An irrigation district’s vehicle fleet might be the last thing you would expect a car thief to target. But that hasn’t been the reality for the Turlock Irrigation District in California.

Fortunately three of the irrigation district’s vehicles stolen during the past five years had been equipped with fleet management technology, said Jason Hicks, the district’s operations manager.

The publicly owned irrigation district — responsible for supplying irrigation water and electricity to homes, businesses and farms in California’s Central Valley — has equipped its 300-vehicle fleet with GPS units so that data from the vehicle can be relayed back to the managers and employees who are responsible for tracking the fleet’s whereabouts.

The GPS helped the district and law enforcement recover the stolen vehicles.

On one occasion, Hicks said district officials were able to go online and, in real time, track and locate the vehicle. District officials then met law enforcement at the scene of the stolen vehicle. “We can provide law enforcement with a stop sequence of everywhere [the thief] stopped that vehicle while it was in their possession,” Hicks said.

Tracking down stolen vehicles wasn’t the original purpose for procuring the technology. GeoManager, implemented for the district in 2004 by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble, is a cloud-based platform that gives users an online picture of their operations.

Turlock’s irrigation district provides services to nearly 5,000 customers and covers 150,000 acres, so the online platform assists with managing driver safety, customer service, back office administration, fuel use and overall fleet efficiency, according to Trimble.

Not every manager and employee is able to view the entire fleet on the Trimble system. In all, Turlock’s irrigation district is divided into 15 different groups within the platform. Since the technology has multiples uses, the different groups can perform different tasks on the platform and may have limited access to what they can see at a given time. 

For example, managers in charge of staff resources use the technology for supervisory management to ensure that fieldworkers are in the right location, at the right time and are doing their required job tasks, Hicks said.

District employees responsible for reading electricity meters use the platform’s mapping capability to review traveled routes and to ensure that no two employees’ routes overlap. The mapping also helps employees avoid driving longer routes than necessary.

Employees responsible for managing the district’s electric grid use the technology daily to locate the vehicles nearest to a customer call for service.

Other government entities, like the Anderson, Ind., Municipal Light and Power division, use the Trimble fleet management technology to track vehicles responsible for responding to power outages in the community. Vehicles closest to an outage are sent to respond to prevent other vehicles from driving farther distances to respond to the outage.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.