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The Connecticut National Guard is no stranger to state emergencies. In the past several years, members of the Guard have been involved in the relief responses to multiple natural disasters in Connecticut and other states, including Hurricanes Katrina, Irene, and Sandy. But when the emergency involves multiple states and countries, the response has to meet the conditions.
Whether you know it as the Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, or SARS COV-2, there is no escaping the impact of Corona Virus Disease 2019. When it came to the west coast of United States in January 2020, the Department of Defense began its involvement. Before the end of February, the DoD had established a dedicated task force and by mid-March, 27 states had activated portions of their respective National Guards to assist in COVID-19 response operations.
The Connecticut National Guard, under the direction of the governor, began working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Corrections, and other state agencies to assist in providing Personal Protective Equipment and other needed items to health care facilities, first responders, and other authorized recipients. Before March was finished, this multi-agency distribution operation would include more than 175,000 square feet of warehouse space, and dozens of military and civilian personnel working to cover 24-hour operations for intake and delivery of lifesaving equipment.
“When we got here it was just a completely empty warehouse,” said 1st. Lt. Ashley Noel, 143rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. “We were starting from zero. Just establishing where we’re going to put everything, how we’re going to put it there, how we’re going to inventory everything, how we’re going to manage the system.”
“We’re command and control,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Flodquist, 1048th Medium Truck Company, “so we’re overseeing it all. Starting out in these operations a lot of us are coming from different backgrounds since we’re in the National Guard. We have daily jobs, and a lot of us don’t have any experience in a warehouse, so we’re helping each other out in just developing the plan and working out kinks as we go. But it’s been very smooth.”
As the National Guard coordinates the warehouse operations, deliveries come in from many different sources. Keeping track of supplies, distributions, and funding are key aspects of maintaining a working, efficient operation. And with the Guard having no involvement in determining what agencies receive the supplies, making sure the deliveries can be made as quickly as possible is an important aspect of the mission.
“FEMA is pushing items down to us,” said Capt. Ulrick Brice, 143rd CSSB. “Things we would have for typical disaster relief, like cots, water, MREs – the bare essentials for any disaster operation. The State of Connecticut procurement office is reaching out to whatever vendor they can to see what supplies they can get. The [vendors are] trying to meet demand from several states simultaneously.”
“A truck will roll up to the warehouse,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Peterson, 1048th MTC. “Soldiers will help offload and get things straightened out and they’ll get us a count of how many we received. The tough part comes when eight trucks get delivered at once, four orders come in at once, and things are moving from bin to bin. Keeping an accurate account is important.”
An accurate accounting of supplies is important not just for financial tracking, but because each item has to be prioritized according to need. And while the Guard doesn’t decide what supplies go where, Soldiers are tasked with ensuring the orders are filled correctly and accurately.
“You have Level One, Level Two, and Level Three,” said Brice. “Level One is a medical center, a hospital. That’s the priority, they get the stuff. When it comes in, it goes out. Level Two would be a state organization that has people in their care. Department of Children and Families, Department of Corrections, and others that actually have people in their care. And Level Three is a town or municipality.”
As states continue to look for necessary supplies, vendors are trying to keep up with demand, said Brice. As the shipments are taken in, all eligible agencies – from hospitals to fire departments – are able to see the inventory in real time through a shared system.
“I did not expect coming in here that there would be so many orders for mattresses, cots, beds, things like that,” said Flodquist. “Right now we’re building stock. That’s the main concern right now, just getting as much as we can back there to fulfill those requests as they come in.”
Working a warehouse facility means that Soldiers and civilians are working together, often in close proximity. In order to maintain a safe facility during the pandemic, Centers for Disease Control precautions are implemented for anyone entering the facility.
“We’re taking all the precautions we can here to minimize risk and mitigate it,” said Flodquist. “As long as everybody’s following those guidelines that are put out by the CDC, take care of washing their hands, not touching their faces, and wearing a mask and gloves. I think you minimize risk quite a bit by following those guidelines.”
“When we come in every day we get our temperatures taken and fill out a questionnaire,” said Peterson. “We put on a mask before going in and we wear gloves. The shipments are sprayed down with cleanser before any hands touch them.” This ensures that the equipment and supplies entering the warehouse are safe to be handled by the staff, and that they don’t carry any pathogens out when delivered.
With so much uncertainty over the duration of the current pandemic and the need for appropriate PPE, the warehouse operation currently has no end date. As with past emergency responses, National Guard Soldiers are prepared to continue as long as they are needed.
The National Guard is unable to take in requests for supplies. Agencies looking for deliveries must follow existing procurement channels.
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