In the third and final episode of this series, Kathy Fraser talks to a couple of responders who have been managing operations at the TDEM central warehouse in San Antonio since April 2020. All PPE for the state of Texas distributions centers is shipped through this high-volume facility. Only by working as one unified team can Texas ship the amount of PPE and tests that move through this facility every day.
SPEAKERS: Kathy Fraser (TEEX), Michael Clark (TEEX), Sam Miller (TDEM).
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Narrator: Welcome to the Disaster Management Podcast series. Each episode features subject matter professionals discussing strategies and techniques for emergency managers and policy makers to consider as they prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. This series is brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.
Kris: Greetings from College Station. This is Kris Murphy with you once again. In this final episode, Kathy Fraser chats with a TDEM and a TEEX employee about the responsibilities of keeping the TDEM Warehouse, which is in fact the State Distribution Center, running smoothly 24/7.
Kathy: I have been out to two other places in San Antonio, and now I am in the TDEM warehouse. And I am here with Sam Miller and Michael Clark. So, Sam is with TDEM; Michael is with TEEX. And Sam, I’m going to ask you first—what exactly is the TDEM warehouse, and why does it look so much bigger and faster to me than any of the other places I’ve been to yet?
Sam: This is what we call a State Staging Area. This is where all of the resources for the disaster come. They get organized, put into a system, and then sent out to all of the areas—regions within the state—that need it.
Kathy: So, where is that request coming from? Who’s getting the stuff to come here?
Sam: What’s decided to go out is based on many factors, the biggest one being STARs, the State of Texas Assistance Request. So this is the way that local entities request assets from the state during any disaster, not just this one. Those requests go in, they get processed through the State Operations Center. If it’s something that we have on hand, we can immediately fill it. If it’s something we don’t have on hand, then the finance team will either purchase it, if they can’t find it to purchase it, then it comes through the Federal program and FEMA will provide it. Once those assets come in to the State Staging Area, the TDEM Warehouse, they then get turned around and sent out to those who need it. The separation there—most the time the STARs are going to be for a specific entity. This specific disaster, the RACs are filling specific requests for their regions. And to be able to fill those requests, we are supplying them with PPE, what we have available based on what’s coming in. So we’re trying to keep the RACs stocked up on the varying different types of PPE, so that they can fill their requests within their regions.
Kathy: Okay. And now, Michael. Thought you were gonna get away with sitting there quietly, but no. Okay, so you’re a TEEX employee.
Kathy: And you have been here – How long have you been here in the warehouse?
Michael: So I deployed April 5. I started- I did a week at the Armory in San Antonio, and then I did two weeks at the STRAC warehouse, and then I came here. So late April.
Kathy: Whatever the math is for that. And, what’s it like working with other TEEXans here? I know there are a lot of TEEX employees at this particular facility. So, what’s that like?
Michael: I actually do enjoy that. I think that when I can get some people to come out and they can give me some longevity, that really is beneficial to us here. Because we have- our work force is kind of transitioning often, and so the amount of things that we need to be able to teach them and to have them consistently do, it makes it a lot easier when I have people that can stay out for a little bit longer duration. And so, I find that that – we can provide that as TEEX employees, and some of us can stay for a little bit longer, and so that helps us to have some continuity to what we do.
Michael: Our TEEX Mission of “One TEEX, One Team”. I think that really that brings people that come in and they know that we have the standards in our Agency, and so we have a little bit of camaraderie in our little group. And it makes it for a pretty good working environment. At least you have some people that are close knit and kind of share the same values.
Kathy: And then Sam, I know that since you’ve been here since it spun up, right? In this facility?
Sam: I have.
Kathy: And you’re dealing, not with just all the TEEX people, but also AgriLife, and the National Guard, and any other Agency—State agency, Private.
Kathy: Yes. Forest Service. So, what’s that like? Having to juggle a lot of different State, National, Private entities?
Sam: I think it works out. The warehouse operation here really can take individuals with just about any talent, and we’ve got a niche for it. There are folks who are sitting at a computer, putting in the information that we are receiving, so those are very, you know, computer-oriented. There’s those who are making sure we get the right number of boxes, those that are putting stickers on the boxes, and then those using apps to scan it, we’ve got forklift operators, and everyone has their own talent. And so, when it all comes together, we all respect each others talent in that regard. Just because we all have different shirts on, it may mean that our jokes are going to be taken a little differently, but we still all sit around the same lunch table. We have a good time, we work the long shifts, get sweaty working with the boxes and in the heat, and at the end of the day, everybody’s respecting each other. So that’s good.
Kathy: And I have definitely seen that. Moves very fast, but it seems to be very respectful, and everybody appears at least to get along very very well. So, final question, because I promised both of you that this would be short. So, what piece of advice would you have for general citizens of the state of Texas? And let’s make that even bigger—the nation, the world. I’ll start with Michael. That might be important for them to know right now.
Michael: I would say just be patient with people. The circumstances of life and the things that have happened so far have really tested everybody’s patience and everybody’s ability to kind of- We’ve been isolated for a while and then we come back together. And so really just kind of understand that we’re all doing a lot of things for the greater good and everything that we’re doing. So just have some sympathy and some empathy for other people.
Kathy: That’s wonderful, thank you! I like that one! Okay, now you gotta top that, Sam.
Sam: That’s gonna be difficult. Because that’s a really important one.
Kathy: You should have just said ditto, what he said.
Sam: Ditto. No I think that—very similar—everybody has been cooped up and of course it’s really important that we’re all getting back out and doing what we can do. But I do think that being patient with your brother, everyone around you, being patient with the businesses and the requirements that they are putting out there. It’s going to be very important to be able to jumpstart and get everything back going again, which is the ultimate game for emergency management is restoring us back to normal.
Kathy: Well, I thank both of you. I do, know. Everybody I’ve talked to, they’re running a million miles an hour. And once again, I say to people listening to this, I had to literally walk behind Sam. He’d like go, “Okay, no, no, no I gotta get on this phone call.” Then he goes, “Okay, hang on, this truck just came in – as soon as I talk to this truck.” “Wait, wait, wait, the air conditioning guy’s here.” And I am literally walking behind him saying, “I’m not taking my eyes off of you until we get this done.” So, I do know that you’ve taken time out of your busy days, and I thank you for this. Actually for everything that you’re doing for the state and the Nation and the world. So, thank you.
Sam: Thank you.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to the Disaster Management Podcast series, brought to you by Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. Visit www.teex.org for information about training near you.