ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- A team of Army Contracting Command-Rock Island employees provided support to the Rock Island Arsenal Garrison during a May 14 emergency response exercise here.

Lisa Determan, chief, Garrison Contracting Branch; contracting officers Michele Ross and Molly Lewis; and Lynn Baker, contract specialist, provided contracting expertise. Myrna Dowell, Government Purchase Card team lead, supported the garrison making required credit card purchases.

Though planning for the exercise had been underway for several months, Determan said the team didn't know what the emergency situation would be ahead of time, though they were told in general terms what types of items they might be asked to procure. As it turned out, the exercise tested the arsenal's emergency response capability following a tornado. In the simulation, the tornado damaged buildings, including several of which collapsed and trapped victims. Other scenarios hampered emergency efforts, such as downed trees and blocked entryways.

The ACC-RI employees were co-located with garrison staff for the majority of the exercise. Any need that required an actual or a notional purchase would come into the emergency operations center from a mobile command center located outside, near the simulated disaster area. Garrison staff members identified what items were truly needed and coordinated those needs with ACC-RI employees who then determined appropriate procurement methods.

Determan said that the exercise revealed the need for specific purchase requests from first responders should a true emergency take place.

"In one instance, people in the field needed saw blades, but they didn't specify pertinent information such as size and type," said Determan. "We reiterated that they need to be more specific for those types of requests."

The importance of communication was apparent from the beginning, according to the team. For instance, Ross said that when the first purchases were delivered, it was not clear how the people in the field would receive those items. Working with the EOC, first responders and the command center, it was determined all items would be delivered to the mobile command center for pickup.

Determan said several benefits to garrison contracting were realized through the planning stages of the exercise. One key benefit, she said, was that prior to the exercise, they realized local hardware and building supply stores would be an integral part of the emergency response.

"We worked with local hardware distributors to set up government accounts as a means to procure items quickly," said Determan.

Ross agreed it was a good thing that these accounts were established ahead of the exercise.

"It took coordination to set up these accounts, including aspects such as availability and same-day delivery," said Ross. "I don't know if we would have had time during an actual emergency to do that work."

From a GPC perspective, Dowell was instrumental in getting the appropriate merchant codes on the cards and ensuring cards users would be able to make purchases. She also worked with people who were calling in with GPC purchases to make sure they understood roles, limitations and how to process orders.

"Working with the garrison folks throughout the exercise gave everyone a better understanding of the GPC limits and the obstacles we would face during a real disaster," said Dowell. "Addressing the systemic, regulatory and threshold limits up front allowed the GPC team to react immediately when an issue was identified."

This was the first exercise on the arsenal in which local Mutual Aid Box Alarm System partners joined together as community partners to exercise technical rescue teams. MABAS is a collective support agreement system that allows departments to request resources locally, regionally and from all Illinois MABAS partners, should their agency become overwhelmed responding to an emergency.

Ross said she believes this exercise will have a measureable effect on the performance of everyone involved should a true emergency occur.

"I can't imagine an emergency such as this happening and not having learned the lessons that came from this exercise," said Ross. "As with any emergency there would be a lot of chaos and misunderstanding of roles. This practice helped us tremendously to be better equipped to respond effectively."