  • After Nov 12: Member: $100.00  Non-member: $160.00
  • Note: Registration closes Friday, November 19 at 5 Pm

Register

About Jason Hall

Jason Hall has over 15 years of technical writing and training experience and brings excellence to all his documentation endeavours. He has prepared industry-relevant user manuals and training materials for a great variety of industries from law enforcement to inventory management to health care software products. Past clients include SAP, Best Buy, WorkSafeBC and Health Canada. Jason is comfortable with the full documentation development cycle including interviewing subject matter experts, creating documentation needs analyses, and converting product specs into accessible end-use documentation.