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Snow Storms

This is the time of year when winter weather can make for a difficult commute, so Federal employees and the public in the Washington, D.C. area look to OPM’s website, mobile app , and social media platforms to check whether we’ve made a change in the operating status.

What you see is the final decision – whether to close, delay arrival, or offer Federal employees unscheduled leave and telework. But what you don’t see is what happens behind the scenes in the hours before a status decision is made. That’s what I want to tell you about.

A hardworking team of people from OPM, across the Federal government, and our local partners work extremely long hours to look out for our safety. As events unfold, this team comes together to evaluate whether we need to consider an operating status change.

Heading OPM’s operating status team is OPM’s Director of Facilities, Security and Emergency Management.  He and his team monitor the weather, traffic conditions, and any alerts 24-hours a day. Whenever they believe we might need to make an operating status decision, they consult with our partners at the National Weather Service; local departments of transportation in D.C., Maryland and Virginia; public transit, including WMATA and Amtrak, law enforcement; school districts, and local governments to make sure we have all of the information we need to make a well-informed decision.

As a potential storm gets close, we hold a conference call to discuss impacts to the region and potential options. The team comes to our decision call with fresh information from the Council of Governments, a group of more than 200 people who meet and share the most up-to-date information on the forecast, road conditions, public transportation, schools, and more.

OPM’s emergency management director takes that information, looks at how we have handled similar situations in the past, and makes a recommendation to the team and to me. Often, the decision is not clear-cut, given the uncertainty of all the factors we have to consider. We work from information we know could change, but we are committed to making a call no later than 4 a.m., in time for commuters to plan their day.   If we are confident in a forecast, we will make the decision sooner – if possible, the night before.

As we weigh our options, we look at what flexibilities are needed and how employee safety and the continuity of government operations will be impacted by what we decide. We also consider the large and growing numbers of D.C. employees who can or do telework and the time of day the storm will hit. We look at the expected rate of snowfall and accumulation throughout the Beltway, and how long the storm is expected to last. We factor in WMATA’s status and its needs for staffing as well as what local transportation departments are telling us about how confident they are that they can get the roads ready. It’s a complex process and every event is different.

After taking all the information and input into consideration, it falls to the OPM Director to make the decision on whether to change the status and what to change it to.

Once the decision is made, we immediately get the word out to you on the OPM website, social media, email, and of course through our OPM Alert app.

While we know that the weather doesn’t always pan out as forecast, at OPM we try to make the best decision both to ensure your safety and that the work of the Federal government continues. We take this very seriously and I know this is one of my biggest responsibilities.  I promise you that I will always make the decision I think is best to balance our highest priorities.

Now let’s hope for a calm winter season.


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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