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News Release

Monday, March 01, 2004
Contact: Chad Cowan
Tel: 202-606-2402

OPM Director Kay Coles James Alerts Agencies to need for Increased Commitment to Safety and Emergency Planning

James encourages agencies to work more closely with Employees and Union Representatives

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Kay Coles James recently advised Federal agencies to increase security drills and Shelter-in-Place efforts. In a memorandum (attached) sent to heads of executive departments and agencies on interim results of a survey on safety and security of Federal workplaces, Director James praised the department heads for their ongoing commitment to employee safety and their efforts to ensure continuity of operations in the face of difficult circumstances. She also encouraged them to increase involvement of union leaders and employee organization representatives.

James stated, "Department and agency heads are responsible for the safety and security of Federal employees and must direct efforts that are undertaken to ensure worker safety and that those steps are clearly known through drills and other communications. Since September 11, the Administration has worked diligently to increase safety and security procedures for Federal employees. I am encouraged by the interim results of the current survey which indicated the Administration's concern is being taken very seriously by departments and agencies."

In the memo, James highlighted initial results of the survey, which is scheduled to be completed later this month. This year's survey added two questions regarding designation of emergency personnel as well as the use of telework flexibilities. Over the past six months OPM has conducted two training session to inform agencies how to designate emergency personnel. More than 250 senior government officials from 75 agencies attended the seminars. The survey indicates that 87 percent of all reporting agencies now have designated emergency personnel.

The initial results indicate there was a slight decrease in the number of agencies who said they were communicating their safety plans and changes, conducting "town hall" meetings or meeting with unions for communication assistance. Director James encouraged these agencies to improve on those items. "I would strongly encourage every agency to work closely with employees and especially their representatives, including unions, in all efforts to develop recommendations and to disseminate information," James wrote. "Agencies are best prepared when employees, and not just managers, know and understand their roles and responsibilities during an emergency."

In the 2004 survey, a question on teleworking was also added. "As we have learned in the Washington metropolitan area during Hurricane Isabel and other weather-related emergencies, members of the Federal team who operate under approved telework plans provide vital services when our offices are temporarily inaccessible," James said. "I would encourage agencies to broaden employee involvement in telework programs as a means of increasing agency capacity for continued operations during all emergencies."

The interim results also indicate a 52 percent increase in the number of agencies that have already conducted shelter-in-place drills, which is a key component of emergency preparedness. Professionals in emergency planning indicate there are situations where the safest course of action for employees may be to stay sheltered in their building until incident information is officially verified, rather than increasing personal risk by not being in a building or being trapped and unprotected in severe traffic congestion.

Director James' memo also addressed the importance of ensuring the safety of special needs employees during an emergency. "As agency heads, we should give our personal attention to ensuring the safety of our special needs employees during an emergency. I am very pleased to report that 92 percent of agencies have reported positive action in this area. Our efforts will not be complete until every special needs employee understands the procedures that would directly impact their safety and security in an emergency," James said.

OPM produced a series of emergency guides for Federal employees, managers and families. Most agencies have provided these guides to new employees and made all employees aware of this valuable resource. The guides can be downloaded at To date almost 600,000 of the guides have been downloaded or distributed.

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OPM leads and serves the Federal Government in enterprise human resources management by delivering policies and services to achieve a trusted, effective civilian workforce. By Empowering Excellence in Government through Great People, we provide leadership and support to U.S. agencies on issues including human resources policy and oversight, background investigations, federal employee benefits, retirement services, guidance on labor-management relations, and programs to improve workforce performance. For more information, visit or follow OPM on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

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