WHAT'S NEW - The Pandemic: Stores PPE Supplies

The Pandemic: Stores PPE Supplies

By Vandana Thanki

First Option’s Stores department have been working tirelessly throughout this past year, supporting the film and television industry by supplying personal protective equipment (PPE), right through the pandemic. 

I interviewed our Head of Equipment Services & Logistics, Sam Askham to find out how the Stores team have supported our clients and some of the challenges they faced throughout the pandemic. 

1. How did the Stores department support First Option’s clients in the production and high risk sector?

The PPE provision has changed and developed throughout the lockdown. Initially, the Stores department were supporting several News broadcast teams, while they were visiting clinical settings such as intensive care units and Covid wards. 

The PPE kits that we supplied to the teams were either for individual use or to replenish NHS stockpiles. This was to ensure no NHS PPE was taken away from their front-line use. The PPE kits had to meet the relevant NHS standards and guidelines and be available at a short notice period.

As we progressed further into the year and began to move out of the lockdown, the visits by the news teams to the clinical settings began to decrease and productions gradually restarted. Ahead of the production restart, we began planning for a surge in PPE orders. We saw an increase in PPE kit related queries coming through to our team and the Advice Line department. This resulted in several productions reserving large orders of PPE. At this point, continuity of supply was of upmost importance, hence this was maintained by working closely with several key suppliers and clients, to find out what their needs were to avoid the over and under-ordering of PPE. 

Overall, the Stores department have collectively worked together to meet the needs of our clients. We have dispatched roughly 100,000 masks over the past year and have also launched a mask face fitting service.

The face fitting tests helps us see whether the user’s half disposable mask fits their face correctly. We check whether the mask will provide the best protection to the user, by conducting a Bitrex Solution taste test. To undertake the test, users must be clean shaven, not drink coffee beforehand and not have smoked up to 30 minutes prior to the test.There are two tests which the user has to go through over a duration of around 10 to 15 minutes. The first test, is a ‘taste sensitivity’ test which gives the team an indication of how much solution is needed to spray onto the mask. During the test, users must complete 7 tasks and should not be able to taste the solution. If the solution is tasted, then this gives us a clear indication that the test must be stopped. At this stage we would give the user the option to readjust their mask or to try on another mask.

2. What were some of the challenges that you faced during this busy period?

Due to the Coronavirus risks, we decided to split the team with one of our members working in the office and the others working from home. During the early stages of the lockdown, the Stores team had to ensure we maintained service continuity. This was extremely challenging as certain items such as hazmat suits, gloves, masks, and surface wipes were in high demand but low in stock. To overcome this, we used our rapport with existing suppliers to maintain a steady flow of inventory. Along with this, we sourced out new suppliers to top up the inventory when needed.

3. Have there been any new developments in the Stores department?

Due to the exponential demand for PPE, we have chosen to expand our team. We were happy to welcome our newest member Ishamael Higgins, who joined us as a Stores Assistant in June.

We have also implemented Covid-19 safety measures within the First Option, London office. We provided hand sanitiser stations along with relevant office PPE. All the workstations were readjusted to be socially distanced, using Perspex screen barriers.