8(a) firms found opportunity after 2005 hurricanes

Some information technology firms, including several small contractors, weathered last year’s storms by winning federal contracts amid the debris. DataQuest Software Services, DyKon Computer Help Center and Engenius Consulting were among the Small Business Administration-certified 8(a) companies whose business improved during the 2005 hurricane season.

Companies that were involved in recovery work in 2005 say the experience strengthened their ties to the Army Corps of Engineers, the primary contracting agency in the relief efforts, which could possibly lead to additional work. Their experiences also could provide some clues for other firms seeking to earn business in a future hurricane recovery effort.

Soon after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers chose DataQuest, an IT contractor based in Covington, La., to create a quality assurance system to track the work of companies removing debris.

Bill Stubbs, DataQuest’s marketing director, said the company won a sole-source contract based in part on a recommendation from the SBA contracting office in Baton Rouge, La.

DataQuest sent 50 technicians to Cameron Parish in western Louisiana, where they set up a quality assurance system for the Army Corps of Engineers to track all phases of cleanup — from making sure companies had proper right-of-entry permits to maintaining a list of condemned properties, Stubbs said.

Randy Marchiafava, the corps’ deputy in charge of small business in the Gulf Coast area, said DataQuest “hit the ground running for us and did an excellent job.” DataQuest’s flexibility in adjusting to changing post-Katrina conditions has helped the company earn new contracts, he said.

Stubbs said DataQuest is reviewing the quality assurance work it performed last year in case it needs to perform similar tasks this summer. “We’ve looked at ways where maybe we could streamline [the work] and be a little more involved the next time in designing or helping” with the corps’ processes, he said.

Another 8(a) company, DyKon, worked with the Army engineers to rebuild network connectivity in flooded buildings, even though the company needed to relocate its own headquarters from New Orleans to Texas. With a staff of seven technicians, “we did everything from rebuilding partitions to setting up computer systems,” said Eben Dike, president of DyKon.

One of several 8(a) firms that won local contracts set aside for small businesses, DyKon hopes to return to its New Orleans headquarters soon, Dike said.

Engenius had an existing sole-source contract with the Army corps for contingency IT services during the 2005 hurricane season. The company, based in Duluth, Ga., was ready to help as soon as recovery efforts got under way, according to a company executive who asked not to be identified.

The contract is for “however long the cleanup goes and the emergency response operations are deployed,” the executive said.

Engenius brought in teams for the Katrina and Wilma recovery efforts, setting up emergency response offices to support Army corps employees who were repairing roofs and cleaning up debris. The company rented RVs and parked them in the devastated areas so that employees had a place to live.

After Katrina hit, Engenius sent four teams of technicians to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. For Wilma, the company set up two sites, one in Miami and another in West Palm Beach, Fla. “Our primary function was to provide the IT infrastructure to support” those emergency response offices, the official said. Company employees worked around the clock alongside Army engineers to keep computer systems operating and maintain other IT support resources.

“The Katrina deployment was significantly more difficult because of the amount of devastation,” the official said.

Another phase of the recovery efforts led to collaboration among CDW Government, Tachyon, Next Marketing and Hewlett-Packard. The companies set up a mobile computing unit in Gulfport, Miss., in response to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s request to coordinate response efforts among various

law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service and the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation.

For Spencer Cagle and Phil Simerly, two CDW-G systems engineers, the volunteer effort kept them in the area for five weeks.

Atlanta-based Next Marketing provided transportation for the mobile centers, Tachyon offered satellite access and Hewlett-Packard shipped hardware from Atlanta. The team installed 34 computer-equipped kiosks to provide officers with wireless Internet access via a satellite receiver on top of the command center.

The mobile center, located inside a giant tractor-trailer, gave workers in the base camp in Gulfport, Miss., access to the Internet. Law enforcement officers used the center to locate more than 700 missing persons, Cagle said. “It also allowed the workers who were there for weeks on end to communicate with their families,” he said.

Cagle posted this account on the company blog: “During our stay, more than 1,000 individuals worked at the base camp, including an average of 400 officers who were stationed at the camp at any given time. Approximately 360 U.S. marshals worked out of the camp during the past month, and at least 16 agencies have been on hand.”

How small businesses weathered the stormsSeveral small businesses in the Gulf Coast region that earned additional revenue during the 2005 hurricane season say they are ready, if needed, to repeat their successes in 2006.

Here are a few of the ways they got new federal business in 2005:

  • A sole-source contract from the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program to a local company identified by contract specialists.

  • A competitively awarded set-aside contract for small businesses.

  • A work order on an existing contract with the Army Corps of Engineers.

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