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5 challenges states should consider when managing their emergency stockpile

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring access to critical medical supplies like personal protective equipment (PPE) has been a challenge. State emergency management teams have worked tirelessly to procure, store and distribute critical medical supplies so these products are available when and where they are needed.

This emergency preparedness and response effort has come with many new learnings for U.S. states. For some states, finding enough PPE is no longer the key issue. After all, during the first few months of the pandemic, U.S. states spent more than $7 billion on PPE and medical devices like ventilators and thermometers. Now, states face the challenge of managing the vast quantities of supplies currently stored in their warehouses.

Managing emergency supplies is no easy task. It requires infrastructure, logistical processes, transportation and product tracking, many of which states did not already have in place at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without proper management of emergency supply inventory, products may expire or go missing.

It's time for state governments to take a step back, manage the supplies they have stockpiled and create plans for more efficient and cost-effective emergency preparedness going forward.

Here are five challenges states should address to manage today's supply chain challenges and prepare for the future.

1 | Get visibility & control of inventory

States sitting on millions of dollars' worth of PPE and other supplies must make the best use of these resources. Lack of visibility equates to lack of control. Without accurate and timely understanding of what's in storage, state emergency management teams are flying blind when it comes to inventory management. This can lead to supply shortages, unnecessary purchases and expired items.

In many cases, emergency management teams do not have efficient, accurate ways to inventory their stockpiles. Manually counting and recording products takes time and labor that most local governments simply can't spare. And as with any manual process, it is prone to human error.

To overcome these hurdles, states should invest in electronic, automated systems for inventory management. Automated systems can provide an accurate count of the supplies a state has in its reserves, identify expired items and establish a chain of custody as products are shipped to different locations.

2 | Store products correctly to minimize risk & waste

States typically work directly with manufacturers to procure emergency supplies and assume full responsibility for them. They're liable for the results of poor inventory management, including excess supplies that go unused, products nearing expiry and items that are damaged, misplaced or misappropriated.

Given this situation, states must plan for the unique storage needs of their products. To store supplies on a large scale requires climate-controlled warehouses, refrigeration technologies, advanced tracking processes and expiration date management. Otherwise, states risk losing critical supplies or having them expire before they are needed most. 

3 | Plan for rapid distribution of supplies

A challenge faced by most states, but particularly those that are geographically large or have expansive rural areas, is to quickly deliver supplies when and where they're needed. If a state's supply stockpile is in a central warehouse, emergency response teams can swiftly transport supplies to the surrounding communities but may struggle to deliver to locations at greater distances. State teams should build redundancies into the distribution process and develop thoughtful contingency plans to help avoid any issues.

4 | Manage and replenish emergency stockpiles

Even states that currently have adequate stockpiles of medical products will eventually need to replenish their reserves. Federal and state funds for purchasing of PPE and other supplies are a precious commodity, and states must justify all spending to their constituents.

Deciding which products to purchase to prepare for an event that has not yet happened is not easy. Making this decision without complete information can lead to unnecessary purchases and, in the worst case, not having what is needed when disaster strikes. To avoid this, state emergency management teams can work with commercial partners and other government agencies to develop a product formulary informed by the state's specific needs (demographics, geography, care delivery locations) and current industry factors.

5 | Secure funding for future emergency preparedness

Emergency management funds aren't easy to come by and states face conflicting priorities in deciding how to spend them. When a state lacks visibility into stockpiled supply status, including what it has in its warehouses and what has already been used, it's hard to justify additional purchases.

To help, states can invest in automated technologies that assist with inventory management and tracking. The right system can provide in-depth analytics on supply procurement and usage. With comprehensive data in hand, the team can report on its supply spend, forecast future requirements and present a compelling case to secure necessary funds.

Conclusion

Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of residents is the primary goal of any state government. State emergency management teams have worked and prepared for unexpected disasters for years — but still faced unprecedented challenges to their PPE supply stockpiles during the COVID-19 pandemic. State leaders brought on millions of dollars of PPE inventory during the crisis and now must ensure these reserves remain safe for use and are available when needed.

States are also tasked with preparing for the next disaster, whether it is additional COVID-19 surges or some unpredictable new threat. Whatever supplies are needed, states must procure them in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner, with forward looking strategies on how to manage them effectively. By being proactive, states can be prepared when the next challenge hits.

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