Duracell Batteries has a fleet of disaster response vehicles called "Power Forward" that swoop in during mass power outages to bring people what they probably want more than anything; a chance to charge their phone and check Facebook. This storm season, new rigs trucks are joining the fleet to go even deeper.
You might be able to go a couple days without Bejeweled, but constant connectivity is easy to take for granted in an event that brings down the digital infrastructure. Duracell's marketing director Jeff Jarrett recounted going out with a Power Forward truck the very first year of the program, 2011:
After tornadoes had ravaged Tuscaloosa, the trucks were many people's first opportunity to connect with their families after losing phones and electricity. "People were breaking down in tears, talking to their families again for the first time after losing a lot more than power. Cars, houses, the devastation was immense but we were able to help a lot just by letting folks contact loved ones."
So far, the Power Forward team has shown up in 14 disaster locations and helped "more than 30,000 families by distributing over 350,000 batteries, charging over 7,000 devices, and providing computer access to over 5,000 people."
The idea is Duracell gets to bolster their reputation as a benevolent entity and instill a little extra brand-recognition in the populations of storm-prone places.
Now partnered with the Weather Channel and FEMA's disaster-awareness program Ready.gov, the Power Forward fleet has expanded to include some heavily modified GM pickups built to bring batteries into storm-ravaged regions. "With the addition of new vehicles and hubs in New Orleans, San Francisco, and St. Louis, the fleet's goal is to reach any storm site in the continental U.S. within 24 hours," says Duracell.
Their first vehicle was a Chevrolet Kodiak. Duracell now has two, simply called "heavy haulers" carry a community center, 36 charging stations, four internet terminals, and a climate-controlled gathering area.
The fleet has expanded to include a Chevy 2500 and three 3500 diesel pickups, the last of which is lifted 6" and set up to drive through flood waters five feet deep.
The Power Forward operation is staffed by two full-time drivers, two on call, and a few administrators who watch the weather and keep tabs on the machines.
When the trucks aren't out bringing batteries to places pummeled by wind and rain, they're used as marketing tools and work in conjunction with FEMA's disaster-awareness initiatives.
Outside marketing stops, you're gonna hope you never see these behemoth disaster rescue rigs. But if you do, at least you'll know you can finally get online and check Jalopnik again.