JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Dec. 28, 2017) -- The immediate need for contracting support in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria in September was the chief discussion between the contracting director from Puerto Rico and the commanding general for the Mission and Installation Contracting Command here earlier this month.As Hurricane Irma disrupted operations for the U.S. Army Garrison at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, a direct hit by Hurricane Maria two weeks later stalled almost all of the contract services and support administered by the MICC at the installation.Christine Davis, the director of the MICC-Fort Buchanan office, briefed leadership Dec. 6 on the installation's disaster recovery efforts and garrison capabilities, assessment of damages on the post, impact of the storms on her staff, and remaining challenges."The immediate need for supplies and services coupled with the inability to communicate with vendors often forced contract support to rely on word of mouth as to where they could buy," said Davis, who has led the contracting office for the past two years.After about 18 hours of assault by Hurricane Maria, the department of public works signaled the all clear and began performing initial assessments to clear downed power lines and determine cleanup requiring immediate attention. It took an all-hands approach by mission-essential personnel remaining on the post to clear roads and make way to accomplish the emergency assessment.Fort Buchanan's DPW still consists of a number of shops that are responsible for accomplishing initial recovery efforts, which alleviated the need for additional contract actions on top of an already hectic end-of-year workload for the MICC contracting office. This proved fortunate as it was about a week before a grounds contractor could muster a full crew for additional tasks. Davis said that because many of the structures on post are primarily concrete, about 70 percent of the damage was limited to roofs. Additionally, many of the trees on post were downed as oversized trunks measuring 4 to 5 feet in diameter still lay overturned today as indiscriminate reminders of the storm.Fort Buchanan DPW estimates more than $6 million in damages. Of the 142 facilities sustaining damage, 12 will require major repair. Roof damages account for a little over half of estimates while interior repairs are estimated at approximately $2.25 million. Another more than $400,000 is estimated for fence repair. The MICC contracting office was able to leverage some fiscal 2017 end-of-year funds toward fence and roof repairs while the remaining will be funded this fiscal year. Also, damages to Army family housing related to the storm were covered by fiscal 2017 funds through the command's Simplified Acquisition Threshold Supply Procurement Program, which minimized procurement lead time.Maintenance for the generators operating the essential buildings was the immediate concern. Because generators are not intended to run around the clock for weeks on end, finding an available contractor to provide maintenance proved challenging."What I discovered in many cases is that the government is not a vendor's best customer. Contractors can perform fantastically, and the next time we post a solicitation, if someone bids $5 less than they do, they don't get the contract," Davis said. "So in an environment with very limited resources, I found most of the vendors went to their most reliable customers first, and it wasn't always the government. And on top of that, just trying to get a hold of vendors for the first three to five days was almost impossible because there were no phones."Attempting to get a response from vendors was quite difficult. The loss of communications island-wide prevented many of the contractors from leaving their homes much less having an office from which they could conduct business. Some areas of the island still do not have internet service making it difficult for vendors to see solicitations and submit proposals for new contracts. Existing contractors still cannot easily communicate, transmit submittals or invoice."You knew what needed to be done, buy additional chainsaws and fuel, but you just couldn't get there," the contracting director said. "Fuel was one of our first crises. If we didn't have fuel, we were not going anywhere"Initially, the Defense Logistics Agency was unable to deliver fuel. The contracting office then turned to the Navy Exchange's local fuel vendor as its only available source. Unable to issue a contract with the NEX, the contracting office was forced to rely on increased Government Purchase Card limits authorized through a disaster declaration."The Stafford Act has you buy local first. If there's no contracting vehicle in place and you can't get competition because it's not to be had, you go where you can to purchase. Gas for the first week was bought through multiple GPC purchases," explained Davis, who asked cardholders to create memos to their file documenting the emergency requirement. "GPC was truly the way we solved most of our problems once we found vendors who were open and had a capability of processing transactions, because the installation does not have traditional base operations contracts."One member of her staff, Carla Rosario-Rivera, was able to return to the office the last couple days of September to assist Davis in the daunting task ahead, all the while still needing to finish the end-of-year execution of contracts. In addition to an island shortage of gas, also complicating her trek from home to the office was a curfew imposed by the Puerto Rican governor. Not to be discouraged, Rosario-Rivera packed up her two daughters along with food, water and sleeping bags and made her way to the office. In addition to supporting end-of-the-year contract actions, the contracting specialist was able to issue delivery orders to repair $2.2 million of urgent roofing repairs and $400,000 in perimeter fence repairs."I still had all of September execution to do. So as a director, my ability to work in (Procurement Desktop-Defense) isn't as proficient as it is for my team," Davis said. "So, I'm happy that Carla came in because she is proficient. We executed everything we had proposals for and ended the fiscal year with one of the highest metric ratings in the entire MICC. I have a solid team."Together they would also have to reach out to vendors to initiate a contract because certain types of sustainable contracts do not exist at Fort Buchanan. Then it was a matter of determining if the vendor was registered in the System for Award Management to do business with the government, could obtain their supplies, and perform the work immediately.With her staff member responsible for the GPC program deployed, the director quickly discovered that a plan to cover the program internally proved unreasonable as both hurricanes approached. Staff at MICC-Fort Jackson, South Carolina, took on operations of the GPC Program for Fort Buchanan and assisted in building some contracts in PD2.It was not until the first full week of October before others on her staff were able to return to the office. And although responsible for contracting support on the installation, representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Administration also turned to the MICC office from time to time for assistance."They would ask for things like a vendor list, but we don't contract that way anymore," Davis said. "We compete actions full and open; we don't have local vendor lists. So my ability to support them that way was very limited."As part of the briefing to MICC leadership earlier this month, Davis pointed out a few lessons learned from her experience and options the contracting office is exploring to enable continued support for Army installation's needs. Those include remote readiness, expanded support for telework and workload transfer."When you decide who your essential people are going to be, often times they are your directors," Davis said. "Deciding who has to shelter in place, given that it's possible no one else can come in, truly requires a different look at who is considered essential. It has to be a person with authority and a person who knows how to best navigate the contract systems."The contracting director said those lessons learned are being incorporated into local continuity of operations planning designed to ensure the capability of carrying out mission-essential functions under any circumstances. Lessons learned are also being captured by Fort Buchanan Garrison leadership in its after-action review.Editor's note: This is the third in a series of three articles with the Mission and Installation Contracting Command director at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico, recounting actions throughout the 2017 hurricane season devastating the island.