Many of us experienced the mad dashes to the supermarket at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to stock up on hand sanitizer, Lysol, masks and, perhaps most bizarrely, toilet paper. We knew the panicked feeling of not finding that one thing we needed, the one thing that would make us feel safe in the face of uncertainty.
These efforts were occurring on a larger scale within INL, as the lab’s Acquisition & Contracts Management team worked hard to keep up with new and unexpected demands while the supply chain shifted and changed dramatically at the pandemic’s outset.
“All of a sudden, we needed extra cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and masks, and it was very difficult to track down those things,” explained Kristen Mayes, the Material Acquisition manager at INL. “In the early days, it was really an all-hands-on-deck situation. We were looking at any and all possible vendors to get the supplies we needed.”
Naturally, hand sanitizer presented a significant challenge, and the lab’s Acquisition team had as much trouble finding it on the shelves of their suppliers as shoppers in eastern Idaho had finding on the shelves at our local stores.
The team ended up purchasing bulk quantities through the Rigby-based company Distilled Resources, Inc., where the lab was able to buy 55-gallon drums of hand sanitizer. Elevation Labs in Idaho Falls came to the rescue with additional bottles of hand sanitizer.
The lab was also in dire need of cleaning supplies, such as Clorox wipes and bleach, which were widely out of stock. “The owner of Eagle Rock Specialties would call me when she was out shopping for cleaning supplies,” said Mayes. “If she saw something we needed on the shelves, she would buy small bottles for us and then we would send her an order. It was a bit unconventional, but it worked well until we were able to buy bulk quantities.” Eagle Rock Specialties also provided INL with face shields when those were hard to come by.
Reusable face masks presented another daunting challenge, since they didn’t already exist in large supplies. The lab needed to have a large quantity of face masks for essential employees who worked on-site at the start of the pandemic.
“We ended up connecting with people on Facebook groups and reaching out across our local vendor supply to see if anybody was making masks or already had them available,” said Brett Pollard, one of the Material Acquisition team members who led several pandemic procurement efforts.
Two local suppliers came to the rescue and provided several masks for INL’s team: TJ Sports and Swanson’s All American Sports. Between these two companies, as well as a Boise and Salt Lake-based business, the team received 36,000 masks, which far exceeded their initial goal of 15,000.
“Our procurement work during the pandemic required an unprecedented team effort,” said Mayes. “It was amazing to see everybody come together and contribute, doing whatever it took to keep the mission going throughout these unforeseen challenges.”