August 28, 2017 – The devastation being wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Texas is creating a tremendous need for emergency rescue, relief, and recovery services, likely resulting in contracting opportunities with state and local government agencies, as well as FEMA. But the storm will also likely be used as an excuse to circulate false information by companies peddling “priority vendor status” – for a hefty fee, of course – promising the “opportunity to help your community for disaster relief efforts and make profits at the same time.” Services offered in such solicitations often carry a price tag of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a variety of services, including a “priority listing.” Be advised: FEMA does NOT have a “priority vendor” program. Please see our post, Contractors – Watch out for Disaster Opportunism, for more details on how FEMA really works.
By Carter Merkle, Oklahoma Bid Assistance Network PTAC
The Thomas T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, passed in 2007, requires FEMA to contract with businesses located in the affected area when feasible and practicable, which brings unexpected and often substantial contracting opportunities in the wake of a disaster.
FEMA needs certain types of items most frequently following a disaster, such as office supplies, dumpsters, shredders and other disposal equipment, janitorial supplies, locks, portable toilets, hand washing stations and sometimes material moving equipment such as forklifts. In many areas they need certain services such as certified translators.
If the goods or services you provide are relevant to disaster response, the following steps can help you to position yourself to take advantage of such contracting opportunities when a disaster strikes.
- Establish relationships with municipal and county governments, as well as state procurement offices. Often these offices control much of the work that is done. In fact, FEMA doesn’t do anything without request and concurrence from the state, local and (when applicable) tribal governments. The type, kind and quantity of assistance FEMA provides is entirely up to state and local authorities. If debris removal contracts are already in place for routine incidents, such as wind or ice storms, those contracts will probably be used for major disasters first.
- Be aware that, like most federal buyers, FEMA buyers often perform quick and dirty market research via Google. Make sure your company is well represented on the internet, with an up to date website that clearly describes the goods and services you offer. Also, check your SAM (System for Award Management) and DSBS (Dynamic Small Business Search) profiles periodically to ensure that your status is “active”, the contact information is current, and your list of capabilities is complete.
- FEMA buys some things at the region level and some at the national level. Establish contracting relationships with the appropriate offices ahead of disasters. Buyers often turn to the contractors they know rather than to local businesses.
- Never rest on special databases or designations. FEMA and other federal buyers don’t necessarily use the Disaster Relief designation in SAM or the GSA Disaster Response designation. The FEMA Industry Liaison Program (http://www.fema.gov/about-industry-liaison-program) is only one point of access for vendors to FEMA buyers, and not necessarily the primary one. Do not depend on these alone for visibility during a disaster.