As Hurricane Isaac was bearing down on Louisiana last August, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness bought 773 truckloads of bagged ice from Pelican Ice in Kenner for $17.4 million.
Only $2.4 million worth actually got distributed by the Louisiana National Guard to the public.
Some was given away for free to restaurants and other private businesses. One retailer even repackaged and sold some.
Nearly half of the ice was allowed to melt in an un-refrigerated warehouse in Lacombe.
Last week, the state Inspector General issued a scathing report about the blunder.
GOHSEP spokesman Mike Steele and the Guard’s public affairs officer Lt. Col. Michael Kazmierzak say they have revised supplier contracts and improved tracking to prevent so much ice from going to waste again.
Read the Inspector General's report.
View Louisiana's current contracts with ice suppliers through the Office of State Purchasing.
GOHSEP has contracts with three suppliers: Callais Ice Service in Chalmette (contract #409582), Ice House Distributing in Shreveport (contract #409583), and Pelican Ice in Kenner (contract #409581), which was the sole supplier during Isaac.
JEFFRIES: How did so much of this ice end up going to waste?
STEELE: You do not want to be in a situation where you don't have the supplies, and our state leaders have decided that ice is one of the supplies that's needed.
A lot of things like ice have to be ordered three, four days in advance. And as we know the storm wasn't as severe as predicted.
JEFFRIES: As you point out, Isaac was kind of a weird storm. It came in as a category 1 and fairly quickly was downgraded to a tropical storm, but it sat there. And with nearly 900,000 energy customers out of power, it actually was No. 4 on the list for all time outages in Louisiana, only trailing Katrina, Rita, and Gustav.
STEELE: But you didn't have the sever wind damage like you did with some of those storms. You had more flooding problems, and a lot of those problems can be resolved quicker when it comes to outages.
If power's restored to 90 percent of the people within a few hours of the storm making landfall, it's hard not to have too much ice.
JEFFRIES: Was there ever any plan for what to do with the leftover ice should there be any?
STEELE: With that, the actions that were looked at were trying to give the ice to other state agencies, Dept. of Corrections… But in the end there was a large amount left.
We knew there were issues going back to last fall. We didn't need this Inspector General's report that came out last week to remind us of that. We knew that there were changes that needed to be made and those changes were being looked at going back to last year.
JEFFRIES: Have those been completed? We're now halfway through hurricane season for this year.
STEELE: Those changes are in effect now, they've been in place before now, as a matter of fact.
There's going to be a difference in the way the contracts are worded now. If there are large amounts of ice still left on trucks, those trucks will remain sealed and sent back to the company and we won't be charged again for those like we were in the past.
The way the assessments and the tracking of the inventories are done. There were changes put in place to handle that aspect of it with us, and with the Louisiana National Guard. Because we rely on them for a lot of the information that we get and a lot the orders are based on that information.
JEFFRIES: As Mike Steele explained, GOHSEP does all the ordering of supplies given out after a storm, including the 3.4 million 10-pound bags Pelican Ice delivered to the agency after Isaac.
The Louisiana National Guard handles distribution to the public. GOHSEP records cited by the Inspector General indicate about 625,000 bags of ice got to Guard PODS, or points of distribution. The Guard’s count of what they handed out was more than double that. Something was off.
Lt. Col. Michael Kazmierzak says the Guard was using a fairly rudimentary tracking system that had been set up after Hurricane Gustav.
KAZMIERZAK: Gustav, we did everything manually. I hate to say stubby pencil, but it was folks on the ground at each of the PODS, the managers at those sites, tracking manually and calling in the information at the end of the day.
So after that we decided it would be great to have an automated system to allow those managers to input that data versus by telephone and email. So that’s when we had PODIS, the point of distribution information system, developed.
So at the end of the day we could print out a report that would show the statuses of the levels of supplies at each of the PODS, and from that we could see how much was given out.
It was a very rudimentary system.
JEFFRIES: You’re basically doing a head count of supplies and entering that number into a glorified spreadsheet.
KAZMIERZAK: Correct, correct.
What we’ve done now based upon our after-action reviews, which we do after every event internally, and also based upon the IG report as well, we’ve determined we’ve we need to improve our tracking system…
Before we did not have sight of what was coming in as far as what was being ordered. We have the ability now. We can tell what’s come into the state when those trucks arrive, vs. what was ordered by GOHSEP.
We should have the capability of tracking that truck all the way to arrival at the POD location and then the distribution of those supplies.
JEFFRIES: What will be the first test of this new tracking system that you’ve got now?
KAZMIERZAK: We had a logistics exercise earlier in the year, so we’ve already been testing the system. But, when is the true test, well, with the next storm probably.