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Purchasing Power: Securing Supplies and Staff in the Storm

five men loading cases of bottled water into a national guard truck
Wednesday, November 7, 2018 - 5:19pm
Storm Response Series: While North Carolina braced for Hurricane Florence, numerous NC Public Safety agencies joined in the storm preparations, response and recovery. Today's blog provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the efforts of the Purchasing and Logistics section and Legislative Liaisons.

 

As state troopers, National Guard soldiers, emergency managers and first responders mobilized ahead of Hurricane Florence’s landfall, a lesser known but equally essential group quietly moved into place to ensure North Carolina’s response to the record storm would be successful. Without them, there would be no bottled water for the thousands who lost access to clean water, no cots at the shelters, no food for evacuees or workers, no fuel for the first responders and no oxygen to keep hospital patients alive.

A team from the Department of Public Safety’s Purchasing and Logistics section embedded in the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) the day before landfall and continued to work alongside their Emergency Management logistics partners for the next two weeks.  Working 12-14 hours daily, they entered and approved contracts for vital commodities and services needed to respond to Florence’s devastation.  From the SEOC, the three-person team, led by DPS Purchasing and Logistics Director Joanne Rowland, coordinated with vendors, implemented previously signed contracts and forwarded many of the resource requests to other DPS purchasing agents who worked remotely. 

Purchasing agents ordered typical storm supplies such as bottled water (1.2 million gallons), fuel (193,000 gallons), blankets (10,000), cots, tarps, ice and generators.  But they also ordered other, less-often requested items like portable showers and laundry facilities, port-a-johns and trash containers (after all, that waste had to go somewhere!).  One of the most daunting purchase requests was for oxygen tanks and concentrators to support hospital patients in New Hanover County.

“I lost sleep over that request,” recalled Rowland. “Many of the purchase orders we processed were essential to life safety, but none quite so directly as the hospital’s request for oxygen tanks and concentrators. With that request, we knew lives literally depended on us.”

The storm’s substantial size and expected impacts prompted massive resource requests.  In addition to the usual supplies, the agents rented facilities to accommodate two base camps to stage and coordinate staffing and supplies needed for storm response. An empty box store and parking lot in Garner were used to store and distribute commodities, while another property in Kinston was used as a resource staging area. The purchasing team also hired fuel contractors to resupply first responders and other essential services, and transportation contractors to deliver the hundreds of requested items. They even brought in a special swift water rescue team support package to service and repair equipment that was being used to pull people from the floodwaters to safety. Thanks to the purchasing team, nine boats were repaired so crews could continue to rescue stranded residents – more than 5,200 people during Florence.  

A total of 735 purchase orders – more than $34 million in commodities and services – supported North Carolina’s response to Hurricane Florence.  Not only was it one of the largest, but also one the smoothest purchasing efforts related to storm response. And their efforts were noticed. 

“Roy Woods, a seasoned disaster response professional with Deployed Resources LLC, has worked in emergency operations centers in disaster situations all over the country,” recalled DPS Chief Financial Officer Doug Holbrook. “He was very impressed by the engagement of Purchasing staff and said it should be deemed a national best practice to use experienced procurement professionals from the beginning.  I’m very proud of the responsiveness of this section, as well as their professionalism.”  

Rowland credits the smooth response during Florence from lessons learned and applied after working Hurricane Matthew in 2016. 

From that storm, the purchasing team figured out a rhythm to effectively and efficiently process storm requests while still addressing the ongoing needs of the rest of the Public Safety department. A core three-member team rotated working in the SEOC processing big-ticket requests that exceeded $50,000, while forwarding hundreds of other requests to their colleagues working offsite. Anticipating Florence’s arrival and expected impacts, the purchasers worked in advance with DPS IT to get laptops and state cell phones to enable staff to remotely after hours and over weekends to complete purchase orders. The Purchasing and Logistics staff even established shifts splitting their time between processing storm-related requests and handling routine purchasing orders needed to support daily operations within the department.  

Since Matthew, purchasing agents have participated regularly in monthly online disaster exercises working closely with Emergency Management to anticipate purchasing needs and understand requirements for storm response and recovery. Rowland said NCEM’s Logistics Support Manager Greg Weavil ensured the purchasing team had the training and support needed months ahead of hurricane season. The DPS Purchasing team also has worked diligently before every hurricane season to update various state contracts that could be implemented quickly as needed. 

While the DPS purchasing team filled commodities requested by the counties, the department’s Intergovernmental staff filled information requests for local and state leaders.  Legislative liaisons Susanna Davis and Alicia Davis (not related) worked closely with the SEOC and governor’s legislative staff to provide regular updates on Florence response and recovery efforts to North Carolina’s state senators and representatives. With half of the state incurring hurricane damage, state and congressional leaders were keenly interested in daily operations and details regarding the response efforts as well as how they could help with recovery.  

From securing essential commodities and services to supplying crucial briefings, the Purchasing and Logistics team and Legislative Liaisons were two more examples of how our Public Safety department responded to the state’s largest natural disaster.


 

Author: 
Julia Jarema, Public Relations Manager