From nurses, doctors and first responders to people working in grocery stores and distribution centers, essential workers have been the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, risking viral exposure to help the rest of us emerge from this unprecedented crisis.
Working alongside these heroes are scores of WSP USA’s Emergency Management Division staff and hundreds of contract employees who responded to urgent requests for help from the firm’s state and local government clients over the past 15 months.
“When everybody else was locked down in March 2020, we sent our staff out to support large-scale testing operations,” said Chris Walker, WSP emergency management practice leader. “These unsung heroes left their homes and families and stepped up to do what was needed, setting up tents, generators, cooling equipment and everything else required to transform parking lots into mass testing sites.”
The testing mobilization followed earlier assignments from government clients to procure scarce personal protective equipment. And by January 2021, WSP’s COVID-19 emergency management work had expanded to supporting public vaccination sites.
“We managed planning, traffic control, logistics support, equipment, security and pretty much everything else at more than 60 of these improvised outdoor testing and vaccination clinics,” Walker said. “The only major element we didn’t manage was procuring the vaccines and medical professionals, which was handled by the states.”
Trust and Loyalty
The capabilities to mount such robust emergency-response measures on short notice were developed over many years by Walker and his team of emergency managers.
“In addition to our own highly skilled program managers and staff, the emergency management team utilizes over 450 subcontractors that we call on to support our emergency response operations,” said Marc Barrera, WSP procurement manager. “During times of crisis, these partners prioritize our requests, in part, due to the critical nature of our missions and its effect on the well-being of those citizens impacted by disasters.”
Before COVID-19 struck, for example, vendors and subcontractors in the vendor network alliance had worked for about 18 months, providing emergency power and other services in parts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that suffered long-term damage after Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017. “We maintained and fueled more than 2,600 generators during that period,” Walker added.
This same team currently manages the four Advanced Contract Initiatives for Emergency Power, spanning the entire country and territories outside the continental U.S. for the U.S. Army Corps of engineers.
The firm’s COVID-19 response team of about 35 WSP staff – led by Tom Oliver, Craig Decesare, Amanda Dobrowski and Miguel Torres Diaz – have been engaged in managing and supervising a subcontracted staff of about 250 people, according to Walker.
“The pandemic proved our team’s adaptability and creativity when it comes to supporting our client’s and their communities’ needs,” said Tim Jamison, director of program management for the Emergency Management team. “These skills are critical in any type of emergency response.”
WSP’s clients for the pandemic emergency response include Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Virginia, Delaware and New York City; and to minimize lodging and travel costs for these clients, Walker and his team mobilized vendors with staff, supplies and equipment as close as possible to the client’s testing and vaccination locations.
But Walker is quick to point out that COVID-19 was by no means the only event that WSP’s emergency management and disaster response team has responded to over the past year. In fact, while managing COVID-19 testing sites in the fall, the team had to mobilize to respond to hurricanes in the Southeast.
“We received calls to deploy to Florida, Alabama and Louisiana to provide support for hurricane responses,” Walker said.
And these assignments, executed under WSP’s Advance Contract Initiative for Emergency Power contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, required deployment within 21 hours of notification.
“That means having mechanics, electricians and management staff onsite and prepared to deploy generators within 21 hours, managing turnkey generator support including installation, maintenance, repair, fueling, and demobilization,” he added.
California’s wildfire season also triggered calls for WSP’s emergency management services within the last year.
“Since Thanksgiving, and under the leadership of Tim Jamison, Shannon McKinney and Hobart Price, more than 75 WSP staff and 200 personnel have been working daily on the California fire recovery projects, responsible for the oversight and orchestration of the debris testing, analysis, and disposal of debris and assessment of tree damage,” Walker said.
Looking ahead, Walker expects that his team and their subcontractors will move on from COVID-19 even more prepared to handle future disasters.
“We’re in the business of preparing for the unexpected,” he said. “Every disaster requires something that the previous one didn’t require. Our clients hire us to be the solution that they couldn’t come up with on their own.”
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