Agency Emergency Evacuation Plans Pass Muster -- Mostly

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., requested a report. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., requested a report. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Emergency federal employee evacuation plans during such events as a shooting or a natural disaster appear on the whole to be solid and up-to-date, auditors found, though a few agencies reported glitches during practice drills.

Compiled in the course of a year before last month’s deadly shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, Government Accountability Office interviews with 20 agencies found that 13 of the agencies had emergency plans that included all 10 of the components identified as essential in 2010 by the Homeland Security Department-led Interagency Security Committee.

All 20 agencies had designated emergency-response officials, 19 had reviewed their emergency plans annually and 14 had incorporated Federal Protective Service and General Services Administration feedback on the plans.

“The lack of an element does not necessarily indicate potential vulnerabilities for that facility because the intent of the element may be addressed by other procedures or modified based on facility characteristics,” GAO said in a report requested by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency.

Chief obstacles to an effective emergency plan identified by 14 of the agencies interviewed were, in order: employee apathy, managers’ real-time knowledge of which employees are present and up-to-date employee contact information.

The apathy was described as “employees not participating in or responding quickly to drills; not wanting to stop working or leave the building; [and] not reporting to the assembly area (e.g., going for a coffee break during an evacuation,” GAO wrote. The challenge of knowing each employee’s whereabouts is made easier through information technology but more difficult by telecommuting, some respondents noted, and by a reliance in some cases “on tenants to provide notice of personnel changes.”

In one evacuation drill, the report said, “it was discovered that the path to the evacuation assembly area was up a steep slope and that some of the employees could not make the climb. The assembly area was subsequently changed.”

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