Michael Gardner: IRS answers FEMA’s call for help

Gardner, along with a FEMA specialist and a co-worker, converted more than 850 workstations for FEMA's use a few days before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

A week before Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the Internal Revenue Service received an emergency order from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to convert workstations in several of its call centers for FEMA’s use. Michael Gardner, the lead information technology specialist at the IRS’ customer service center, is used to such requests.

During a typical hurricane season, Gardner usually must convert, at most, about 80 computers. But as Katrina approached, he faced the task of converting more than 850 workstations for FEMA’s use.

“That was a surprise,” Gardner said. “It had never been in my wildest imaginings. Seriously, I expected 50 or 60 machines.”

Gardner, along with a FEMA specialist and a co-worker, converted the workstations a few days before the hurricane made landfall. The FEMA specialist arrived at the call center at 11:30 p.m. Aug. 22, and the three worked through the night. They had to uninstall the Microsoft Windows NT operating system and install the newer Windows XP to match FEMA’s network. The IRS computers, however, lacked CD and floppy drives. Gardner had only a limited number of external drives to use for operating system conversions.

Gardner worked a full day Monday, then a long night and well into Tuesday. “By then, I think we were tuckered out,” Gardner said. But he noticed others working even longer hours. “As many hours as I put in, that FEMA specialist beat me by a mile,” he said. “I really felt for him.”

By Tuesday morning, more than 100 computers were ready for FEMA, and training was under way for IRS employees and furloughed tax examiners who were called in to aid the response.

“Mike was ahead of the curve when rumors of FEMA activation came to Atlanta during Hurricane Katrina,” said Pam Carlson, director of the Southeast area for end user equipment and services. “Not only did Mike write the technical plans for converting the PCs in record time, he also conducted on-the-fly training for other technicians.”

“The initial setup is the killer,” Gardner said. Returning the computers to the IRS domain wasn’t as difficult. He wrote the instructions to bring the workstations back to their original use when FEMA no longer needed them.

W. Todd Grams, chief information officer at the IRS, described Gardner’s efforts as a good example of the agency’s commitment to support natural disaster relief efforts. “He was at the center of the effort to convert 865 workstations in Atlanta and then deactivate most of them, only to reactivate all of them when Hurricane Rita arrived.”

Jared Johnson, manager of Desktop Support Group A at the IRS Modernization and IT Services Atlanta Territory office, said Gardner often draws the most difficult assignments. “When called upon to serve the IRS and his country during a time of crisis, Michael simply did what he has done for me every day since becoming his manager: He delivered.”

“I guess that’s why they call me the master of disaster,” Gardner said jokingly.


Photos copyright 2006 Michael Schwarz/WPN.


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