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PSC Answers Nation’s Calls to Respond to Emergencies

Special Feature

PSC Answers Nation’s Calls to Respond to Emergencies


9.11-1 Above is a photo of Ground Zero taken by FOH.

9.11-2 Above, workers try on personal protective equipment from head to toe.

9.11-3 From left: Dennis McCann, Bradley Christ, Joe Tkach, Joseph Terra and Sue Bracy at the 26 Federal Plaza staging area.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of PSC, Service Matters is highlighting some extraordinary support during times of crisis for our nation.

PSC’s Federal Occupational Health (FOH) has answered the call to duty, time and again, responding to several major events and protecting the health, safety, and welfare of federal employees. Here’s a look at some highlights of support in the last 20 years of PSC. 

One event was 9/11, the largest attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor. FOH responded rapidly with various efforts, and it turned out to be a long-term project. The response was part of a Joint Task Force coordinated with support to agencies such as the FBI, FEMA, DOD, U.S. Marshalls, and NYPD. John Hisle served as FOH Director from 1993-2005.
“We were part of a huge team,” recalled Hisle. “We primarily supported people who were traumatized, or federal agency employees and contractors who were responding to the crisis.”

FOH deployed a large cadre of staff, including EAP counselors from other places in the country and an environmental health support team, and supplemented the local clinical team. There was a large center in NYC to coordinate the federal, state, city, and agency efforts.

“I can't think of anybody that I knew or came in contact with who didn't bend over backwards in order to respond, and assist those folks who were dealing with the crisis,” said Hisle. “For example, we put out a notice that ‘We need EAP counselors in New York tomorrow,’ and we had an overwhelming, ‘Yes, I can do it.’ It’s not only putting your hand up to volunteer, but you're actually going to move there and stay for weeks and months on end.”

People were traumatized from every perspective, explained Hisle. “We had the clinics in place, EAP counselors in place, and industrial hygiene under contract,” he said. “The question was ‘Can you expand your services?’ It’s much easier to expand your services, than start from scratch.”
“The industrial hygiene team had one of the hardest physical jobs in the world, sifting through the wreckage. They were also testing the residue from the towers for harmful agents, and trying to protect people who were working on those sites from being ill themselves. One of the things they did, was go through the debris looking for remains to help identify the victims. This is work that was way beyond the typical call of duty.”

Bradley Christ, Director, FOH Environmental Health Services, PSC, was one of the first staff on site immediately following the incident. The team had a fully operational response with 12 hours of notification.

“We had several roles such as assisting with the FBI evidence recovery team, risk assessment, personal protective equipment determination and distribution, and equipment and materials procurement,” he explained. “We also did training and fit testing, air monitoring and lab sample analysis.” The FOH Clinical Health Services team provided various health services from the Health Unit at 26 Federal Plaza, which became a staging area.

The team ensured that more than 700 joint task force members were briefed, equipped, and fitted. They procured and distributed $75,000 worth of safety supplies, continued monitoring and oversight at the landfill site, and continued support of the FBI, United States Customs Service, and United States Secret Service for equipment decon and public health concerns. FOH supported the FBI evidence recovery teams at the Fresh Kills Landfill. As the FBI teams combed through all the debris, FOH oversaw the industrial hygiene assessment efforts, including food safety inspection at the work site.

Thomas Fussco, FBI Regional Safety Manager from NYC, praised the support. “FOH was an integral part of the response team and we could not have pulled off the response without them,” he said. “The talent, dedication, and professionalism demonstrated by your personnel were second to none. You guys just walk on water and bring out the best in people around the team. You are considered part of the FBI family.”

In the days following 9/11, fear and anxiety continued. Employees in the federal building who saw the planes that crashed were concerned about more terrorist attacks. When a toolbox was dropped, making a loud sound, the building was evacuated. The EAP staff were inundated. In just a week after 9/11, another crisis started: Bioterrorism attacks, as letters were mailed with biological agents such as anthrax to several news media offices, and U.S. Senators’ offices in Washington, D.C. Concerns heightened during that two-month period.

FOH played roles in support of the anthrax response efforts to help protect the health, safety, and welfare of federal employees. This support included establishing a command center, facility surveys and sampling, and coordination with the CDC and GSA to compile the sample data. They inspected the U.S. Capitol building and federal mailrooms for 35 agencies and 120 facilities. There were 1,400 samples collected and analyzed. The team developed decon procedures for seven facilities, directed oversight for two facilities, and held 33 awareness briefings for 11 agencies.

FOH has also responded to other major events, such as:

  • Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), which were back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes. Support was provided in the form of FEMA disaster response team health units, onsite EAP and crisis counseling, performing environmental testing of federal facilities including air monitoring, mold remediation, checking for hazards like asbestos and lead, water intrusion into buildings, and associated electrical hazards, field safety assessments, onsite food service sanitation support, and clinical nurse support to the camps for appropriate care and vaccinations.

“These were extraordinary events that caused massive devastation and required every bit of the resources we had,” said Christ. “A lot of road signs had come down and it was difficult to navigate in the time when GPS wasn’t common technology, so we secured GPS devices and learned how to use them on the go.”

  • Oklahoma City Bombing (1995). FOH provided services such as onsite EAP and crisis counseling for USPS and 10 other agencies, FEMA medical assistance and health unit, and protective equipment determination. It was the first large-scale urgent event in FOH history.

No matter the challenge, PSC’s FOH has responded and provided solutions in a timely and thorough manner, working to ensure employees knew where go to for help. “The entire team has done a spectacular job on these urgent events: working day, night, weekends, and holidays,” said Christ. “We did whatever it took to get people out there on the ground and provide the support for the health, safety, and welfare of federal employees. It worked out very well.”


PSC’s Supply Chain Management Services Provides Historic Support


There have been many high-profile disaster relief events in PSC's history, often requiring PSC's Supply Chain Management Service’s (SCMS) facility in Perry Point, Maryland, to spring into action! The SCMS, formerly known as the Supply Service Center (SSC), has often been there, behind the scenes consistently providing top-notch logistical support. Time and again, SCMS's staff have been the unsung heroes.


Commander Bill Koch on deployment for Hurricane Ike in College Station, Texas.

Irene Grubb, Business Operations Manager, SCMS, has watched the business grow, take on additional projects, and support a vast array of different operations.

“We don’t always necessarily get all the glory but the people who are out there doing it on a daily basis couldn’t do what they do unless we did what we do! We’re there to support our customers in providing whatever supplies they need... for whatever they’re responding to.” Here are some historical highlights:

  • 1996 - Olympics bombing in Atlanta - PSC provided medical supplies for emergency services to the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
  • 1997 - Korea Air Flight 801 which crashed in Guam, 1999 - Egypt Air Flight 990 that crashed into the water off the Nantucket coastline, and 9/11/2001 - in New York City and the Pentagon - provided casualty transport supplies for all three events.
  • 1998 - USAID was involved in health initiatives in developing countries such as Nicaragua. PSC provided a myriad of medications. PSC also deployed a pharmacist to provide assistance to medical personnel to respond to specialized patient needs.

  • 2001 - Anthrax mail attacks on the federal government and news media offices. “Everybody wanted antibiotics to be able to protect their workforce,” said Grubb. “At the time, we stepped up our repackaging operation and were repackaging doxycycline, which is the first go-to antibiotic for these types of things. Also, ciprofloxacin, which is the next step up antibiotic that would be used for anthrax. Even though that particular scare has long-since passed, most of the federal entities with stockpiles have Doxy and Cipro stockpiles and a good bit of those came from us.”

  • Post 9/11 Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) - For a number of years, PSC sold the system materials to metropolitan areas. The system was initiated by HHS and the purpose was to ensure communities were prepared and developed capabilities to address bioterrorism through the use of biological or chemical warfare tactics. The response capabilities for the medical and healthcare facilities were developed and are defined through the MMRS Program. PSC distributed an immense amount of material to major metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. to first responders.

  • Pharmacists and U.S. Public Health Officers deployed - Commander Bill Koch and Captain Murray Potter have been deployed to support pharmaceutical needs following hurricanes. PSC provided medical supplies for the Federal Medical Shelter Program led by CDC.

  • 2005 - Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (back-to-back category five) - PSC provided medical supplies and pharmaceuticals for medical clinics, including roving RV hospitals, as the normal hospitals were destroyed.

  • 2009 - H1N1 flu virus pandemic - PSC was on the forefront when this flu started in South and Central America and worked its way north. PSC shipped antivirals to customers to take to the border. PSC produced, administered and distributed vaccines out to the masses in the U.S., then had to collect and destroy unused supplies. “We were involved from beginning to end,” said Grubb. “We operated a desk 24 hours, seven days a week, where we could get the calls from CDC to ship the supplies. While Peramivir was not approved for general use, FDA issued an emergency use authorization. PSC had the entire supply and was part of the patient authorization network involving CDC and FDA. PSC would get medication and supplies shipped to the bedside within 24 hours, and successfully provided materials to every single patient that called in.

  • Support for clinical trials - PSC supported clinical trials, including a study called Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), for repackaging and distribution. If you go to almost any pharmacy and pick up a package of Centrum Silver, it will usually reference the successful AREDS study on the bottle.

  • Combat support hospitals - PSC built hospitals with supplies for first line emergency surgery on wounded war fighters for DOD entities overseas, mostly for the Army. PSC also did labeling of medication stockpiles and relabeled medications for the Shelf Life Extension Program, which started out as an agreement between DOD and FDA to extend the expiration dates on certain pharmaceuticals. FDA would get the products tested for potency dating and extend the expiration date. “When you're buying millions of dollars worth of pharmaceuticals, it's tough to just throw them away and buy new,” said Grubb.

  • USS Cole ship bombing - The ship was brought back to the U.S., refitted and repaired. PSC resupplied the infirmary when it was refurbished.

  • Ongoing - various medical kits for embassies and consulates around the world. PSC provides basic supply support to the embassies and consulates, mostly in the Eastern Europe and Northern Africa regions. “It's typically for embassies that are not in well-developed countries, i.e. they can't run across the street to the local drug store and they have very limited supply access,” said Grubb. The kits are on-site and off-site and provide a wide variety of basic care for a trauma type of an event, with a lot of bandages and ways to clean wounds, splint, and initial antibiotic care.

  • 2015-16 flu season - PSC recently shipped out flu vaccines to be administered by PSC’s Federal Occupational Health and other federal entities nationwide to federal employees, as PSC does annually. PSC also provides medical related supplies such as bandages, pamphlets, aspirin, and whatever else needs to be dispensed, as well as vaccinations for travelers.

The team always stands ready with quick turnaround time. One time there were horrible floods in North Dakota. “We had originally been told on Friday afternoon, ‘Stand down, it's not happening,’” said Grubb. “Then we got the call at 10:30 that night, saying ‘It's happening.’ We had people on-site, trucks to be loaded by midnight, and they had all the trucks loaded and on the road by 3 in the morning to get them out to North Dakota.”


The PSC Shared Services Model


Ever since PSC was created in 1995 under then-HHS Secretary, Donna Shalala, as part of Vice President Al Gore’s Reinventing Government Initiative, our mission has been to provide a full range of shared services to HHS and other federal agencies. We enable them to better focus on their core mission. By providing the “back office” administrative functions to our customers, PSC allows them to focus on things like curing cancer, preventing food contamination, and providing Medicare and Medicaid to Americans.

PSC Service Matters asked PSC Director Paul Bartley to reflect on the question: Why has PSC’s model of federal shared services been so successful?

I think the reason we are successful is because, under our fee-for-service model, PSC listens to customers and crafts solutions to meet their needs. PSC’s business approach centers on listening to our customers, and utilizing our expertise in responding to their needs with high-quality solutions at the lowest possible cost.

We are one of 10 major shared services providers in the federal government. PSC is the largest, and I would argue the most effective. On the growth side, we have experienced significant growth over the course of 20 years to where we now offer over 40 services, which sets us apart from the other federal shared service providers, who mainly focus on finance, IT, and HR service offerings. We do everything from managing health clinics to delivering mail; from sustainability programs to negotiated contracts; and from financial reporting to a pharmacy repackaging line.

It is that diversity of services, and the expertise behind those services, that enable PSC to distribute operating costs over a large customer base, and to deliver a level of performance and cost effectiveness that most organizations cannot attain independently. This integrated and comprehensive service offering allows us to be more competitive in the overall market, and it helps us meet our yearly strategic goal to grow by 10 percent in market share.

The future is bright for PSC and for our model of shared services. We will continue to succeed by providing excellent customer service, and by continuing to adhere to PSC’s values, which are the foundation for PSC. Those operating values include:

  • Subject matter expertise
  • Competitive prices
  • Responsiveness
  • Timely service
  • Integrated comprehensive services
  • Accuracy and reliability of data
  • Ease of use