EMWD staff discuss GPS system to save money and decrease liability

Two Eastern Municipal Water District staff members gave a presentation during the Association of California Water Agencies conference Dec. 4-6, 2012, in San Diego.

EMWD director of maintenance Mark Iverson and district safety and risk management manager Doug Hefley spoke at the Dec. 5 session “Legal Liability and Insurance Risk – There are Ways to Save You Millions” which focused on the district’s savings after installing a global positioning system purchased from Fallbrook-based RMJ Technologies.

The Eastern Municipal Water District covers 542 square miles in southwestern Riverside County and serves a population of approximately 750,000. EMWD has a total fleet of approximately 600 vehicles, including approximately 350 on the road.

“The biggest gains are obviously the first year, but even in the second and third year we’re still seeing some modest improvements,” Iverson said. “Even in the third year it’s still paying for itself.”

The drivers’ knowledge that a GPS system is in their vehicles not only reduces speeding and other unsafe driving but also personal breaks. Mileage decreased by 45,000 between the second and third years and the economic savings to the district include fuel consumption and time costs as well as liability claims. The payback period for the GPS devices was 2 1/2 months.

EMWD purchased the GPS system in December 2008 and installed the system on the vehicles during 2009. The piecemeal installation allowed tracking of some vehicles as a test, and drivers were traveling as fast as 95 mph. Before the GPS systems were installed, speeds of 70 mph were exceeded approximately 2,000 times a week, and that has been reduced to approximately 100 times per week.  

“The number of times people go over 70 mph has really gone down,” Iverson said.

“It’s really changed how employees drive vehicles,” Iverson said. “The number of accidents has gone down.”

EMWD vehicles were involved in 30 accidents in 2007, 26 in 2008, 34 in 2009, 8 in 2010, and 7 in 2011. None of the accidents since the GPS systems were installed in the entire fleet were speed-related. Total claims against the district fell from $1,095,000 in 2009 to $38,583 in 2010 while claims paid out dropped from $429,880 to $1,437 during those two years (the 2009 claims included one involving an EMWD driver who ran a red light while exceeding the speed limit).

The system not only monitors drivers who are speeding or who take excessive breaks, but it can also clear a driver of wrongdoing.  

“The system really protects employees a lot more than they realize,” Iverson said.

“The great thing about GPS is that there’s data,” Hefley said.

That protects the district against false claims. It also protects drivers against citizen complaints of bad driving, as the GPS can verify speed and even braking patterns.

In one case the EMWD driver was traveling at the speed limit and the driver behind him was upset because he was too slow for her, so she called the district only to be told that the driver wasn’t speeding.

The GPS system also allows the district to know where its vehicles are in the event of an earthquake or other catastrophic event. That doesn’t necessarily equate to a district wide catastrophe; after one driver called the district when he correctly suspected he was having a heart attack EMWD was able to dispatch the nearest vehicle to keep that driver company as the ambulance was on its way.  

“Within moments we had another district employee standing next to him holding his hand,” Hefley said.

Knowledge of fleet location also allows for quicker response in less dangerous situations such as a line break.  

“You can look for the closest people to that,” Hefley said.

Hefley noted that very few of the approximately 450 drivers in the district have been disciplined for violations.  

“It’s been less than half a percent we’ve had to deal with,” he said.

In some cases, educational procedures rather than disciplinary action may be the optimal solution.  

“They can go in and see their own driving habits,” Hefley said.

The GPS system also allows the district to notify the drivers of potential traffic situations and the need for a detour.

“This has had more benefit to them than any other downside to it,” Hefley said. “My fleet guys really enjoy it.”

EMWD’s Dec. 19, 2012, board meeting recognized RMJ as the district’s supplier of the year.  

“We’re fortunate to be honored with the supplier of the year award from Eastern,” said RMJ Technologies chief executive officer Jerome Toliver.

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