Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, state emergency management teams have worked tirelessly to procure, store and distribute critical personal protective equipment (PPE). In some states, availability of PPE is no longer the key issue. Now, the more pressing problem is managing the vast quantities of masks, gowns and other supplies currently stored in warehouses. And ensuring that the supply inventory doesn't expire is an important goal.
Putting in place the infrastructure, logistical processes, transportation and product tracking procedures is no easy task for state or federal agencies. In our industry, we've seen that lack of visibility into and control over emergency supply inventory can result in expired or missing safety products.
State governments are now determining how to effectively manage the supplies they have stockpiled. And they are creating strategic plans for more efficient and cost-effective emergency preparation before the next unexpected event occurs.
Here are five challenges states are encountering and methods to overcome current supply challenges.
1 | Visibility and control
As of December 2020, states spent more than $7 billion on PPE and critical medical devices, such as ventilators and infrared thermometers.1 Given that, states must optimize use of these resources. Lack of visibility equates to lack of control. Without accurate and timely accounting of supplies in storage, state emergency management teams are flying blind when it comes to inventory management, which can lead to supply shortages, unnecessary purchases and expired items.
In most cases, emergency management teams don't have an efficient and accurate way to conduct an inventory of their stockpiles. Manually counting and recording products takes substantial time and labor that most local governments simply can't spare. And as with any manual process, it is prone to human error.
To combat this, states should invest in electronic and automated systems and processes for inventory management, which can provide an accurate account of what supplies a state has in its reserves, monitor items on the shelves for expiry management and establish a chain of custody as products are shipped to different storage locations or sites for use.
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2 | Risk and waste
States typically work directly with manufacturers to procure emergency items and assume full responsibility for them. They are liable for the results of inventory management challenges, including excess supplies that go unused, products nearing expiry, and items that are damaged, misplaced or misappropriated.
Given this situation, states must plan ahead to avoid being caught off guard by the unique demands related to storage. Climate-controlled warehouses, refrigeration technologies, advanced tracking processes and expiration date management are all critical requirements for large-scale supply storage. Otherwise, states risk losing critical supplies or having them expire before they are needed most.
3 | Rapid response and contingency planning
Many states, especially those that encompass a large geographic region or expansive rural areas, have difficulty quickly delivering the right supplies when and where they're needed. In states where the supply stockpile is in a central warehouse, emergency response teams can swiftly transport supplies to sites in the surrounding communities. However, they may struggle to deliver to locations at greater distances.
Building redundancies into the distribution process as well as engaging in thoughtful contingency planning to anticipate any hiccups are both critical steps that must take place.
4 | Replenishing reserves
Even states that currently have adequate stockpiles of PPE and other medical products in preparation for another COVID-19 surge or other future disaster will at some point need to replenish their reserves. Federal and state funds allocated to the purchase of PPE and other supplies on the state level are a precious commodity. Furthermore, states are obligated to report their spending to their constituents and justify their procurement decisions.
Determining which product categories to purchase and store to prepare for an event that has not yet happened is no easy task. Making this decision in a silo can lead to unnecessary purchases, or worse, not having what is needed when a disaster strikes.
The solution? State emergency management teams should work with partners and other relevant agencies to develop a product formulary informed by both the state's specific attributes (e.g., demographics, geography, care delivery locations) and current industry factors.
5 | Future funding
Emergency management funds are not easy to come by, and states face conflicting priorities when it comes to areas of need. When a state lacks visibility into stockpiled supply status, including what it has in its warehouses, it's hard to justify additional spend in this category.
Instead, states can invest in automated technologies that assist with inventory management and tracking, thereby accessing in-depth analytics on supply procurement and usage. With comprehensive, real-time data in hand, the team can report on its supply spend, forecast future requirements and present a compelling case to decision makers to secure necessary funds moving forward.
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