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Our objectives were to evaluate the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System's (Board's) policies and procedures for responding to unexpected emergency events and to assess communication protocols for processing and disseminating information to Board staff during such emergencies.
To accomplish our objectives, we reviewed Board procedures and external guidance for responding to emergency events, we interviewed Board safety and emergency personnel, and we reviewed the responses to a survey that we sent to all Board staff designated as volunteer floor wardens. In addition, we visited three Federal Reserve Banks (Reserve Banks) and one federal financial regulatory agency to discuss their emergency preparedness procedures and identify potential best practices. Additional details on our scope and methodology are discussed in appendix A.
The Board has a crisis management structure and procedures on preparing for and responding to emergencies caused by fire, acts of terrorism, or acts of nature. The Board's crisis management structure comprises senior officials and key employees who work to ensure the safety of Board staff during an emergency and to continue providing critical central bank services to the U.S. financial system and economy. The Board's procedures include an Occupant Emergency Plan (OEP), provided to each employee, which describes the roles and responsibilities for employees, contractors, and visitors, as well as the responsibilities for components of the crisis management structure.
The Board's emergency response to the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that affected the greater Washington, DC, area in August 2011 resulted in a problematic evacuation of all Board-owned and -leased office space.1 Board personnel responsible for overseeing emergency response and employee safety assessed the challenges that occurred during this emergency, as well as the Board's readiness for similar emergencies. As a result, the Board identified opportunities to improve its response to emergencies, including providing employees timely and appropriate instructions during emergencies, and initiated actions to address the problems and improve the Board's response during future evacuations.
The Board's crisis management structure includes the Crisis Support Team (CST), the Crisis Leadership Team (CLT), and the Administrative Governor (figure 1). The CST manages the actual emergency and assesses the impact on employees, facilities, and information. The CST has six components that provide information and assistance to the CLT. Five of the six components are part of the Management Division:
Law Enforcement Unit (LEU) Chief—Serves as the CST lead, incident commander, and principal point of contact with local police, fire, and other emergency responders; makes the initial decision about whether to evacuate the buildings or shelter in place.
Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bureau (Safety Bureau)—Provides onsite technical expertise during emergency incidents.
Internal Communications—Develops, coordinates, and disseminates information regarding the emergency to employees in a timely manner.
Facility Services—Secures building systems and structures and provides technical assessments of any physical damage.
Human Resources/Employee Relations—Following an emergency, accounts for those Board employees who were on duty at the time an emergency began by collecting and reconciling information from all division coordinators.
The sixth component of the CST is the Board's Legal Division, which advises the CST and the CLT of the potential ramifications of actions and decisions made during emergencies.
The CLT is chaired by the Chief Operating Officer and consists of eight senior Board officials. When the CLT convenes, it assesses the emergency situation and advises the Administrative Governor regarding the need to (1) deploy critical personnel to alternate facilities, (2) initiate contingency plans to minimize disruption of critical Board functions, and (3) communicate certain decisions throughout the Federal Reserve System.
In support of the crisis management structure, the Safety Bureau also performs considerable planning and other activities to prepare for emergencies, as follows:
In addition, the Safety Bureau is responsible for maintaining the most current version of the Board's OEP on the Emergency Preparedness website.
The Board’s OEP describes the protocol and procedures for preparing for and responding to an emergency. The OEP includes procedures that describe the circumstances in which employees should either evacuate buildings or shelter in place and procedures to protect occupants during emergencies caused by fire, acts of nature (e.g., earthquakes, tornadoes), and acts of terrorism (e.g., bomb threats, use of chemical or biological weapons). The OEP also requires the Human Resources/Employee Relations function of the CST to “collect and reconcile accountability for Board employees immediately following any evacuation or shelter-in-place event” and to report this employee information “to the CLT through the CST lead.”
The OEP suggests that employees familiarize themselves with the Board’s emergency procedures. As described in the OEP, employees are responsible for the following:
• participating in drills and training
• responding to alarms and public address (PA) announcements
• following the directions of emergency response personnel
• being familiar with at least two evacuation routes from their normal work areas
• being familiar with primary and alternate assembly areas
• knowing the floor wardens for their floor
• assisting visitors in the event of an emergency
• knowing the location of emergency equipment
• reporting emergencies to the Board’s LEU Control Center
Typically, the OEP is activated in part or in full when an emergency situation occurs by (1) an employee calling 911 or reporting an emergency directly to the LEU by calling the Board’s emergency phone number, (2) an announcement by the media or other outside source of an emergency situation or threat, or (3) an activation of the fire alarm system.
In addition to reading the OEP, employees should familiarize themselves with emergency procedures by reading safety-related information published by the Safety Bureau on the Board’s Emergency Preparedness website. The website contains maps of evacuation assembly locations, employees’ responsibilities during an emergency, emergency phone numbers, and the latest version of the OEP. The information on the Emergency Preparedness website is also useful as a supplement to the floor wardens’ annual training.
The OEP also describes the responsibilities of the volunteer floor wardens. Floor wardens assist the LEU during emergencies to ensure that evacuations are quick, orderly, and safe. Floor wardens should receive annual training, wear a yellow identification vest during drills and emergencies, know the location of stairwells and refuge areas on their assigned floor, and control the movement of employees in stairwells. In an emergency, floor wardens may direct employees to evacuate via the appropriate stairwell, or they may advise employees to shelter in place. In addition, floor wardens are required to ensure that all offices and spaces have been completely evacuated, and they may need to assist in evacuating employees with disabilities or special needs.
The Board has a framework to ensure that each division has trained floor wardens to assist the LEU during drills and emergencies. The Safety Bureau maintains a roster of floor warden names, floor location, and contact information. According to the OEP, floor wardens should attend training each year; the Safety Bureau conducts formal classroom training annually and hosts online training on its website to enable floor wardens to satisfy the annual training requirement.