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News | Jan. 7, 2021

Former LNO guides DLA’s pandemic support to FEMA

By Beth Reece

Editor's note: This is part of a series of 11 stories highlighting individual and team contributions to DLA’s pandemic support.

What do you need? How much and when? Those were perpetual questions on the tip of Phyllis Erkins' tongue in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I carried my government iPhone with me everywhere I went, even to the grocery store. I was always ready to answer questions about how we could support the national response,” said the Defense Logistics Agency’s former liaison officer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Erkins had barely finished an activation sending her full time to FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C., in response to a Jan. 7 earthquake in Puerto Rico when FEMA sent its first request for COVID-19 supplies to DLA.

As DLA’s main link to FEMA until she became the Military Services Support Division deputy director in October, Erkins worked with DLA supply chain officials to relay information like prices, shipping options, and quantities and types of supplies the agency could provide. FEMA inquiries resulted in 11 mission assignments between March and July for which Erkins facilitated the purchase and delivery of over 1 million meals and $84 million in medical-grade personal protective equipment like gloves and surgical masks.

Michael Cuccio, chief of the Supply Chain Integration Branch in FEMA’s Logistics Management Directorate, called Erkins’ support tenacious and inspiring. She rejects seeing herself as a linchpin in DLA’s contributions to FEMA’s response and deflects attention to DLA’s commodity and contracting professionals.

“To me, the big players are the supply chains. I was just a little piece in the middle passing information and trying to coordinate things,” she said, admitting that communication between the two agencies would’ve been more cumbersome without an LNO connecting FEMA’s needs to specific DLA points of contact.

The nationwide demand for limited supplies of items like masks and disinfectants plus simultaneous orders placed by other federal agencies and Defense Department customers made pandemic support to FEMA a challenge, Erkins added.

“We never told FEMA we couldn’t fulfill an order although there were times when we had to go back and say it would take us three months instead of two weeks, for example,” she said. “Our supply chains juggled a lot of glass balls to satisfy requirements for this pandemic.”

Erkins became the DLA LNO to FEMA in June 2019 after having served as an augmentee in 2017 during hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Throughout numerous COVID-19 requests, she also coordinated DLA’s support to one of the most active hurricane seasons on record. Seeing DLA assist fellow Americans after natural disasters and helping to protect frontline medical workers was rewarding, she said.

“DLA has been in the forefront of helping people across the country and that’s been a blessing to watch happen,” she added. “The role DLA has played in acquiring supplies is just going to continue growing, and FEMA understands and appreciates what we do for them.”