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Board Report: 2013-AE-B-016 September 30, 2013

The Board Should Improve Procedures for Preparing for and Responding to Emergency Events

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Finding 3: The Board Cannot Send Voice Announcements Simultaneously to All Employees in Leased Office Space

The Internal Communications unit does not have the ability to send PA announcements to the 650-plus Board employees working in leased office space. These employees can receive crucial information via telephone, intranet, e-mail, or word of mouth. According to the OEP, communication is of the utmost importance during an emergency event. To ensure the safety of all personnel, emergency instructions must be relayed to employees in a direct and simple manner so that every individual understands and acts in accordance with prescribed procedures. The OEP requires all occupants to evacuate when a fire alarm sounds. During a shelter in place emergency, guidance may be provided to employees by e-mail, text, word of mouth, telephone call, Inside the Board notifications, or PA announcements. In Board-owned buildings, the PA system is connected to amplified loudspeakers strategically located throughout the buildings. However, the Board cannot communicate with its employees in leased office space by PA system because the buildings lack such a system. This limitation increases the risk that employees will not receive the appropriate instructions in a timely manner, leading them to potentially make uninformed decisions that could place them in harm's way.

Emergency Communications to Employees in Leased Space Are Limited

Employees in leased space may not receive emergency messages simultaneously and in a timely manner. Internal Communications uses several methods to communicate instructions to Board employees working in leased office space during an emergency:

  • push alerts to employees via the Board's intranet
  • broadcast e-mails4
  • voice announcements to floor wardens utilizing a group paging feature on the telephone system and through standard office phones located in the safe haven areas of the leased space that can be used as an announcement system
  • e-mail, text messages, and voicemail to employees sent via a vendor-provided high-speed emergency notification system, which may include specific instructions or contact numbers for additional information

Several factors restrict the effectiveness of these communication channels. Employees who move about during the workday and are away from their desks when an e-mail, voicemail, or intranet message is sent may not receive the message right away. All employees do not have a Board-issued mobile telephone. The group paging feature has a capacity limitation that does not allow a simultaneous notification to all employees. Further, if the telephones in the safe havens are in use while an announcement is made, the message will not be heard.

PA announcements are an effective method of notifying a large number of employees because these announcements do not rely on employees having immediate access to e-mail, telephone, or a computer. However, there is no PA system in Board-leased space. Employees in leased space who are away from their workspace when emergency instructions are given may only receive such instructions by word of mouth. This method of receiving information could cause employees to make uninformed decisions during emergencies that could place them in harm's way. For instance, employees may evacuate the building when the more appropriate response would be to shelter in place, as was the case during the 2011 earthquake.


We recommend that the Director of the Management Division

  1. Establish a mechanism by which Board employees working in leased office space will receive critical information simultaneously and in a timely manner.

Management's Response

The Director of the Management Division concurred with recommendation 7. The Director stated that the division's Facility Services Space Planning Office is working with the design team for 1801 K Street to incorporate a stand-alone PA system into the build-out of the new space. The Board will also design and submit a proposal to incorporate installation of a PA system in the Board-occupied spaces of International Square. Further, additional options are being explored, such as the feasibility of a scrolling banner on personal computers and/or the use of the network telephone system.

OIG Comment

In our opinion, the actions described by the Director of the Management Division are responsive to our recommendation. We plan to follow up on the Management Division's actions to ensure that the recommendation is fully addressed.

  • 4. Internal Communications used this method to notify all Board employees when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning in September 2012.  Return to text