Agencies review continuity plans as hurricane nears

Friday - 8/26/2011, 9:37am EDT

Ray Thomas, senior manager, Booz Allen Hamilton

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Justin Pierce, director, Man-Machine Systems Assessment

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By Jack Moore and Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Come rain, snow — or hurricane — the federal government has to keep operating.

Today is the day for federal employees to view their continuity of operations (COOP) plans as Hurricane Irene heads toward the East Coast.

With the threat of power going out this weekend, federal employees need to have a clear idea on how to communicate with managers and coworkers.

"This is where creativity comes into play," said Ray Thomas, a senior manager at Booz Allen Hamilton, who oversees the firm's Business Assurance Office.

Feds should make sure they have their government emergency telecommunications services cards ready and wireless priority service available, said Justin Pierce, the director for Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness at Man-Machine Systems Assessment — a government services firm.

In communicating with colleagues, information must flow in both directions, from managers to staff and vice-versa, Thomas said.

Social media might be a way to stay in touch, although its role in emergency management is still emerging, he said.

"It has tremendous potential, but right now I don't think it's fully integrated into agencies' continuity of operations plans, so it gives, at best, an incomplete picture," Thomas said.

Also, before feds leave for work today, they should plan on taking home some work they can do from outside of the office, "things that don't require access to the intranet," Thomas said.

Tuesday's earthquake offered a dress rehearsal for the continuity plans this weekend. Thomas warned of "disaster fatigue," acknowledging that agencies and employers were thrown for a loop by the quake, which "had not been at the top of our disaster matrix," he said.

Pierce said the number one priority for federal employees is also advice that applies to many others in the D.C. region: Prepare a plan for your family. Ready.gov offers tips for creating an emergency plan.

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