CHARLESTON, W.Va. —
Members of the West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) and West Virginia University (WVU) John Chambers College of Business and Economics (Chambers College) have joined forces as “Task Force Petersen” to develop key data systems to forecast and track the availability, procurement, distribution and shortfalls of critical medical supplies throughout West Virginia during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Task Force Petersen, named after the supply sergeant in the John Wayne movie “The Green Berets” and aligning with the WVNG’s Special Forces heritage, consists of six members from both the West Virginia Air National Guard (WVANG), West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) with assistance from civilians at Chambers College. It was established to assist officials with the tracking, procurement and distribution of in-demand medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), used across the state during COVID-19 response.
Once established, getting an accurate reading of the on-the-ground demand for both type and quantity of PPE needed by the various medical facilities, first responder and public safety agencies, and local health departments around the state was identified as one of the primary challenges the task force would face.
After the taskforce collected that initial data, the team then used models based on regional, state, and local information on current and expected spread of the disease, including data points such as population densities, healthcare bed capacities, and existing levels of available supplies, to forecast possible surge conditions should localized spikes or outbreaks happen.
Utilizing this data, officials in West Virginia can now order PPE and other medical supplies proactively to meet potential surge needs around the state, rather than reactively wait for a spike in cases to happen before fortifying local supply levels. Task Force Petersen also vets potential vendors and works to procure supplies to meet the forecasted demand.
“Having good forecasting tools is a critical asset for our public health officials to have in order to help West Virginia mitigate and hopefully control the spread and negatives impacts of COVID-19,” stated Maj. Ryan Coss, Surface Maintenance Officer at WVNG Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ). “Working with our partners at WVU Chambers College has been an incredible opportunity and shows the utmost importance of maximizing resources and brainpower from across the whole of government to power our response efforts.”
Additional WVNG members working to support the taskforce mission include Senior Airman Will Wagstaff, an Intelligence Analyst for the 167th Airlift Wing and a senior at WVU graduating in December with an undergraduate degree in Business Economics with a double minor in Data Analytics and Statistics, and Senior Airman Carly Farmer, a Materials Management Specialist with the 130th Airlift Wing and a senior at WVU graduating in December with an undergraduate degree in Global Supply Chain Management.
“What I’ve learned in my courses [at WVU] I’m not only seeing in the real world, but at a quicker pace, given the situation we’re in,” said Farmer. “I’m seeing the entire supply chain at work every day.”
Integrating National Guard members who are already versed in data analytics and logistics subject matter expertise into the taskforce is a way the WVNG brings unique force-multiplier capabilities to the battle.
“I’ve been fortunate throughout my entire career to serve in supply chain roles in both the National Guard and in the civilian sector,” stated Coss, who is also an adjunct professor at WVU and Director of Operations at Mylan Pharmaceuticals. “For me it’s a two-way street as the experiences and lessons learned are interchangeable in both roles. Blending the two experiences and viewpoints together... military and civilian... has been critical in our ability as a taskforce to protect our fellow West Virginians.”
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jason Addis, a 23-year veteran of the WVARNG and Task Force Petersen commander, explained that during this unprecedented time, the supply chain has been pushed to its limits. For his team, coming together to fulfill this mission isn’t something that the Guard has done in past state emergencies, but he sees this as a linchpin in our response currently.
“I think this is a task force that hasn’t necessarily been established in other state emergencies but this one is special in a way that we needed people that could actually sit down and focus on trying to source supplies from around the world,” he said. “I think in the future if we see a second wave or even building out future plans for response to other public health emergencies this task force and the PPE forecasting will be instrumental for our state.”
Chambers College Assistant Professor Brad Price leads the civilian taskforce members, along with two students, Katherine Kopp and Dariane Drake, participants in the Data Driven WV program offered at Chambers College. All three have added their expertise in data analytic solutions to help the taskforce meet its mission.
“It’s been amazing working with the WVNG,” said Price. “They’ve got a bunch of really smart people working extremely long hours. I think we’re being proactive and have very good foresight to make sure our frontline workers are taken care of.”