Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery

Dec 23 2013   12:31AM GMT

Is Snow a Disaster? It is If You’re In Washington D.C.

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Joking aside — yes, admittedly places like Washington, D.C. don’t tend to have snowplows, salt, or people who grew up driving in snow — it’s not a bad idea to have snow on your disaster preparation list just like you would any other sort of emergency, even if you live in an area that doesn’t typically get snow.

In fact, it’s probably even more important to have a snow plan ready if you live in an area that doesn’t typically get snow. If you typically get snow, then the municipality and employees know how to deal with it and drivers have had a bag of kitty litter in the trunk since October.

The federal government has actually been leading the way on offering employees a telework option on snow days, ever since it was shut down for five days in 2010 due to snow.  In some ways, it’s actually kind of a bummer for the employee because instead of having the snow day off, they have to work, because they can now work at home. But for the organization or agency, it’s an improvement.

“The federal government, in fact, was one of the early pioneers of telework, with the first push coming during the bird flu pandemic scare in the early 2000s, and the biggest push after the massive 2009-2010 snow storms, dubbed Snowmageddon, that shuttered the federal government for days and led to the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010,” writes the Washington Post earlier this month, the day after the entire federal government shut down due to snow. According to the Office of Personnel Management, the new program now saves the government up to $30 million per day, the Post reports.

The OPM announces early in the morning whether the federal government will be shut down or open later due to bad weather, and gives a time that teleworking employees must be either working or taking time off.

Though the telework program was originally set up for bad weather, employees are now taking advantage of it all the time in some agencies. Up to one-third of the U.S. Department of Agriculture teleworks at any one time, the Post writes.

What do you need to do for your employees to be able to telework during snow days or other inclement weather? Employees will need a computer at home — do they need to provide it, or will the company provide it? They’re also need an Internet connection — again, decide ahead of time who’ll pay for this perk —  and whatever sort of security you deem appropriate for a remote worker, such as a virtual private network.

The most important thing is to test the setup ahead of time. 7:45 am on a snowy morning isn’t the time to find out whether the telework setup works — if only because the IT people might be stuck at home, too.

2  Comments on this Post

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  • TomLiotta

    Not totally on-topic (and not intended to be seriously critical)...:

    ...admittedly places like Washington, D.C. don’t tend to have snowplows, salt, or people who grew up driving in snow...

    I've never been to the east coast, U.S.A., in the winter, so I don't know what problems an inch or two of snow in D.C. brings. I do live in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area, though, so I have a lot of familiarity with infrequent snowfalls here. And I lived and worked for six years in Alaska where there was continuous snow on the ground every year from at the latest the first day of winter running through at the earliest to the first day of spring. Most years, snow came earlier and disappeared later.

    It doesn't take many years to understand that the snow problems around here are regularly more difficult for drivers. It especially seems to be true for drivers who moved here from Minnesota or Pennsylvania or similar snow areas and who think they know best about driving in snow. (We have a transplanted Pennsylvanian a couple homes down from us who used to joke about our measly snowfalls. Guess who's the only one from our neighborhood we know of who's managed to slide off the roads in the past ten years, in their 4WD "great snow vehicle" no less?)

    While in Alaska, I was surprised to learn how many different "kinds" of snow there are. I have no idea whether it's true that Eskimos have 'many words for "snow"', but I would expect it. I began to recognize many differences myself.

    But it was very rare for me to see any snow in Alaska to be similar to what is common here. I only found a couple conditions to be truly difficult in Alaska. Otherwise, driving was relatively easy. The worst was when things started to thaw in the spring.

    Each year, the five-mile stretch of freeway that I drove daily would have a base of anywhere from four to six inches of ice. As the first real day of thawing progressed, ruts would form. They would eventually reach to concrete, and steering became practically unnecessary. However, the melt would essentially fill the ruts with water. Cars in motion would splash up unending 'rooster tails' of water and spray, making visibility a serious mess. Those are some of my most vivid memories of scary driving.

    Around Seattle-Tacoma, though, the infrequent snows were almost always worse to drive in simply because almost every trip anywhere involves going up and down hills, commonly on winding roads that follow hillsides.

    I don't remember ever driving anywhere (except one small piece) in the parts of Alaska I was in where the roads followed anything but level ground. The guaranteed annual heavy snows pretty much guaranteed that development would be along level lines, and there are so many places still left in Alaska where level land is available.

    But there is no longer much of such a luxury around Seattle-Tacoma. Level areas were used up years ago. There also isn't a huge budget for snow removal or control. How could there be with only a couple expected snow-days each year?

    Add that to maybe the biggest problem: demands from taxpayers not to spend any money or to cut budgets deeper. You'd likely be surprised how difficult driving can be when no one wants to pay for snow clearing equipment and workers.

    For all of us who didn't "[grow] up driving in snow", how about a follow-up post? You're welcome to visit my home some snowy day and try to drive back to Tacoma or up to Seattle. I'll arrange for our local Pennsylvanian to follow you down the hill into town in case you run across someone who needs to be pulled out of the ravine.


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  • Wrash

    Actually, we do have snow plows and salt in Washington, DC. Lots of them. The reason snow is a disaster in Washington is because we have a Beltway filled with Type-A lawyers and lobbyists who think that the only thing they need to do in the event of a snowfall is trade their spouse's SUV for their Mercedes, and drive just like they always do. This is a certain recipe for disaster, and it shows.

    The federal government closes, schools close, the Metro shuts down with the concept of snow. No actual flakes are required. Meanwhile, the highways are blocked with wrecked SUVs populated by screaming cell phone users demanding that they get towed, the highway cleared or the snow melted instantly. And for the federal government, most telework takes place at telework centers, not at home. And of course the commute to the telework center is just as long, and usually over worse roads than the commute to work.

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