Smart disaster preparedness includes purchasing cards

Purchasing cards for responder community enable purchase of supplies in off-line situations


Agencies were under pressure 24 hours a day to repair roads, remove debris, protect buildings from water damage, restore gas and electricity, and provide emergency shelter to people whose homes had been destroyed.

The everyday efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the FDOTs purchasing card program suddenly became a critical tool for relief during the storms. The agency was able to quickly increase card limits from $2,500 to $25,000 so crews could buy traffic cones, barricades, sand bags, generators, and satellite phones. The cards also covered travel expenses for emergency responders who traveled to affected areas on short notice.

Suppliers who balked at purchase orders accepted the card willingly. The cards worked even when the power was out at merchant locations.

In total, the FDOT made 7,000 transactions amounting to $7.6 million on purchasing cards for response activities - a testament to the cards' flexibility and effectiveness. The agency maintained full oversight via electronic reporting tools throughout.

SPENDING OVERSIGHT

The Florida Department of Agriculture (FDA) had similar positive results. Under normal circumstances, purchasing cards were used to procure office supplies and equipment and for approved travel expenses. But when the hurricanes hit, the agency had the flexibility to raise approved spending limits for critical response efforts.

"Hurricane Charley caught us completely by surprise, because we'd expected it to hit north," said Kristen Mullikin, purchasing card program administrator for the FDA. "We had to raise limits and activate teams immediately."

One of the first teams to get approval for higher spending limits was the forestry division, which was mobilized quickly to buy chain saws, satellite phones, fuel, and generators.

In areas badly hit by flooding, including Punta Gorda in the southwest, animal rescue teams worked with local farmers to move farm animals to safer areas in the state. The teams were able to pay the transportation fees using purchasing cards. They also paid for truckloads of water and ice, as well as meals for people who had lost power in their homes.

Mullikin and a team of procurement employees in each division of the department monitored spending online during the hurricane using the State Accounting Management System. Credit limits were raised as needed by faxing requests directly to the bank, so emergency efforts could continue uninterrupted.

The FDA experienced no unauthorized spending during the hurricanes, an accomplishment Mullikin attributes partly to the purchasing cards' centralized reporting capability

DISCOUNTS, FEDERAL GRANTS, INSURANCE CLAIMS

Port St. Lucie, on the east coast of Florida, was hit by two hurricanes in 2004. Spending limits on 25 emergency cards were raised from $1 to $500,000 to enable emergency teams to repair roads, sewage systems, and traffic signals. Using cards also helped restore power to buildings with emergency generators. One city agency used its cards to buy the entire fuel supply at a gas station to power emergency vehicles and equipment.

"The cards were great because they allowed us to be flexible about where and when critical purchases were made," said Cheryl Shanaberger, the deputy director of Port St. Lucie's Office of Management and Budget. The single highest purchase on the cards was $96,960, for tree removal.

Shanaberger also said that purchasing cards were particularly useful when negotiating discounts with suppliers of large-value construction materials. "We successfully negotiated a 2 percent discount with one contractor because he knew he would be paid sooner,"she said. The combined savings amounted to $400,000. On top of the price discounts, funds previously tied up in standing purchase orders were invested before they were spent, resulting in significant interest revenue for the city"