Agencies urged to develop teleworker corps for emergency situations

The Office of Personnel Management released updated emergency guides last week, emphasizing the need for agencies to have plans for employees to work from home during emergencies. OPM also released guides for the families of federal employees and managers. The udpated emergency preparedness guides from OPM stress the need for agencies to have plans that allow "the business of government to continue during emergency situations." The guides stress that telework is an effective method that would allow employees not selected to go to the Designated Continuity of Operations facilities during an emergency to continue their work.

Agencies are supposed to develop a cadre of teleworkers who will learn to work off-site electronically and supervisors who can manage employees remotely. Eliminating paper and automating reports whenever possible will help employees to experience functioning in a virtual office.

"With telework in place during emergencies, experienced teleworkers won't need to master new computer programs, and, managers will learn to supervise a 'virtual workforce' by doing it under normal conditions," the guides stated.

The guides also include direction on the designation of emergency personnel and mission-critical emergency workers as well as shelter in place protocols if the evacuation of a federal building is deemed too dangerous.

An OPM spokesman said the new emergency preparedness guides emphasize the importance of federal employee awareness of security plans.

An Aug. 27 memorandum to department and agency heads from OPM Director Kay Coles James declared that effective human capital management requires agencies to keep employees prepared for foreseeable emergencies, and in an accompanying press release, she encouraged federal employees to download the new guides to "re-familiarize themselves with safety protocols."

A letter from James in the employee guide noted that the emergency guides are intended to provide general information and that other Web sites provide more comprehensive information, including the emergency sites of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Occupant Emergency Program Guide of the General Services Administration and the Homeland Security Department.

"Keep in mind, it is very likely that numerous steps have already been taken to secure your building that are not subject to open discussion," James wrote. "Trust your manager - this information may be held more tightly to better protect you from individuals who may seek to cause harm."

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