Meeting of November 16, 2005, Washington D.C. on Operations in Wake of Hurricane Katrina and Revisions to EEO-1 Report
Madam Chair, Vice Chair Earp and Commissioners Silverman and Ishimaru thank you for this opportunity to report on the status of the New Orleans District Office. As you are all aware, on August 29 New Orleans and the Gulf Coast community was devastated by the effects of Hurricane Katrina. One day after Katrina hit, the levee system in New Orleans gave way and the city of New Orleans was inundated with flood waters which poured in from Lake Ponchatrain. For almost two weeks, water as high as ten feet remained in the city.
In preparation of the Hurricane's landfall, the New Orleans District Office was closed and the city of New Orleans was evacuated. Just within the last few weeks, people in the hardest hit areas of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region have started to return home.
Before proceeding further however, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Commission, the Katrina Task Force, District, Area and Local Offices across the country for the prayers and outpouring of support we have received. We have been embraced in the arms of a very caring EEOC family. For this, we all will be forever grateful.
I want to report to you that we anticipate reopening the New Orleans District Office on November 29, 2005. The office will be located at 1555 Poydras Street in the city's central business district. This location is roughly three to four blocks from the District Office's previous location. It is located very close to City Hall, the Louisiana Super Dome, a Louisiana Sate Office building that houses vital records and provides services to the public. The District Office will occupy approximately 8,000 square feet on the 19th floor of this 22 story office building. The District Office will share part of the 19th floor with the Veterans Administration. There is available in the area parking, restaurants, hotels, banks and other businesses.
The agency has executed a contract to begin moving file cabinets, files and other items on November 28 from the old office building into the new location. The agency will rent furniture because it is inadvisable to use the old systems furniture due to mold and mildew concerns.
New Orleans staff that I have spoken with have told me of their eagerness to get back to work and to contribute to the mission of the agency.
Currently there are 31 employees including myself who have returned to New Orleans or Baton Rouge Louisiana. The Department of Energy has given us access to one of its facilities located about seven miles west of downtown New Orleans. New Orleans employees have access to a conference room with 10 computers and a telephone. There is one available cubicle with two more computers and a phone. Employees can conduct by phone some limited business such as charging party interviews as well as contacting witnesses and Respondents. We have just recently issued phone cards to our employees for use in agency business. Some investigative files, mainly A1 files and litigation files have been retrieved from our old office building at 701 Loyola Avenue and distributed to the investigators and attorneys who are in New Orleans. Charges taken by our Houston and Dallas offices have been retrieved from these offices and given to New Orleans staff.
Eighteen employees are not within commuting distance of New Orleans. Of the 18, 12 are reporting to work in other EEOC offices. One of the 12 employees requested and received a permanent transfer. Five employees are located at least two or more hours from a district, area or local office. One employee transferred to another agency.
Twenty three New Orleans employees lived in areas hardest hit by Katrina. Most if not all of these employees lost their homes. In order to provide a place for these employees to live so that they could return to work, our agency sought the assistance of FEMA. A list of the affected New Orleans employees was provided to FEMA whose representatives then contacted each employee and made arrangements to place each employee and their families in available FEMA housing. FEMA is utilizing cruise ships and hotels for this purpose.
Trying to find a way to uniquely respond to each EEOC family member who felt the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the "Katrina Task Force" created the EEOC CARES - - Coworkers Aiding Recovery thru Encouragement and Support - - program. Many hours of creative thought went into developing this program. Offices in headquarters and around the country have "adopted" New Orleans employees, contacted them and have assisted employees in ways particular to each employee. Offices have had receptions, picnics for our employees and have had bake sales, auctions and other fund raising events for us. They have made personal contact with New Orleans employees invited them to their offices as well as their homes and made them feel welcome whereever they were. This outpouring of care has had an immeasurable impact and effect on each New Orleans employee. New Orleans employees have conveyed deeply felt appreciation for the gifts, cards and expressions of care they have received. We have felt the warm embrace of our EEOC family.
The New Orleans District Office has been closed for 10 weeks. Employees evacuated to many cities across the southeastern United States. From this experience there are at least three areas of importance that I would like to address. First, employees must be given the responsibility to report their whereabouts to the agency immediately but no later than 24- to 48 hours of an evacuation or a disaster. Each employee should have a number to call or could use the agency's website for checking in. Being able to account for the safety of each and every employee and any family member of that employee is a critical first step in responding to the needs of employees in time of an emergency. Communication is extremely difficult in disaster areas as phone lines and cell phones, as we learned, may be inoperable. Second, in time of a disaster, employees are going to need reassurance regarding their ability to support themselves and their families. The response by the agency in the aftermath of Katrina was extraordinary. Employees were immediately placed on administrative leave and provided per diem. I would recommend that information regarding evacuation support be placed on our website or in a brochure outlining for employees the benefits they can expect in times of disaster. In this way, employees will know what to expect in terms of benefits and pay when they encounter a situation like Katrina. Third, annually update the Continuation of Operations Plans for each office. If possible senior staff should meet in the district or city designated in the plan. From there they can begin immediately to conduct agency business. Notification must be given to our stakeholders concerning the treatment of charges, litigation, mediations and contracts.
This page was last modified on November 17, 2005.
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