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Omaha District balances COVID-19 mission support, employee safety

US Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District
Published April 24, 2020
An Army Corps employee works from home

Ferdinand Detres, public affairs specialist with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, teleworks from home April 23 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shortly after the federal government declared a  state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Col. John  Hudson, commander, U.S.  Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District, took aggressive steps to protect the district’s military and civilian workforce - while maintaining mission readiness and support. 

As COVID-19 numbers continued to rise, the health, safety and well-being of Corps employees remained the top priority while balancing new pandemic related mission assignments.

"I have given managers and supervisors permission to leverage tele-work agreements to the greatest extent possible with their staffs,” Hudson said in an internal communication. “For now, the Zorinsky building (district headquarters) will remain open and available to work out of until we see significant community spread of COVID-19 in the greater Omaha area.

To date, these actions, combined with social distancing and other preventive measures as recommended by the CDC, have resulted in no reported cases of COVID-19 in the Zorinsky building among Corps employees.

“We will continue to heavily leverage telework to reduce the number of individuals and personnel density in our facilities,” said Hudson. 

With the help of 5G technology, virtual private networks, smart phones, and a group of dedicated   information technology specialists, employees were able to make the transition to a telework posture relatively smoothly – even with a few connectivity issues.

Since not all jobs are suitable for telework, and some employees are required to go to the office, the Corps leadership is deploying the appropriate measures to ensure employee safety.  For example, common areas are cleaned more frequently and in accordance with strict CDC protocols.

Hudson and senior leaders continue to remind office employees to maintain safe distancing, limit conference room gatherings to no more than three persons, and when possible stay in their offices, and use available teleconferencing technologies.   

“Here in the Zorinsky building there are not a lot of employees continuing to come in unless absolutely necessary,” said Stacy Dufault, USACE Mission Support Officer.  “Those of us who remain in the building are not meeting face to face, but are completing all work via telephone, web-ex, zoom or jabber.  In the rare instance that we have to meet we are not exceeding three people in a room and we stay six feet apart.”  

With the pandemic expected to peak in the next several weeks, the Corps' mission requirements are changing rapidly. Incorporating a 'whole of government' approach and working alongside FEMA, the lead agency, and state Governors, the Corps has already received several mission assignment requests from several states within their area of responsibility.

At the direction of Col. Hudson, several facility assessment teams have mobilized and are currently traveling throughout the northwest region to help local and state officials identify Alternate Care Facilities sites.  This proactive approach will help to quickly identify hotels, arenas, and other suitable buildings which could be quickly retrofitted, and potentially serve as makeshift clinics in the event that hospitals become overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients resulting in a shortage of bed space.   

Col. Hudson is anticipating the leverage of a rapid response contract to support the national mission to decrease the spread of COVID-19. 
With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise in Nebraska and across the nation, the Omaha District is poised to offer its engineering and planning expertise and vast resources to support FEMA and state and local emergency response efforts in combating this pandemic, according to an Omaha District Corps public affairs spokesperson.   

In addition, the district continues to manage many important and ongoing missions such as levee restoration and flood control along the Missouri River Basin, as well as other important civil works and environmental and construction projects.