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“Thundersnowcalypse” cripples the District

January 27, 2011 - 0 Comments

Residents of D.C. really struggle in winter weather. In fact, President Obama, who called Chicago home prior to moving to the White House, even criticized the city for overreacting to inclement weather and canceling Sasha and Malia’s school for what Chicago residents would have called, “a mere dusting.”

Regardless of how well the District and its residents handle the snow, the city has been slammed the past two years with serious winter storms. The latest was yesterday’s “thundersnowcalypse,” which drove many locals to think the end of days was on their hands, with snow, thunder, rain, sleet and potentially other weather phenomenon occurring simultaneously.

The timing of the storm really wound up being a larger problem than the storm itself, since it started as rain around 3PM and then switched to snow later in the evening. This led to a slushy, icy, snowy mess on roads, sidewalks and other surfaces just in time for federal employees and other area residents to leave their offices and head home.

What resulted was a chaotic scene of slipping, sliding, abandoned cars, blocked roads and paralyzed rescue and snow removal vehicles. If you were one of the individuals driving around the D.C. region that saw an hour commute become a five hour commute, you know exactly what we’re talking about.

Many federal government offices closed early yesterday in hopes that employees would make it home before conditions got too bad. Many of them didn’t, and found their commutes prolonged by hours. A delayed opening was required this morning to ensure road conditions were better. Regardless, it’s probably safe to assume that folks who rolled into their driveways (and then subsequently shoveled them) at midnight felt it justified to take today off.

That’s a lot of lost time and production for federal government offices. Hours taken off of the day so that employees could leave early. Delayed openings or outright office closings the next day. Employees left tired, miserable and unproductive from nightmare commutes, delayed school openings and snow removal. All of these things cost the government money in the form of productivity and time.

There is an alternative, though. With the Telework Enhancement Act passed, it’s not too far of a stretch to have a situation where all eligible government employees telework on days when serious winter storms are forecast.

If employees were able to telework, and supplied with the advanced technology and tools available to a distributed workforce today, all of that time wouldn’t have been lost. Teleworking employees don’t need to leave early since they’re already home. They also don’t need delayed openings since they wake up, shower and prepare for their day either in, or down the hall, from their offices.

With video teleconferencing (VTC) and virtual desktop technologies available to government agencies today, all employees could access their work computers and interact face-to-face as if they were in the same room regardless of their actual location. It’s time to embrace these technologies and adopt telework in the federal government.

In today’s tough financial times, the federal government simply can’t afford to be brought to its knees by a little winter weather. Or as our Midwestern friends would say, “a slight dusting.”

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