This article is based on our interview with Tim Hay, who has a long career in procurement for the state of Oregon. Click here to access our episode with Tim on Decisions That Matter podcast.
In 2007, Oregon was devastated by the Great Coastal Gale. These massive winds brought down hundreds of trees and powerlines up and down the coast and caused a great deal of flooding throughout the state. Oregon was in emergency response mode. And for the first time, procurement was at the heart of that disaster response.
We sat down with Tim Hay, a member of Oregon’s procurement team during this time and several years following, to get an inside look at the state’s disaster response and how they later built a disaster preparedness toolkit based on what they experienced.
Learning on the job.
For Tim and his colleagues, the 2007 storm was the first time many of them had been a part of a major disaster relief plan. From buying bottled water to tarps to port-a-potties, Oregon’s procurement team was doing everything they could to support first responders and those communities most impacted by the storm. The team worked through supply chain challenges and transportation roadblocks preventing them from using major routes to deliver supplies to the frontlines. All while trying to document everything to allow for reimbursement after the fact through FEMA.
Long story short: they (and the state) got through it. After months of working around the clock, this “baptism by fire” into disaster relief procurement made it clear that Oregon needed to create a disaster preparedness toolkit that would better prepare them for the next time disaster strikes.
What is a disaster relief kit?
A disaster preparedness toolkit is a formally organized plan and set of resources for when disaster strikes your community. Whether that disaster is a hurricane, flooding, forest fires, pandemic, poor air quality, you name it – the toolkit contains everything the procurement team might need to purchase (and document) the items necessary to respond to the disaster at hand and keep the community safe.
Following the Great Coastal Gale of 2007, the Oregon procurement team spent the following few months creating a disaster preparedness toolkit of their own. Here are a few key takeaways for anyone looking to create a toolkit of their own:
1. Get the right people in the room.
On a normal day, strong agency partnerships are critical to efficient and successful procurements. During a disaster, it is even harder to reach agency contacts for necessary documentation, permits, and other information procurement might need to do their job. Including those agency partners in the creation of your disaster preparedness kit gathers that crucial information before disaster strikes.
The Oregon team started from the top. They won buy-in from the governor’s office and from leaders of the Departments of Administrative Services, Forestry, Transportation, Parks, and Justice, and as well the emergency command center and the state police.
While these leaders were not necessarily in the conversations each day, having their support and buy-in made it easier for the procurement team to get access to the necessary contacts from each of these agencies. These individuals were then able to weigh in on the kit and provide the necessary documentation from each department.
2. Create standardized documents
From a procurement standpoint, there’s a lot of paperwork that comes with responding to a disaster in your community. Every expense needs to be tracked – not just from a budget and taxpayer transparency standpoint, but also to be able to apply for financial relief from FEMA.
The Oregon procurement team created standardized documents that would be used across all agencies in the event of a disaster. These documents included event and tracking logs, credit card forms, FEMA request documents, and an interagency agreement to support impacted areas with available resources (more on that later).
Also, be sure to include detailed contact information for everyone in the procurement office and major agency stakeholders. Having easy access to home and cell numbers, addresses, and more saves crucial time spent trying to track down that information.
3. Assign roles ahead of time.
During the 2007 storms, Tim and his team were scrambling to do everything they could to support first responders. They eventually divvied out roles, but much of this was done on the fly.
While creating your disaster preparedness kit, discuss and assign these roles ahead of time. Who is in charge of FEMA documentation? Spending tracking? Contacting suppliers? By assigning these duties ahead of time, each person can familiarize themselves with their role in advance and be better prepared when the time comes to act. Documented role assignments also make the line of communications clear during a crisis.
4. Increase credit card limits.
For traditional, budgeted procurements, purchases are often made using purchase orders. But during a disaster, buyers are buying anything and everything and need it here yesterday. Credit cards are the most efficient way to make all of these purchases. But, many of the credit cards your team currently use have spending limits under $10,000.
If possible, increase the limits of a few of your credit cards ahead of time. You didn’t know you needed a credit limit of $75,000 until all the powerlines for an entire county are down, and you need to get hundreds of generators, food, and water to the frontlines.
5. Build a robust supplier list.
2:00 in the morning isn’t the time to be searching for a new supplier. Essential to any disaster preparedness kit is a list of suppliers for all the key relief products and services you might need. Contact suppliers ahead of time to understand who you can expect to pick up in the middle of the night; who has transportation options that will allow them to deliver in adverse weather conditions; and the like.
Should this list be primarily local or national suppliers? “Both,” says Tim. Oregon does its best to work with local suppliers, and he has found in his experience that local suppliers are usually easier to get a hold of outside of business hours. Plus, due to their proximity local suppliers can usually deliver much-needed products faster than a national chain.
But, it’s important to keep in mind all possible scenarios. If a large disaster has struck the region, there’s a good chance that local supplier was affected, too. Maybe a tree fell through their building, or they need to focus on the needs of their employees and family members right now. Being able to rely on the supply chain of national suppliers is a great backup. Include both in your disaster preparedness kit.
6. Repurpose resources where possible (employees included)
During the 2007 storms in Oregon, the procurement team was drowning. They didn’t have enough hours in the day to finish all the work in front of them. They developed an on-the-fly interagency agreement to move procurement officials from the Department of Employment to the central team. This helped immensely.
By creating and including this interagency agreement in the disaster preparedness toolkit, this personnel shift can happen immediately to relieve the department in need.
7. Conduct table-top tests to identify preparedness gaps.
You don’t want the first time your disaster preparedness kit is put to the test to be during an actual disaster. The Oregon procurement team would regularly gather around a conference table and introduce a potential disaster that could strike the region. They would then “respond” to the disaster step by step, leaning only on the preparedness toolkit they had created.
This exercise did a great job identifying gaps in their kit that they could fill before a disaster actually occurs.
90% of disaster response is being prepared
During any disaster, efficient decision-making and execution are key. A disaster preparedness kit gives your procurement team the resources they need to make those decisions with confidence when they matter most.