Welles: Safety in uncertain times

Call it the American spirit of defiance or wishful thinking about telework, but many federal employees feel prepared for terrorism threats. Random conversations with employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Commerce Department and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office indicate that they have little angst about working at organizations that could be terrorist targets.

Even if many federal workers feel they would know what to do in an emergency, many don't know their agency's preparedness plans. So it should not come as a surprise if some people are uncertain and uneasy. A hearing-impaired worker at the U.S. Geological Survey wrote that she is worried she won't hear the alerts, so she now has a hearing dog to help.

Office of Personnel Management officials have held seven forums since 2003 on emergency preparedness in response to high demand for training and the findings of OPM's Security of Federal Workplaces surveys.

The first survey shows that feds needed the most assistance in conducting shelter-in-place and evacuation drills. Only a third of federal agencies had conducted those drills. A 2004 survey found more agencies — 52 percent — were doing them.

Joe Riddle, OPM's deputy associate director, said the word on emergency preparedness is getting out to federal employees nevertheless. He said that officials at 90 percent of federal agencies report they are communicating with employeed about emergency preparedness.

"Agencies are doing a good job," Riddle said. "This is an opportunity for more interagency planning, as some areas don't have interagency communication plans in place."

Homeland security experts agree that communication is key. "Having a system in place that depends on good technology, and that is available [24 hours a day] instead of the classic phone tree, will enhance communications," Riddle said.

Find links to emergency preparedness resources on FCW.com Download's Data Call at www.fcw.com/download.

Feedback

Thanks to readers who e-mailed comments to help others get a life. Telework was foremost on your minds. To relieve the stress of her long commute in Raleigh, N.C., Dana Sessions, an Agriculture Department employee, bought a satellite radio so she could relax with cool jazz. A Homeland Security Department worker asked for health plans that include better dental care. The reader wrote that although "OPM's explanation is that health is the first concern, if you have bad teeth because you can't afford to get them taken care of, then it does become a health issue." A future column will address dental care. n

Welles is a retired fed who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at judywelles@fcw.com.

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