A team from the Texas A&M Forest Service has been working every day since March 16, including weekends, to help organize and prepare shipments of personal protective equipment and other COVID-19 outbreak response items at a Texas warehouse.

The 10-member TFS crew has been working in conjunction with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, TDEM, to process donations, track items and prepare shipments to fulfill orders statewide.

TFS and Regional All-Hazard Incident Management Team members from throughout the state were called upon to provide planning and incident management support for Texas Division of Emergency Management Disaster District Chairs and the State Operations Center.

Texas A&M Forest Service received a State of Texas Assistance Request, or STAR request from TDEM to help with logistical support at the warehouse, said John Wall, TFS incident response logistics coordinator and the team lead. The STAR allows local municipalities to request resources, information and mission assignments and submit them for local mutual aid assistance or directly to the Disaster District Chair.

“We are handling surgical gloves, surgical masks, N95 masks, medical booties, protective suits and face shields,” Wall said. “The majority of the items have been purchased through state procurement up to this point, with some donations coming in. We just recently got involved with the strategic national stockpile, which has those same items, and those are purchased through the federal system.”

Wall, who said he was grateful he could do his part to help, was joined on the response team by TFS staffers Donnie Norvell, Brad Henry, Aaron Phillips, Sam Martinez, Arturo Lombrana, Chris Wood, Justin Koetter, Leonard Johnston and Mike Pedersen.

Wall said initial tasking for the team at the newly established TDEM warehouse was to assist with organizing the resources that were currently on site.

“This was accomplished with TFS forklift operators grouping like products and making a site plan to assist with organization,” Wall said. “During this time, team members utilized TDEM’s inventory software and processed all items in a database for accountability, using the scannable tracking tags to account for the items.

“The operation and inventory are for personal protective equipment and response items in the warehouse for the COVID-19 event. We receive our shipment locations and quantities and direction from the State Operations Center.”

He said TFS crew members were mobilized with Regional All-Hazard IMT responders from other agencies and local jurisdictions to help document COVID-19 incident activity and maintain the status of resources and equipment used at districts across Texas.

Crews are now working 24-hour shifts to be available for needed items for the COVID-19 response. They continue to receive personal protective equipment to put into inventory, and the operation is now prepared to ship this equipment to fulfill orders across the state as requested.

Wall said the request for TFS assistance was a good fit as the agency employs the same Incident Management System as it uses in wildland fire suppression operations to manage other all-hazards incidents, such as hurricanes, floods and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Every incident has its own unique quirks and this one is no different,” Wall said. “You just have to fall back on your training and those relationships that you have built with the fellow responders you have previously worked with on an incident or in the classroom.”

Fortunately, he said, there haven’t been too many challenges in processing and preparing shipments.

“Getting items to our door has been the largest hurdle due to the high demand for the personal protective equipment around the world,” he said.

Wall said the team is currently working on a plan for continuity of operation beyond their last shift.

“This plan will extend the use of existing team members or secure new crew members to fulfill the need,” he said.

Todd Nightingale, Texas A&M Forest Service assistant chief, fire coordinator, is the IMT member who leads the team once Wall’s assignment ends.

“From an agency standpoint, I’m happy we’re able to provide this service-oriented assistance during this time,” he said. “We have had experience in responding to wildfires, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters and emergencies, and we’re glad to be able to apply that experience and expertise toward helping during the COVID-19 situation.”