Team PAE Fights Ebola in Liberia
Source: Q4 2015 Inside PAE. Click here for the PDF of the article as it originally appeared in the PAE employee magazine.
PAE is no stranger to supporting the U.S. government during a crisis. Since 1955, PAE has supported the United States throughout pivotal moments in history – including the re-building of Japan after World War II, supporting U.S. troops during the Vietnam conflict, maintaining the security of U.S. Embassies during the Cold War, enabling peacekeeping operations in Darfur, engaging national security protocols after 9/11 - and most recently, providing clinical and nonclinical support to ten Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Deadly Epidemic Demanded Rapid Response
“This was an epidemic that by all accounts was rapidly spiraling out of control,” said U.S. Senator Chris Coons in an interview with PAE in 2015. According to Centers for Disease Control July 2015 data, the number of worldwide Ebola cases during the outbreak surpassed 27,000 and claimed more than 11,000 lives. The outbreak captured attention and instilled fear throughout the world.
USAID Awards PAE Sole-Source Contract to Fight Ebola
On October 31, 2014, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) awarded PAE a sole-source contract to provide services in Liberia to support the U.S. government’s response to the outbreak. The contract, called Clinical and Nonclinical Management of Ebola Treatment Units (CNMETU), ran from November 2014 to August 2015.
PAE partnered with Aspen Medical, which provided clinical services, while PAE provided the necessary infrastructure and logistical services. PAE’s experience working in Africa (particularly its work over the past decade in Liberia) and Aspen Medical’s in-country operational medical capability offered a team with the experience and capabilities necessary to operate in a challenging environment.
Team PAE’s Rapid Mobilization Enables Quick Response
Even before award, the PAE management team prepared to mobilize in mid-October. Most importantly, management identified key personnel who would be the first on the ground in country to lead the equipping, staffing and operating of 10 ETUs throughout Liberia and a program management office (PMO) in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.
“As I thought about having to ask someone to lead that effort, I knew it would be hard to look someone in the eye and put that pressure on them,” said PAE CEO John Heller. “But I didn’t have to ask, since several leaders in the company volunteered. It was a matter of fact moment for them. They said ‘of course, we will lead the effort in country.’ That speaks volumes about the culture at PAE and the people who work here. They didn’t focus on the risk. They knew there was a job to be done, and they were ready to do. To me, this is the epitome of the PAE ‘can do’ attitude.”
Along with identifying personnel, PAE prepared for work in a harsh, undeveloped and dangerous environment. “This contract involved procuring millions of dollars of equipment to establish infrastructure needed before we could staff and operate the ETUs across Liberia,” explained then PAE Country Manager (and current PAE Director of Program Operations for GLSO) Mike Smith. Once given notice to proceed (NTP) on the contract, PAE began procuring $17 million of equipment and materials to support in-country operations.
Within seven days of the NTP, Mike Smith was on the ground in Monrovia, Liberia, along with two other employees preparing the PMO to receive the rest of the staff. Within a week, more than 25 personnel arrived, and the PMO was operational. Within 30 days, PAE had a staff in country of more than 100 expatriates and 500 local nationals working to open ETUs. PAE was the first USAID partner to open an ETU, with almost 1,000 personnel on the ground, trained and ready to support the program, within 60 days. At the peak of the program, PAE had recruited, trained, deployed and supported approximately 1,600 expatriate and local national personnel at nine ETUs and the Monrovia Medical Unit.
Rough and Ready
The dynamic African operating environment required Team PAE’s commitment and flexibility. Critical to successful contract execution was PAE’s ability to adapt quickly to changing operational requirements as directed by the OFDA. “We needed to have a logistical capacity that, shall we say, was rough and ready and able to be self-contained in the jungle where there are no roads, no electricity and no running water,” said Former USAID Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg in an interview with PAE in 2015. PAE understood this need well, given its previous experience with expeditionary support and stabilization efforts through contracts like Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) and the Department of State’s Africa Peacekeeping Program (AFRICAP).
To support the program, PAE established a robust supply chain that relied heavily on two Mi-8 MTV helicopters that operated six days a week because roads were often washed out and impassable to trucks during the long rainy season. Helicopter airlifts over an “air bridge” were the only way to get equipment, personnel, supplies and medicine to the nine remote ETU sites across Liberia. Given Liberia’s lack of infrastructure and weather challenges, the air bridges served a critical purpose in moving Team PAE quickly enough to meet established timelines for ETU openings.
PAE Makes It Happen When Others Can’t
Highly committed PAE staff often worked around the clock to meet program requirements. “There were times when we were woken up in the middle of the night to load trucks,” explained PAE Mission Information Officer Anne Sumbeiywo. “Everybody got their hands dirty. We had to do the job, whatever it was.”
“We make it work and make it happen when other people can’t,” said PAE Senior Operations Manager Alphonso Fernandez.
PAE Support Continues As Epidemic Ebbs
As the rate of Ebola cases ebbed, the U.S. government shifted its focus from supporting an emergency response environment to strengthening the Liberian health system decimated by the Ebola outbreak. USAID worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Liberian Ministry of Health to design a plan to reallocate resources from the ETUs to bolster the Liberian health system.
Team PAE worked closely with OFDA to build up county health infrastructures by dispositioning assets from the ETUs to local health systems. This involved building temporary triage and isolation units at multiple locations throughout the counties where ETUs were located to disinfect, store and inventory Ebola-related assets. PAE helped prepare and distribute equipment and supplies to county health teams, the Government of Liberia, Non-Governmental Organizations working in the counties and the USAID mission in Monrovia.
In addition, PAE decommissioned and dismantled all of the ETUs according to strict infection prevention control protocols established by a tri-country (Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia) working group and WHO commission. PAE completed several of the decommissionings ahead of schedule and turned over equipment and materials to OFDA-designated recipients. Several ETUs were repurposed, and one remains open as a regional ETU.
“Anything is possible, and everything is achievable when working together as a team,” said PAE VP of Africa Programs Bruce Smart. “Team PAE worked together as a tight and dedicated group drawing on the totality of our respective experiences and capabilities. As a result, we were successful and proved that we were up to the challenge.”
“America responded; you did not run from Liberia,” said President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her 2015 address at the U.S. Capitol. “Our children are back at school, our borders are open, our women marketers are back at work, our farmers are preparing for the oncoming planting season … and most importantly, our spirits are lifted.”