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Severe Weather

Infographic which reads: Beat the Heat, stay cool - stay hydrated, stay informed

Summer is a great time for beach getaways, barbecues in the backyard, and other outdoor activities that we long for during the cold, winter months.

But it’s also a time when severe heat and humidity – like we’ve seen during this summer season – make it necessary for us all to take precautions to protect ourselves and our family’s health and well-being.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have teamed up to remind all of us, including agencies and employees across government about what they can do to protect all Federal workers during potentially dangerous heat waves.

Regardless of where we work, we can all follow some basic common-sense practices as outlined on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website: Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible; wear lightweight, light-colored clothing; drink more water than usual, and check for extreme heat alerts.

It’s also important to remember that for Federal employees, OPM’s workplace flexibilities that may be used to reduce health risks during such extreme heat periods. If your supervisor approves, telework-ready employees may telework from home on a day when air quality conditions are poor. If your agency policies allow, an employee working a flexible work schedule may elect to adjust when they come to work and when they leave in order to avoid commuting during the hottest period of the day. Employees can also ask for annual leave, earned compensatory time or credit hours on a day when severe heat and humidity are threatening their health and welfare.

OPM has issued a memorandum to Chief Human Capital Officers across government outlining these flexibilities and including some Federal Government websites that offer more tips on how to handle severe heat and humidity conditions.

I know that all Federal employees are dedicated and committed to doing all they can to serve the American people. At the same time, we all must be mindful of protecting our health during severe weather events - whether cold and storm during winter or the kind of high temperatures and humidity we’ve been experiencing this summer.


Winter officially begins next week. As you may already know, OPM is responsible for deciding when to change the Federal government’s operating status in the Washington, D.C. area, and for getting the word out about any changes.

While we are all hoping for an uneventful winter weather season, I want to make sure all Federal employees know what to do when severe weather hits.

I take many factors into consideration when deciding the status of Federal government operations inside the Beltway.  The most important is the safety of the Federal workforce and the surrounding community.  Our employees are our most important asset.  The second concern is  continuity of operations.  The government never really closes.  Emergency response personnel and teleworkers keep our operations going even when employees can’t physically get to work.

During a live-streamed event earlier today, Dean Hunter, OPM's Director of Facilities, Security and Contracting, explained the decision-making process, and Brenda Roberts, OPM’s Deputy Associate Director of Pay & Leave, gave an overview of the policy that informs those decisions.

Brenda also told us about the change to this year’s policy. OPM is revising an outdated leave practice of allowing employees who are already scheduled to be on paid leave when the Federal government closes to take excused absences. With the change, if Federal offices close, employees who are on pre-approved leave remain on leave, rather than switching to an “excused absence” status.

We made this change to take into consideration today’s workplace flexibilities. With the increasing use of telework to help us assure continuity of operations, it’s now obsolete to provide excused absences for those employees already scheduled to be on leave when an emergency hits.

We had two guests with us at today’s webcast. Chris Strong, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service, helped us understand how the weather service informs OPM about upcoming storms and the difficulties in predicting those weather events.

We were also joined by Caroline Laurin, deputy chief spokesperson for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).  Because so many Federal employees take public transportation to work, it’s crucial for all of us to know the status of trains and buses by consulting with WMATA. The authority relies on our decisions to let them know how many crews, trains, and buses are needed for rush hour commutes during difficult weather. Caroline stressed how important it is that employees comply with OPM’s status decisions.

We need to be prepared for weather and unexpected emergencies all year round.  It is important that agencies and their employees know their personnel designations, telework policies, and emergency preparedness plans before an event occurs.  The past few years have taught us that our dismissal and closure procedures extend beyond winter weather emergencies and can be necessary at any time.

We want to make sure that Federal workers stay safe and that we continue to serve the American people even during times of difficult weather events. And the best way to make sure that happens is for everyone to be informed.

So, please take a few minutes to read the updated Dismissal and Closure Guide on the OPM website. And if you didn't get a chance to tune into the panel discussion, it's available on our YouTube channel.


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'

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