3 PPE Procurement Challenges School Systems Face, Potential Solutions
Strengthening the supply chain to procure PPE and other essential materials
- By Kelly Kleinfelder
- December 16, 2020
A surge can defeat even the
most thoughtful inventory
plan. When the COVID-19
pandemic hit, many school
district leaders suddenly
realized that they didn’t have adequate access
to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suppliers,
forcing them to attempt to locate
essential materials and build inventory during
a huge surge in demand.
PPE and other resources have remained in
demand throughout the pandemic. They are
also a core aspect of school reopening plans,
and are foundational to CDC reopening
guidelines, which suggest that all school
reopening plans address adherence to behaviors
that prevent the spread of COVID-19.
When used consistently and correctly, for
example, cloth face coverings are among
important mitigation strategies to help slow
the spread of COVID-19.
With so many districts in need, how do we
avoid the chaos that many encountered during
the spring semester?
By considering the challenges that
COVID-19 revealed and using them as a
learning experience, we can prevent future
shocks and improve supply chain management
as a whole for school systems.
to Essential Supplies
Because of COVID-19, traditional sources
for schools, such as highly localized suppliers,
were unable to deliver the essential
materials that institutions needed to remain
operational. As we’ve seen, global and
regional surges in demand can massively
cripple the supply network.
The pandemic also gave rise to opportunists
looking to make a quick profit by promising
PPE supplies they could never actually
deliver. Many fell victim to these opportunists,
who sought to make a profit through
price gouging, unrealistic delivery promises
and even blatant fraud.
According to the Washington Post, “the
international market for desperately needed
medical masks is riddled with fraud. Up and
down the supply chain, from factories to
hospitals, opportunists are benefiting from
the chaotic market as prices have quintupled.
Rampant price gouging and fraud has provoked
dozens of lawsuits and hundreds of cease-and-desist orders, from major mask manufacturers as well as
state attorneys general.”
Demand for PPE is going to continue into the foreseeable future –
unreliable access is unacceptable. PPE is a core component of CDC
school reopening guidelines. A joint statement by leading education
and parent organizations, including NEA and the National PTA, said
we need to reopen schools in ‘the safest way possible, not the most
politically expedient way.’” The group called for a comprehensive plan
that includes proven approaches to containing the coronavirus, such
as personal protective equipment (PPE) and social distancing.
Solution: Forecast Need and
Consumption to Meet Demand
The simplest and most effective solution to ensuring access to PPE
and other supplies is to identify and designate essential items in
advance, and manage those items differently. Supply chain risk management
programs identify areas where supply risk or demand surges
are likely to occur and help institutions plan accordingly. Oftentimes,
recommended solutions come in the form of strategic inventory or
When demand is high, it is best to have access to a large and
diverse pool of suppliers and manufacturers who can provide essential
items and deliver them as needed. This strategy not only helps
with ensuring access to supplies, but also helps school systems get
them at the lowest possible cost.
To achieve this for partners, for example, SDI maintains a brandand
supplier-neutral approach within its sourcing and purchasing
activities to align with the needs of partners, and currently maintain
approximately 6,000 supplier relationships.
Lack of Strategic Reserves and Backups
When the pandemic hit, district leaders realized they didn’t have PPE
suppliers because this is the first time school systems need to procure
large quantities of PPE equipment, and at a rapid pace. While they
may have had existing supply chains established for maintenance and
janitorial products, school systems started from scratch in terms of
PPE procurement. District leaders were forced to scramble, trying to
identify reliable suppliers who could deliver high-demand PPE
Solution: Build a Backup Reserve
To address demand surges that overwhelm even healthy strategic
supplies at the site level, a backup reserve must be provided by a central
source. In the absence of an in-house strategic reserve, it’s important
to have trusted partners available who can assist – especially
during future surges. Consider these benefits.
- Guaranteed availability of crucial safety stock inventory
items and quantities
- Secured inventory model for essential supplies
- Not subject to government supply constraints
- Compressed and consistent lead time
- Fresh, reliable stock
PPE inventory is perishable, so excessive stocks can quickly transform
into obsolete, unusable inventory. Knowing what quantity of
resources to order and how often to procure it saves money and time
for school districts.
HCP and facilities—along with their healthcare coalitions, local
and state health departments, and local and state partners – should
work together to develop strategies that identify and extend PPE supplies,
so that recommended PPE will be available when needed most.
Outdated or Siloed Procurement
and Maintenance process
While procurement isn’t a new idea for school systems, there are
complexities that must be considered, such as district size and structure,
an article from Spaces4Learning explains, “yesterday’s buyers
are today’s procurement professionals, thanks to the tremendous
complexities that now arise in buying, inventorying, and managing
school district supplies.”
Adding to these complexities is the large size of today’s public school
Most school systems don’t have or use a procurement technology
platform. Instead, they rely on a finite set of suppliers, many of which
are small and localized, for janitorial and sanitation products.
Additionally, procurement, inventory and maintenance processes
are often siloed, and can create conflicts among various district
departments. As mentioned in an article from EdTech Focus on K-12,
“siloes can lead to misaligned priorities, lack of information flow,
reduced morale and disjointed decision making, and [it] may ultimately
contribute to the demise of a productive district culture.”
Solution: Review Internal Processes
and Find Trusted External Partners
It is important that school districts review their internal procedure
and determine if there’s updating that needs to be done. Procurement
should be a centralized process that uses modern technology to back
it up. Given the complexities mentioned above, it can be valuable for
school districts to find an external partner to offer support throughout
the supply chain process.
PPE-as-a-Service to make it simple, affordable and efficient for
school systems to procure PPE and other supplies. The first step is
assessing school systems’ need for resources, including quantitative
and qualitative research to understand each district’s unique situation
and forecast what consumption could look like.
Through PPE-as-a-Service technology, school systems can achieve
a resilient PPE and essential materials supply chain to protect against
future supply and demand shocks.
Reimagining Supply Chain Management
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t a temporary concern; school districts
must not only address their near-term needs, but also take steps to
mitigate risks associated with future outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.
It is unclear when will be safest for students to return to physical
school campuses. But, by thinking ahead and being proactive, school
district leaders can ensure that districts have the supplies they need
to welcome them back.
This article originally appeared in the November December 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.