Procurement professional share their strategies for dealing with disasters
When she reflects on the June floods that inflicted an estimated $1.3 billion in damage to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, city Purchasing Manager Judy Lehman, CPPB, concludes that "communications and preparedness beforehand" are essential if agencies hope to weather the storm with their operations "Because you can't start to get prepared when you are up to your elbows in," Lehman told Go Pro. "When one finds themselves in the middle of a disaster, it's too late to prepare."
According to Lehman, the floodwaters forced Cedar Rapids' four-personoperation to evacuate City Hall on the afternoon of Wed., June 11.
"The water had begun to rise up the stairwell and there were gurgling sounds in the elevator (needless to say, we took the steps)," Lehman recalled. "We were able to move most of our files to a higher floor, which was good."
Before the flood, the Purchasing Department offices were located on the mezzanine level of Cedar Rapids City Hall (see photo). At the height of the flooding, those offices "We couldn't even see our windows," she said.
Months later, the city's purchasing operations "are in a temporary location and it is anticipated we will be here for some time."
Have a 'Go Box'
When confronted with the potential for emergencies — from fires and floods to tornadoes and hurricanes — preparedness is essential, as are teamwork and collaboration with other entities.
Lehman, who has become a bit of an authority on the subject, offers this advice to public-sector purchasers:
"Know the key public purchasers in your state. Make sure you have a business relationship with them. Call on them for assistance.
Have an emergency 'Go Box' with items that you can take with you — there is a good chance that you won't have your electronic files.
Contact your staff and your supervisor and mobilize your staff to begin work at a central location. Be available and be present."
The Cedar Rapids Purchasing Department, which spends approximately $20 million annually for goods and services for the city, will be incorporating the aforementioned ideas into the department's protocols for future emergencies.
"I certainly did not have them in place, pre-flood," Lehman admitted.
Other public administrators in Cedar Rapids persevered, in spite of all the destruction. The city's Fleet Services Division, which is responsible for 900 cars, trucks, trailers, off-road vehicles and other mobile equipment, successfully evacuated and safeguarded more than 800 of the most critical pieces.
Unfortunately, about 85 pieces ofequipment — from the Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Parking and Transit departments — could not be saved in time. The value of the flood-damaged gear is $1.25 million, and the city of Cedar Rapids has submitted damage-assessment project worksheets for this loss to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement.
Check the forecast
According to some weather experts, public-sector purchasers — particularly those in hurricane-prone regions — may need to brace themselves for more extreme weather, making it more important than ever to be tuned into weather warnings and watches.
"I think the key issue as far as longer-term planning is that we're now in a very active hurricane period," Dr. Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) told Go Pro. "Historically, these have run for anywhere from 25 to 40 years at a time."
According to Bell, historical weather data indicates "that it's certainly reasonable to expect this active period to continue for another decade or perhaps more."
"There's no way to say for sure, but it certainly makes sense that you plan for this ongoing active hurricane era, with increased numbers of hurricane strikes," Bell told Go Pro. "We can't say how many will strike in a given year, but we certainly know it's going to be elevated."
Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, will remember 2008 as a year of frequent twisters.
“We've seen more fatalities this past year than we've had in a decade,” Carbin said. “So I'm kind of hoping I don't see a season like that again next year.”
Carbin urged public purchasing professionals to keep an eye on weather reports as the United States heads into its peak tornado season, which is in May and June.
“Especially for the bigger events that tend to produce significant damage and affect a large area, we can get a pretty decent lead time, four or five days out, where we're putting out forecasts that indicate there's a significant risk,” Carbin explained.
The Storm Prediction Center's Web site, http://www.spc.noaa.gov, offers alerts for severe storms, tornadoes and fire weather conditions, as well as forecasts for the upcoming eight days.
"These forecasts probably would benefit those agencies or individual.".”
Develop a resource list
Kenneth Paulsen, CPPB, was another Iowa public purchaser who was pressed into service during this summer's flooding.
"I was called in on a weekend, and they said, 'We need the following. Go to work,'" Paulsen recalled. "Essentially, what we purchased was about $2.7 million worth of sandbags, poly-liner, pumps and Haskell barriers." (The barriers, which serve as floodwater barricades, also have been used by the military to build armored bunkers in Iraq.)
Paulsen, who is purchasing supervisor for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services-Procurement Services, worked out of the Iowa emergency operations center at Camp Dodge, Iowa, during the deluge.
Paulsen advised public purchasers stationed at emergency operations centers to “put together a list or database of available vendors for the various products that your agency would need for certain types of emergencies.”
Different supplies might be needed at different stages of the emergency, Paulsen added. Flood-prevention tools such as sandbags and poly-liners might be needed at one point, while food, water and other consumables might be needed later if residents have been evacuated.
Another official who sees the wisdom of developing a resource list is Vern Jones, C.P.M., CPPB, president of the National Association of State Procurement Officials and chief procurement officer for the state of Alaska. Jones has more than 20 years of public procurement experience.
“In a crisis, you need to know as many resources as possible for obtaining the necessary goods and services to deal with the emergency,” Jones told Go Pro. “To that end, establishing a list of those resources — including cooperative purchasing organizations and the contracts they have to offer — is very important.
“Of course, preparing for an emergency is not only a wise thing to do, it's an essential part of any public procurement official's duties. Knowing what you need to be prepared for and how your organization will cooperate with its internal customers and the public are critical.”
Andree Cohen, purchasing director for the city of New Orleans, urges public-sector purchasers to embrace technology.
“Technology, in my personal opinion, is the key to surviving and recovering from disasters,” Cohen told Go Pro. “Carry a USB drive with you at all times and keep a file online in your office that contains the following: emergency protocols; current policies and procedures; vendor emergency contact information; a listing of all current vendors; a PDF copy of all current contracts and related bid information; a listing of employee contact information (work and home/personal); and a resource request form for emergencies.”
Take a long-term view
David Gragan, CPPO, chief procurement officer for the District of Columbia, believes that public-sector procurement professionals need to have a long-term perspective when engaged in contingency purchasing or purchasing during an emergency.
“We know that the next emergency is just around the corner; what we don't know is exactly the location and the day and hour that it's going to hit,” Gragan said. “But a tornado hitting some city in the U.S. is inevitable next year, and so may be an earthquake, as well as flooding and hurricanes, so the question is, if your jurisdiction is prone to those kinds of events, have you already put in place 10-year contracts that really represent partnerships with suppliers of the things you are going to need, like generators and fuel?”
Gragan, who regularly offers briefings and presentations on the topic of contingency contracting, believes that long-term agreements with suppliers can be critical.
“When it comes to contingency contracting — the kind for that inevitable emergency when you can't really tell where it's going to happen or when — you just know you are going to need water and fuel and other commodities,” Gragan said. “When it comes to that, you really need to go the extra mile.
“If you really want to create a sense of team between you and the person you expect to get generators from, you need to reach your hand out and give them something more than, ‘Hey, let's do a one-year contract, and if I have an emergency in the next year, and I need a generator, you are the guy I'm coming to.’ That may be great, but if the city right next door to you gives the same vendor a 10-year contract for generators, guess where that generator's going to go in the next year. It's going to go to the person that's really represented a sense of team.”
Gragan, a former U.S. Marine Corps signals intelligence officer and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, has been involved in several emergency purchasing situations, and consults with professional colleagues who have lived through Hurricane Katrina and similar emergencies. He advocates that public purchasers actively participate in emergency operations and planning.
“Mayors and governors have two choices when all hell breaks loose, and they are: Get the procurement people out of the way because they aren't fast enough, and they don't get us what is needed; or activate the plan that they've been working on, because they really are the procurement professionals,” Gragan asserted. “So if you have an emergency procurement plan in place, the public benefits because it means you've thought about these situations in advance.”
Planning ahead in Tucson
Marcheta Gillespie, C.P.M., CPM, CPPB, deputy director of procurement for the city of Tucson, Ariz., Department of Procurement, pointed out that the city has been working on a globalplan for several years.
“And we are now focusing on creating our departmental Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), as well as our logistical support plan that will detail how our function (procurement) will operate in any type of emergency,” Gillespie said in an e-mail. “These efforts have involved hundreds of individuals from all parts and levels of the organization.”
The program includes testing and drills to put the COOP through its paces.
“We'll be conducting our first tabletop exercises in the near future,” Gillespie explained. “This is an opportunity for every department/unit in our organization to test out our COOPs, but also to test out the detailed plan by function (what we refer to as emergency support functions) in various scenarios. It is essentially a mock drill that will take various scenarios and require each function to demonstrate that their documented plan will work in action. We fully expect changes resulting from this drill.”
In the wake of 9/11, government entities across the country “have all recognized the need for our respective agencies to have specific plans to disaster response,” according to Gillespie.
“Whether the emergency is national (such as 9/11), regional (Hurricane Katrina) or local (flooded washes), we have all seen the effects of being unprepared for disaster,” Gillespie said. “Although the creation and implementation of emergency management planning has been slow (and at times a bit bumpy), we have seen a diligence throughout the nation to ensure every national, regional, state and local agency has put thought into how they will not only respond to their own emergency, but how they might aid others in need during a disaster elsewhere in the nation.”
A potentially useful tool for public purchasing professionals is NIGP's PREP knowledge community. PREP is an acronym for Procurement's Response to Emergency Preparedness.
NIGP's Web site describes PREP as a program that “facilitates intergovernmental pre-event planning of emergency assistance. The program assists its members to identify other interested jurisdictions that may be able to provide emergency procurement support and assistance with logistics management functions during natural disasters and other emergency situations.”
Mark Turcotte, procurement manager for the city of Hartford, Conn., and its public schools, noted that the cities of Hartford and Norfolk, Va., soon will be executing the first PREP mutual aid agreement.
Turcotte's advice for purchasing in an emergency is: “Reach out early and often to a sister agency outside of the impacted region.
“Ideally, this relationship should be established in advance of need, which is what the PREP program is all about,” Turcotte said.
Under the General Services Administration's (GSA) disaster recovery purchasing program, which was created as part of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2007, state and local governments can purchase a variety of products and services from contracts awarded under GSA federal supply schedules to ensure recovery from a major disaster, terrorism, or nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack.
This disaster recovery purchasing authority is limited to GSA schedule contracts and does not include any other GSA programs. GSA eLibrary contains a list of all GSA schedules subject to disaster recovery purchasing at http://www.gsaelibrary.gsa.gov/ElibMain/home.do.
Jill Klaskin Press, CPPO, assistant to the director for the Department of Procurement Management in Miami-Dade County, Fla., asserted that having access to GSA schedules during emergencies “is extremely advantageous.”
“It allows us to quickly mobilize and respond to the challenges of hurricanes or terror attacks, thus preventing critical delays in responding to health and safety issues. In emergencies, many times our local and small businesses are not available to us for supply or support,” she said. “The ability of governmental entities to order from schedule contracts for (disaster) recovery purchasing holds out the potential for significant cost savings and efficiencies for those organizations. These options provide alternative sources of goods and services in case customary sources of supply are interrupted in the aftermath of the disaster. Miami-Dade County believes that opening GSA schedules to state and local governments to facilitate recovery from disaster and catastrophic events is a sound and cost-effective way of governing.”
Klaskin Press added that her organization and other agencies with which she has spoken use the federal contracts “mainly as a backup plan.”
“We're looking for purchasing options with these schedules, not to circumvent our local preference legislation, but as an alternative resource available to us, if we need them,” Klaskin Press said.
According to Steven Kempf, assistant commissioner in GSA's Office of Acquisition Management, transactions under the GSA disaster recovery initiative have been on the upswing.
“Last year, our total sales were about $2.4 million, and this year they are over $6 million already as of June 30,” Kempf told Go Pro.
Tricia Reed, program manager for GSA's disaster recovery purchasing program, noted that the initiative gives “state and local governments access to similar products and services and similar vendors that FEMA, GSA and other federal agencies have during disasters, so it definitely promotes interoperability on that level.”
'Today's the day'
What came through loud and clear in our conversations with public-sector purchasers is that advance planning is crucial.
“I think the key element to [purchasing in an emergency] is pre-preparation,” said Iowa's Kenneth Paulsen. “If not, you are going to be winging it, and you can do it winging it, but it's a whole lot harder.”
Added the District of Columbia's David Gragan: “In an emergency, it's not peacetime anymore, so the key to me — and what I preach to the rest of the procurement community — is while it is peacetime, here on this beautiful sunny day, today's the day I need to be thinking about that next hurricane, since today's the day I have the luxury of not having to respond to a crisis.”
The costliest mainland U.S. hurricanes (not adjusted for inflation)
|Rank||Hurricane||Year||Damage (U.S. dollars)|
|Source: NOAA Technical Memorandum NWS TPC-5|