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PART I: Procurement Teams: Be Ready for Any Type of Emergency

Thursday, October 19, 2017  
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The recent impacts of storms and hurricane systems rocking the southeastern part of the country and island communities has been debilitating. And fires raging through wine country in Northern California have destroyed homes, businesses, forests and vineyards across one of the most beautiful tourist and residential areas of the state. Media coverage has shown both the impacts of the actual emergencies, as well as the aftermath of destruction – wrecked vehicles and building debris that must be removed, flood and fire damage to communities, loss of power impacting refrigeration and computer systems, as well as the devastating human loss. While first responders are often highlighted – police, fire, and public safety personnel – behind the scenes, it’s a wider team of government employees who help support those efforts. 

In today’s world, it’s important to be prepared for various kinds of emergencies, from natural disasters to acts of terrorism. The procurement office is a big part of that preparation and an agency’s successful response. When a “State of Emergency” is called, the role of the procurement office changes significantly. Where the priority of procurement teams shifts slightly from best value and efficiency to locating and accounting for needed resources in the quickest manner possible. With proper preparation, both goals might be met. 


Preparedness: BEFORE the Emergency

It’s extremely important to have adequate plans and procedures in place to deal with emergencies. After a disaster has occurred is not the right time to develop emergency protocols. 

In reviewing your own agency, here are some key questions to ask:

  1. Do you already have emergency policies and procedures in place?
  2. Do you have emergency contact lists for your personnel and vendors?  (Remember, if computers and the internet goes down, can you still answer this question affirmatively?)
  3. Are there contracts already in place for typical commodities and services that might be needed (i.e. sandbags, generators, bottled water, security services, debris removal, etc.)?
  4. Do you have a P-card for emergencies? How is it activated? Can the limit be increased?
  5. How do you coordinate with surrounding Agencies?
  6. Has Procurement been part of the Emergency Training exercises with a seat in the EOC?

If the answer to any of these questions is a ‘no,’ then you might have some preparing to do. The above components are typical for ANY type of emergency – natural or manmade.

Establishing a hierarchy of command, regular communications and pre-planning allows procurement to be as ready as possible. And training is not just for the management team. The entire procurement team needs to know how to implement the emergency procedures regarding communications, resource management, and supply chains. What if the Director or lead supervisor is out of town when the emergency hits? 


DURING the Emergency

Budget considerations do not disappear in the face of an emergency; the overarching requirement is that costs stay reasonable. What does reasonable mean? A commonly used definition of a reasonable cost is one that “does not exceed that which would be incurred by a prudent person under the circumstances prevailing at the time.” For some agencies, that may be too broad of characterization. Be familiar with your particular local, state, and/or federal laws regarding emergency spending.

After that 911 call, it’s important to establish an accounting system to track all purchases related to the emergency – no matter who is making that purchase. For example, someone in Public Works may order equipment rental, Police personnel may order cones and baracades, and Procurement brings in port-a-potties and bottled water. All individual purchases need to be tracked – for ultimate budget reconciliation and possible FEMA reimbursement. While it’s difficult to think of accounting during an emergency, it is an important part of the process.

If it’s a small- scale or contained emergency, Purchasing is expected to respond in addition to maintaining their regular workload for those other non-affected departments. Agency business still continues. While customers may be understanding, typically procurement isn’t given extra resources. Your own staff may need to be taken care of as well.  Long hours and extra work can be stressful. And many might be experiencing their own personal issues if their homes or families have been affected, or they are unable to reach the office or EOC.

The use of cooperative procurement contracts may assist during an emergency. Having a pre-approved list of available contracts can support garnering needed suppliers and services through a process that has already been competitively solicited. And you may choose to provide those contracts to key departments during an emergency to make their own purchases quickly. Knowing that the contract has already been set in place with pricing, there will not be a “spike” in pricing, as is common in emergency situations. And tracking expenses for ultimate reconciliation will be helpful as the supplier or cooperative can lend their support.

Donations are often a big response to any emergency – the public and businesses want to help.  Often, Procurement is put in charge of this process. To handle it effectively, warehouse or storage space should be made available, and processes and personnel ready to relay those donations to the right agencies or people. Appoint individuals to manage donations, and utilize volunteer organizations to assist, when necessary. 


Emergency Preparedness is Key to Avoiding Chaos

Emergency situations dramatically interrupt established procurement strategies and require a unique response from procurement officials. Being prepared for what to expect in a crisis can save time and lives, particularly when it comes to emergency resources!

UPCOMING:  PART II:  AFTER the Emergency and FEMA Reimbursement Strategies



National Cooperative Procurement Partners | 4248 Park Glen Rd.| Minneapolis, MN 55416 | 952.928.4660 |

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