Smart disaster preparedness includes purchasing cards

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

Shanaberger also pointed out that the detailed transaction information available with purchasing cards made it easier to process state and federal grant applications and insurance claims. "We were able to give FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and state grant authorities line-item details on all our emergency spending during the hurricanes."

Port St. Lucie also used its purchasing cards as a way to track fixed assets.since the cards provide the city with details such as serial and model numbers.


It is not often that we hear positive stories surrounding Hurricane Katrina, the largest natural disaster in history of the United States, leaving 1,600 dead and forcing the mass exodus of more than half of New Orleans' population. But the disaster response for certain Louisiana state agencies turned out to be a positive proving ground for purchasing cards - both in rapid response times and documented non-misuse of funds.

Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had an existing purchasing card program that was quickly mobilized for disaster relief when the storm hit full force. In addition to quickly raising spending limits on the cards, the DEQ was able to rapidly lift merchant category code blocks (MCC) to accommodate the range of items and services that needed to be purchased, ranging from vaccines, first-aid kits, and respirators to supplies for house rescuers, such as coveralls, water, meals and bedding. The purchases were made locally at businesses in Baton Rouge and over the Internet at national merchants, such as Wal-Mart and Corporate Express.

Using purchasing cards gave state emergency responders the option to use vendors outside of the established network of merchants available to state employees under normal circumstances. That flexibility allowed responders to react with more agility than ever before possible. Without the purchasing card, the DEQ would have had to resort to purchasing only from vendors that would be willing to be invoiced and then wait another 60-90 days for payment, an unlikely scenario with normal channels of business disrupted.

The purchasing cards also enabled the DEQ team to make out-of-state purchases easily over the Internet.This was critically important when vital supplies such as respirator cartridges and protective clothing could only be supplied quickly by companies outside of Louisiana.

When the rescue and recovery effort was completed and work entered the cleanup phase, the DEQ returned its purchase and spending limits to preemergency levels and restored normal procurement requirements such as bid solicitation for non-emergency items and services. Best of all, there was not a single instance of purchasing card abuse during the crisis period.


Purchasing cards are here to stay as the financial tool of choice for first responders. The value of flexibility and oversight cannot be underestimated.

States and agencies that incorporate purchasing card best practices into their disaster-preparedness plans will be best positioned to save lives, as well as control and document spending.

Disasters affect lives and livelihoods. Documenting and replicating best practices that emerge from previous relief efforts isn't just a smart thing to do, it's a serious responsibility that can help communities recover from the worst of disasters.

"Vendors were guaranteed payment quickly. They really valued the cards, to the extent that they requested that our responders use them for emergency purchases during the hurricanes," said Lisa Wilkerson, the FDOTs purchasing card program administrator.

Disaster Planning Tips

If your organization already has purchasing cards or is planning to implement purchasing cards, here are some basic guidelines for incorporating card payments into your disaster recovery planning, based on the experience of government agencies in Louisiana and Florida