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Our Director Director's Blog

Emergencies

Did you know that September is National Preparedness Month? Over the next several weeks, the nation will join together to learn the best ways to prepare for disasters and emergencies, particularly those close to home.

This year’s theme, “Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to Prepare,” reminds us that we need to do more than just learn how to be prepared.  We all need to act now to make emergency plans, talk to family and friends, and get the supplies and equipment we need to be prepared.

Here in Washington, D.C., we are used to preparing for snow and ice storms that sometimes shut down the capital city during the unpredictable winter months. But as the derecho storm, Hurricane Sandy, in 2012 and the earthquake in 2011 taught us, we never know when an emergency will hit. And no matter what time of year it is, or what part of the country you are in, it is important to prepare at work, at home, and in your communities.

Maybe that means having a conversation with your family about making sure you have a central place to meet, or talking to your co-workers about workplace evacuation, it’s crucial to think ahead so that you can react immediately when a real emergency occurs.

Throughout September, the website Ready.gov and Federal agencies across government will be sharing resources, tips, and tools. Agencies are also being asked to educate and prepare employees for emergencies, both throughout this month and on the National Preparathon! Day of Action on September 30.

OPM is a national partner in the National Prepareathon! and we are excited to do all we can to spread the word about what to do during disasters. Here at OPM, we’ll be hosting an awareness series for our employees specifically focused on earthquake preparedness. As we found out in 2011, while earthquakes may be rare in our area, it is important for everyone to know what to what to do in the moment to stay safe.

I hope you will join us. Take this month to talk to your families and your co-workers. Make plans, ask questions, and seek out the resources you need. Join in the conversation on social media using hashtag #NatlPrep and check out Ready.gov.

There’s no good time for an emergency but it’s always a good time to get prepared for one.

Black bag with yellow writing that says 'Survival Kit'

It’s officially spring and the weather is slowly edging away from what’s been an unusually harsh winter season. We’ve had one major storm after another and lots of little ones in between. We’ve all made good use of our shovels, ice scrapers, coats, hats and gloves.

At Dulles Airport, one of the major measuring centers, the National Weather Service measured 52.8 inches of snow for this winter, 30 inches more than the seasonal average. This is likely a winter we’ll be telling stories about for many years to come.

Wherever I go, people always ask me about our Dismissal and Closure status. Our social media channels start getting busy with questions and comments days before a storm is ready to hit!

What many people don’t realize is that we prepare all year round for these kinds of events. Whether it’s an unexpectedly heavy winter weather season, an earthquake in August, or a Superstorm in October, we do all we can to make sure we are prepared for anything.  Decisions may be hard and not always popular, but because we prepare, we barely miss a beat.

We consult throughout the year with our partners in this effort – the Council of Governments, the National Weather Service and transportation departments throughout the National Capital Area.

OPM’s guidance covers any natural disaster or event that disrupts commuting in the DC area.  This includes not only snow and ice, but earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes or other special events that may occur during the year.  Whenever these emergencies occur, OPM is committed to promoting the continuity of operations and ensuring the safety of its workforce. 

   

One of the strongest tools we have is telework.  During emergencies, teleworking is often the best option for continuity of operations. That’s why so much of our Dismissal and Closure guide helps agencies and employees understand their options and flexibilities.

We want to make sure that as much as possible, the weather doesn’t keep the Federal workforce from providing excellent service to the American people.

The Telework Enhancement Act of 2010 helps us do that. The Act requires agencies to incorporate telework into their continuity of operation plans.  OPM used the Act as an opportunity to highlight telework in our emergency announcements. We have been working with agencies to increase the use of telework, both regularly and during emergencies.

That effort is paying off. Federal employees are teleworking at an all-time high across the country. In the DC area, according to the Employee Viewpoint Survey, 70 percent of employees are telework eligible. Telework is the best option to keep the Federal Government working during the emergencies that prevent normal government operations.

Moreover, new technologies allow Federal employees to work from home, and I know most of you find ways to make up your work at no cost to the Federal government.  As such, there is no good way for us to calculate with any accuracy the cost of closing Federal government building.

Each year, OPM reviews its guidance and discusses lessons learned with its interagency working group and labor unions.  These discussions ensure that OPM’s announcements reflect the current needs of the Federal workforce. Over the past several years, we’ve worked unscheduled leave and telework into nearly all of our status options so that you have the flexibility to make the right decision for you and your family.  

We follow up our consultations and engagement with the interagency and union stakeholders with videos, guidance, and other materials to help inform Federal employees.  Througout the year, we also encourage Federal workers to have preparedness conversations with their supervisors and agency leaders.  And when in doubt, FEMA’s www.ready.gov is the one stop shop for general preparedness tips and information.

Now that we’ve (hopefully) seen our last snow of the season, let’s keep the conversation going.  Talk to your employees, to your supervisor, and to your families about the plans that work for you. Let’s all think about this winter and learn from it.  I know that together we’ll be ready for the next emergency that comes our way.  After all, hurricane season is right around the corner.

Happy Spring!

 

 

 


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