In emergencies, agencies need flexible vendors that can react quickly
The company, which supplies a variety of products to key sectors of the economy and specializes in supply chain management services, helped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As the storm surged, Army Corps workers had to evacuate pumping stations that they staffed at the New Orleans canals. To improve pumping-station operations and worker safety in the event of future hurricanes, Graybar worked with a contractor customer to deploy a fiber-optic system, equipped with cameras, to enable weather stations to monitor the canals remotely and control the pump stations.
Graybar has worked directly with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as with contractors hired by FEMA in past emergencies. FEMA, for instance, issued purchase orders to Graybar during hurricanes Gustav and Ike. Graybar also works with local governments at the city and county levels, as well as state governments.
GovPro.com recently talked to Randy Harwood, Dallas district vice president of Graybar, about the relationship between public-sector purchasing professionals and vendors during an emergency.
GovPro.com: Does Graybar have any advice, as a vendor, for public purchasers who may find themselves in an emergency-purchasing situation?
RH: Ideally, government buyers will work with their vendors to develop emergency response plans before disaster strikes. Those plans should include both material and logistics needs. But regardless of whether plans exist, government purchasers need flexible, efficient vendors that can react quickly in an emergency-purchasing situation.
It’s important to establish relationships with vendors that have strong distribution networks with locations both near and immediately outside the expected area of impact. These vendors can source materials, such as generators and communications products, from unaffected locations for staging close to the warning area for ready access if and when they are needed. Graybar has more than 250 distribution locations throughout North America to facilitate emergency deliveries of critical supplies. Some of these locations are larger, regional facilities that consolidate orders for next-day delivery.
Additionally, procurement professionals should establish relationships with vendors that offer 24-hour emergency service. These vendors have employees on call after normal business hours with access to local inventory at a moment’s notice. For example, Graybar helped FEMA respond in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike by having employees in and around the Texas Gulf Coast area available to place orders, transfer materials from nearby distribution centers, and monitor deliveries.
Procurement professionals preparing for a disaster also need to look for vendors that have experience working with government. For example, Graybar has GSA schedules, DLA Prime Vendor agreements and U.S. Communities contracts, all of which require extensive qualification and renewal processes. Distributors that have government sourcing agreements make purchasing easier and more efficient. Not only do they have established material catalogs with consistent pricing that’s deemed fair and reasonable, but the best will also have a well-developed service organization that knows how to work with government. This allows buyers to meet their emergency needs at a fair value for taxpayers.
GovPro.com: Are there any commodities that are most often in demand among local/state/federal government agencies in an emergency-purchasing situation that’s linked to a natural disaster?
RH: Communications and electrical products are typically the first supplies requested in an emergency. Immediately following a natural disaster, agencies need fiber-optic and copper cabling, connectors and security products to help restore communications services at facilities and command centers.
After communications are up, responders turn their attention to restoring electricity. While the utility company works to bring the grid back up, the government often needs to restore power at its own facilities as well as emergency facilities, such as hospitals. This may require a wide range of supplies, from generators and portable cords to provide temporary power, to large transformers, grounding, meter bases, porcelain insulators, wiring, fuses and breakers for permanent repairs. For safe installation, it’s important for agencies to have the appropriate tools and GFI-protected equipment.
In addition to stocking these supplies locally and nationally, Graybar has strong relationships with thousands of quality electrical, communications and data manufacturers who will make every effort to meet the demand for emergency repair materials and equipment before and after a natural disaster.
Editor’s note: In “Weathering the storm,” the cover story in the upcoming October-November issue of Go Pro, procurement professionals share their strategies for dealing with disasters.