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GSA Disaster Recovery Purchasing Program: How It Works

In September of 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast, flooding coastal cities and paralyzing inland ones. Baytown, Texas, located 30 miles east of Houston, was one of the hardest hit by the Category 2 storm.  

Drew Potts, Baytown’s purchasing manager, recalls the moments just before the eye of the storm came over the city of 68,000. “I was in the emergency operation center a day and a half before the storm hit and didn’t come out until almost five days afterward,” he says.

Hurricane Ike demolished virtually everything in its path. The storm left Baytown without power for more than a week, and in some places for as many as 17 days.

It was after Hurricane Ike that Potts attended a conference in 2009 and heard more about the Disaster Recovery Purchasing Program, which helps communities in times of need. Learn more about the program and how you can benefit.

The Aim of the Program

Potts learned that the Disaster Recovery Purchasing Program allows state and local governments access to the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Schedule, which lists contracts with vendors that provide products and services at volume discount pricing in advance or during the aftermath of major disasters, terrorism, nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attacks. That includes everything from blankets and cots to water, baby food, diapers, meals, tents and hygiene kits. The products and services made accessible are from vendors that have voluntarily accepted or agreed to participate in the program.

“It’s important for local and state officials to know that they can buy off of GSA Schedules for any type of emergency planning or emergency efforts,” says Bruce Spainhour, director of The Center for Innovative Acquisition Development (CIAD), GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service in Arlington, Va. It’s also important to work with purchasing officials and their state’s emergency coordinator prior to a disaster to ensure there is a pre-established space to distribute goods, Spainhour says. This planning also allows municipalities to try and use local businesses to the greatest extent possible to stimulate the local economy.

Because the GSA is a federal organization, Potts says some purchasing managers don’t realize it’s open to city officials. “I give speeches to a lot of my peers at Texas Public Purchasing Association meetings stressing to them that this is another tool to utilize to get the best value for your entity,” he says.

Expediting Needed Care

Because Texas public purchasing law requires that any purchase over a certain threshold must have written quotes, and purchases over a higher threshold must have formal bids, Potts says using the Disaster Recovery Purchasing program expedited the process by saving time, money and the ability to react after a disaster. That’s because most of the capital items needed after a disaster (e.g. facility generators, facility roofs and communications infrastructure) cost well over the higher threshold. That process of generating and publicizing bid documents or proposals, waiting the required period of time for internal approval, then accepting and certifying bids before eventually receiving City Council authorization to award bids can delay a recovery by months, Potts says. “Purchasing from GSA contracts cuts that lead time down to two weeks or less (to get on a City Council agenda),” he says.

With the help of a GSA contractor, Baytown replaced six roofs on city buildings — that are guaranteed to handle hurricane-force winds of 130 to 150 mph — for the price of one. He also used GSA contracts to purchase four generators, as well as impact-resistant windows for all of the city’s fire stations that can withstand hurricanes.

By establishing contracts with GSA suppliers who assist in the purchasing process, Potts was able to focus more of his time on improving the city’s infrastructure and disaster-recovery system. He purchased several items to prepare for future storms, such as freezers, generators, a new satellite communication system and an AM radio station, which will improve the city’s emergency alert system.

“During the storm, we didn’t have news coming out of Baytown because the main focus was on Houston,” Potts says. “This new AM station allows our residents to have up-to-date information during emergencies.” 

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