WV Guard builds forecasting tools for COVID-19 response
By Edwin Wriston, West Virginia National Guard
/ Published April 27, 2020
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia National Guard (WVNG) and West Virginia University (WVU) have joined forces as Task Force Petersen to develop key data systems to track critical medical supplies during the 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) and West Virginia Army National Guard (WVARNG) with assistance from civilians at WVU's 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.
One of the task force’s primary challenges is to get an accurate reading of 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.
After the task force collected that data, the team used models on the expected spread of the disease, including data points such as population densities, health care bed capacities and available supplies to forecast possible surge conditions.
Using 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 waiting for a spike in cases 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 negative impacts of COVID-19,” said Maj. Ryan Coss, surface maintenance officer at WVNG Joint Force Headquarters (JFHQ).
Additional WVNG members supporting the task force include Senior Airman Will Wagstaff, an intelligence analyst for the 167th Airlift Wing, and a senior at WVU studying 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 studying 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 already versed in data analytics and logistics into the task force 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,” said 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 task force to protect our fellow West Virginians.”
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jason Addis, a 23-year veteran of the WVARNG and Task Force Petersen commander, said the supply chain has been pushed to its limits.
“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.”
Brad Price, an assistant professor at Chambers College, leads the civilian task force members, along with students Katherine Kopp and Dariane Drake. All three have added their data analysis expertise to the task force.
“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.”