New York agencies regroup after loss of offices

5:09 p.m.--Several federal agencies that had offices in the World Trade Center complex were able to safely evacuate employees after two hijacked airplanes crashed into its twin towers Tuesday, though a few agencies are still verifying the whereabouts of a handful of employees. The General Services Administration said 2,800 federal employees work in two GSA-leased buildings, World Trade Center Buildings No. 6 and No. 7, located about 80 yards from the towers. Building No. 7, which housed 760 civil servants with the Secret Service, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Defense Department and Internal Revenue Service, collapsed yesterday afternoon after being hit by debris from the twin towers. Building No. 6 had just over 2,000 federal employees with the Customs Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); it also suffered severe damage. All of OSHA's 21 employees who worked in the complex are safe and unharmed, according to an agency spokesman. On Wednesday these employees were working out of an office in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. OSHA is providing technical advice and guidance for the safety and health of workers involved in the rescue effort. The agency is setting standards for rescue workers digging ditches, as well as advising on the use of respirators to help combat airborne asbestos. A few OSHA employees with emergency medical service training have volunteered their services. The ATF would not disclose the number of employees who worked in the complex for security reasons, but a spokesman verified that all ATF employees were evacuated safely. The agency is now assisting the FBI in rescue and investigative efforts. Officials at the Customs Service are still trying to account for a few employees, according to a spokeswoman. The Customs Service is arranging alternate work sites in the New York area and the entire agency is under a Level 1 alert, meaning Customs is maintaining tight security at the American borders and all ports of entry. "Information in the computer is backed up, and the building is still standing, we're just trying to decide what will be done with our people," the spokeswoman said Wednesday morning. "We just don't know where people will be at this point, but we do have a lot of options." Secret Service employees in New York were back at work in an alternate location on Tuesday, according to agency spokesman Tony Ball, who said the agency has a contingency plan for emergencies. In-house counselors are also available to Secret Service employees suffering from grief or other types of distress. A total of 124 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission employees who worked in the World Trade Center complex were safe and accounted for Wednesday morning, according to spokesman David Grinberg. "Obviously, the operations of the New York district office are temporarily halted," Grinberg said. "We are working with [the General Services Administration] to quickly assess the logistical situation there, and will take the necessary action to get those operations up and running again." Officials at the Securities and Exchange Commission say they are "reasonably confident" that all of that agency's more than 300 employees were safely evacuated Tuesday. SEC officials are now looking for other work space and counselors are available for employees. New York officials placed the death toll at the World Trade Center complex in the thousands early Wednesday morning. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said there were "likely a few thousand people in each tower when they collapsed." EEOC officials are using the agency's employee assistance program to provide grief counseling for staffers in the New York area and the Washington headquarters and district offices. "We are also providing grief counseling for our employees in our Oklahoma City area office, and potentially other offices as it is requested," Grinberg continued. EEOC Chief Cari M. Dominguez appointed a task force to coordinate and provide services from the agency's Washington headquarters to staffers in New York City. "The EEOC family is donating blood and doing everything we can to help our fellow federal employees at the Pentagon," Dominguez said.
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