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Weather Report

The Department of Education's headquarters, like those of other federal agencies in Washington, was officially closed for two days when the remnants of Hurricane Isabel began thrashing through the nation's capital on Sept. 18. But some newly refined emergency procedures ensured that key services were still delivered, said Jim Bradshaw, a department spokesman.

On Sept. 17, the day before the storm arrived, the department put six of its contract employees on an airplane to Atlanta, where they reported to an emergency backup site at a leased facility just outside the city.

Four were computer technicians who stood ready to fire up backup systems if the tropical storm affected the agency's Washington-based computer operations, such as e- mail, voice mail, and the department Web site.

Two were help-desk workers, who field workplace-related questions from the department's employees around the country. Officials also assigned help-desk duties to some personnel in the agency's regional office in Kansas City, Mo.

Meanwhile, three computer- operations people rode out the storm in Washington, as part of a "skeleton crew" that also included security and facilities personnel and their managers.

The storm's pounding, which deprived hundreds of thousands in the Washington area of electrical service, did not take down the Education Department Web site. Among other features, the site offers a recently launched section—— to help school districts prepare for and respond to crises and disasters of all kinds.

The department was pleased to note that this was the first time it provided live help-desk support when its Washington headquarters was closed.

"Normally, a user calling in would get a recording with a promise to call back when the offices were reopened," Mr. Bradshaw said.

The storm provided training for a department more used to longer-range crises, such as what many officials see as the nation's subpar educational performance.

"All in all, it was a good exercise for us," Mr. Bradshaw said.

Incidentally, the boss was on the job as well.

The storm forced Secretary of Education Rod Paige to cancel an appearance in Atlanta on Sept. 18. But the next day, he was in his native Jackson, Miss., for such duties as speaking at his alma mater, Jackson State University, and visiting a Boys & Girls Club.

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 23, Issue 5, Page 21

Published in Print: October 1, 2003, as Federal File

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