By Karen Rutzick
krutzick @ govexec.com
September 7, 2005
A few months before Hurricane Katrina suspended government operations
in New Orleans and brought tragedy to the Gulf Coast, the Office of
Personnel Management asked agencies nationwide if they were prepared
for a natural disaster.
The answer, from the 85 agencies that responded to OPM's 2005
Emergency Preparedness Survey, was a resounding yes. All 15
cabinet-level departments responded to the survey as well as many
smaller agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Small
Business Administration and Federal Reserve Board.
OPM said the results of the survey, conducted in April, "reflect very
high levels of emergency preparedness." According to the agencies
surveyed, they were ready to take care of their own in the event of a
disaster, such as Katrina.
The idea, according to OPM, was for agencies to "be able to maintain
business continuity" and keep running the country, even during times
of disaster. The survey's questions were based on the recommended
minimum criteria agencies should meet for emergency preparedness.
More than 90 percent of the agencies surveyed said their facilities
had an up-to-date Occupant Emergency Plan. An OEP lays out agency
guidelines in terms of designating emergency personnel, contingency
work plans, evacuation procedures and more.
More than 95 percent of agencies said their facilities had conducted
evacuation drills in the past year. The same percentage said they had
designated emergency personnel to serve as points of contact and
The Agriculture Department's National Finance Center in New Orleans
had put in place many emergency preparedness procedures for employees,
according to spokesman Ed Loyd. The center had an OEP, had conducted
evacuation drills at the facility, had distributed emergency guides to
employees and had a contingency work plan in place before the
hurricane hit, he said.
While the agencies that responded appeared to be highly prepared for
immediate disaster response, such as keeping evacuation routes clearly
marked, some of their longer-term emergency plans were weaker. As
flooding keeps the city indefinitely closed, Hurricane Katrina
highlights the need for long-term contingency plans.
Additionally, the survey reported that of the participating agencies:
* 57.6 percent had "prearranged agreements to transfer work to other
* 63.5 percent had "telework capability in place from home or
* 65.9 percent had "arrangements to temporarily conduct operations
from other agency space;"
* 75.3 percent had "plans to notify agency customers/clients of
temporary alternative arrangements."
The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, which did not
individually participate in OPM's survey (though Interior as a whole
did), has several regional offices along the Gulf Coast. The MMS,
according to spokesman Gary Strasburg, did have a contingency plan for
long-term operations, which the agency's offices practiced every year.
A continuity of operations plan team set up a contingency office in
Houston, and was "transferring regional office operations and a
limited number of staff" to the new location as a result of damage to
offices from the hurricane. Strasburg said employees had practiced
using the Houston location as an emergency center and actually went
there and set it up every year.
In 2004, OPM provided training to agency representatives on improving
emergency preparedness. OPM said these sessions were meant to focus on
emergency drills and the use of telework as areas in need of
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California