Metro crash hits close to home for NOAA

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday's deadly train crash on Washington's Metro rail system did not disrupt the agency's daily operations.

NOAA headquarters is located in Silver Spring, Md. -- one train stop from the collision on Metro's Red Line which so far has killed at least nine people.

Some NOAA employees were traveling on the trains involved in the crash, but no major injuries to those workers were reported to the agency, according to officials. NOAA's main campus includes offices for the National Weather Service, National Ocean Service, Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, Satellite and Information Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. More than 4,000 employees work at the Silver Spring campus, and many of them commute via the Red Line.

The Office of Personnel Management issued a memorandum on Tuesday encouraging federal agencies in the Washington region to accommodate the work schedules of employees whose commutes were affected by the deadly accident, allowing those eligible to telework and providing up to two hours of excused absence for others.

"The fact that we're a station or so away, obviously, it impacts many of our commuters," said Eduardo Ribas, NOAA's director for workforce management. "People are certainly talking about it; it's the shock and the awe."

On Monday evening, NOAA implemented a phone tree to track down its employees, according to Ribas. The procedure, instituted after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, instructs each manager to contact his or her direct reports, and to identify any employees affected by an accident or incident. The phone tree hasn't been completed yet, but NOAA officials said all workers have been accounted for.

Ribas said managers allowed employees to use unscheduled leave to deal with the disruption, and those with compressed schedules to reschedule their weekly day off for Tuesday. He said NOAA long has encouraged telework, and many employees were able to work from home on Tuesday.

Despite the availability of telework, some employees might not have had the necessary tools to work from home on Tuesday. "The challenge becomes less of a technology or allowance issue as, 'Do they have stuff with them that they can work a productive day?' Ribas said. "It happened at 5:05 p.m. yesterday afternoon. ... There are some people who were in their living rooms watching this unfold, and were expecting to come in today."

Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, said the rail accident primarily caused longer or modified commutes for employees. "In terms of functionality of the entire office, and the campus, everything is at normal operations."

The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority advised commuters to avoid the Red Line altogether on Tuesday.

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