Harnessing the Power of Purchasers
120,000 N95-rated masks.
25,000 Tyvek suits.
4,000 pounds of pig food.
When disaster strikes and aid is needed, these items must come from somewhere. Behind the scenes of Camp Fire relief efforts has been a team of people responsible for the logistics of sourcing, buying, and paying for the massive quantities of critical supplies. From safety suits to help law enforcement sift through the toxic rubble of destroyed homes to aluminum pans that can serve as makeshift litter boxes for hundreds of displaced cats, the Butte County Department Operations Center (DOC) is trying to meet needs as best and as quickly as it can.
A few days after the blaze started, center leaders reached out to Chico State’s office of Procurement and Contract Services, looking for volunteers to help staff 12-hour shifts of nonstop phone calls to source, locate, and secure delivery of supplies.
“They were completely overwhelmed with just the sheer volume, and they needed some support,” said Director Sara Rumiano. “Our staff at Chico State, it’s what we do every day. … I think of procurement as a broad matchmaker. We have a need on one side and we know what suppliers and what agencies to go to. We have that other half.”
With campus offices closed, all seven employees jumped into action, ready to serve DOC requests from agencies ranging from law enforcement to the Red Cross and North Valley Animal Disaster Group.
A large-format printer to produce oversized maps of the fire’s footprint, laptops to assist with the search for human remains, binders to track animals at the shelters, portable toilets, tents, lighting, portable pods for storage of supplies—the need was monumental. The timing, immediate.
“That was probably the most challenging thing—they needed all this stuff and they need it right now,” Rumiano said.
Chico State’s procurement staff moved into action, grabbing phones, and immediately beginning to field and fill requests. Strong relationships with vendors was an advantage our purchasers brought to the table, as they knew their regular contacts would do all they could to help.
“I would call [a company representative] up and say ‘I need 1,000 pairs of leather gloves and 400 pairs of safety glasses,’ and she would say ‘I can ship those out today.’,” said staff member Jessica Westbay. “It was definitely a sense of community. You could feel it.”
The Chico State volunteers met requests as best they could, while also getting the best price, delivery, and product. If that meant taking whatever was available or seeking multiple sources, they knew meeting any part of the need was better than to not meet it at all.
When staff member Cindy Reiswig was tapped to get 125 space heaters to warm individuals with disabilities living in a shelter in Gridley, she instead located 40 heaters that would achieve the same goal with greater efficiency and at a savings.
“Procurement professionals are just that. It’s really a profession, and it’s something you learn over the years,” Rumiano said.
In Westbay’s eight years at Chico State and entire career in procurement, she’s never been involved with anything of this magnitude. Some of her colleagues had assisted with the Oroville Dam crisis of 2017, but even they said the two events are incomparable.
For Westbay, who is also housing evacuees in her home, working at the DOC tempered her sense of helplessness.
“In a time of crisis like this, we are not always sure where to go or how to help, and so this is something that I knew I could do and where I could offer my services,” she said. “That was really important for me, to be able to help in any way that I could, buying people the things they need to be able to do their jobs.”
A North State native and resident of Butte County for nearly a decade, Rumiano explained the disaster feels personal.
“Every day you hear of another person who lost their home, and they are all our friends and acquaintances and people you know,” she said. “There are so many that I know even though I never lived in Paradise.”
To put her professional expertise to work to support them was rewarding.
“We have this skill that not very many people have. That was the most powerful thing to me. We know how to do this and this is something we are really good at,” she said. “It made me feel really good that we could share that and capitalize on what we have for the benefit of our county.”
“We just divide and conquer,” Rumiano continued. “We would do it all again in a heartbeat, and we may have to. We are all in.”