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News | July 21, 2022

DLA prepares to act swiftly during hurricane season

By Nancy Benecki

The Boy Scouts’ motto is “Be prepared.” Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Being prepared is also important to the Defense Logistics Agency. Hurricane season runs from the early summer to late fall, but DLA prepares year-round to respond to natural disasters.

In 2021, DLA provided $40 million in hurricane support, according to the Whole of Government Division. This included 752,000 gallons of fuel, 809,000 meals, 126 leased generators and 49 deployed civilians.

DLA is ready to place orders and deploy people on short notice to support this year’s hurricane recovery efforts, said Bob Gagnon, DLA’s liaison officer to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the lead federal agency for hurricane response.

“DLA is always ready to go year-round, but we really ramp up the game during hurricane season because we know that Mother Nature will keep us busy from June 1 through Nov. 30, with the high peak of hurricane season starting about Labor Day and going through the end of October,” Gagnon said.

The Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science expects an above-average year for hurricane activity in 2022, predicting 19 named storms this season. That’s five more storms than what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers average.

Planning for hurricane season starts the day after the last one ends, Gagnon said. DLA works with FEMA to restock regional distribution centers and augment supplies that may expire.

In March, FEMA conducted exercises in which DLA Energy and DLA Distribution participated. In April, representatives from DLA Troop Support, DLA Energy, DLA Distribution and the Whole of Government Division from DLA Headquarters met with FEMA counterparts to review pre-scripted mission assignments, which Gagnon described as a “menu” of what FEMA can request from DLA.

“Doing the pre-storm work allows the process to happen faster because FEMA doesn’t have to go back and forth, asking what’s the price and how long it takes supplies to get there,” Gagnon said, because DLA has already identified the correct prices and delivery times.

“All FEMA tells us is the quantity and where things need to be delivered,” he said.

DLA also supports the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during natural disasters. USACE holds several emergency-management improvement programs, similar to DLA’s hurricane academics forum, as well as rehearsals.

“As a DLA representative, I’m usually one of the only external partners that they invite to that discussion because they depend so heavily on DLA for certain requirements,” said Rhonda Mustafaa, DLA LNO for USACE.

DLA can receive a request for information for supplies 24-48 hours before the actual request comes in, Mustafaa said. Funding requirements typically follow, which allows DLA to finally execute the orders, she added.

“Typically, as soon as we receive an RFI, we’re already posturing ourselves to provide support,” she said.

The DLA Whole of Government Division’s work during crises is “priceless,” Mustafaa said.

After Hurricane Maria struck in 2017, DLA contracted for $160 million for power grid material in 24 hours, with materials arriving within a week.

“If DLA would not have been a part of that Hurricane Maria power grid restoration mission, that mission would have failed, and a whole lot of people in Puerto Rico would have been without power,” Mustafaa said. “That is just how critical our work is.”

The contract involved multiple manufacturers, including local businesses that recreated parts for obsolete systems.

“DLA was the only federal agency that could do that,” she said.

Thanks to the work of major subordinate commands and pre-scripted mission assignments, a request from FEMA can be filled in 48 hours as well, Gagnon said. DLA Troop Support filled a request for more than 800,000 commercial, shelf-stable meals that were delivered to six food banks in Louisiana last year after Hurricane Ida struck. DLA Distribution oversaw the delivery.

To make sure items like blankets, roofing tarps and water get to their intended destinations, the DLA Distribution Expeditionary Team deploys to local staging areas to receive and inventory supplies so they can be shipped to where they’re needed, Gagnon said.

DLA Energy also works with its contractors to bring in fuel to distribute to hospitals and power stations from outside the impacted area, he said.

One of the unsung heroes of DLA’s hurricane support is the Information Technology Contingency Team, Gagnon added.

“A lot of times, people forget that they’re a part of this team and play a critical role,” he continued. “People may take them for granted because they just expect that communications capability to be there.”