Telework Exchange urges workers to phone it in on Jan. 20

An influx of up to 2 million people into nation’s capitol for the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president is expected to overwhelm the Washington area’s transportation systems , as well as its communications infrastructure.

“This will be a great test [for continuity-of-operations planning],” said Cindy Auten, general manager of the Telework Exchange. “It will take us almost to the limits of being able to handle the bandwidth.”

The exchange, a public-private partnership that promotes and provides resources for telecommuting, is urging employers in the national capital area to let employees work from home or other remote locations that day. It not only would help ease the congestion expected in downtown Washington, but would also be good opportunity for organization’s to test the continuity-of-operations (COOP) plans that they should have in place.

“This will be the ultimate COOP experience, to be able to Telework with an extra 2 million people in the area,” Auten said.

Continuity-of-operations plans are supposed to provide a blueprint for keeping an organization’s mission-critical processes functioning during natural or manmade emergencies, when workers might not be able to make it to their normal place of work or infrastructure or resources might not be available. The plans usually look good on paper, but they often get little real-world testing in advance of a crisis. The planned crisis presented by the inaugural crowds could be an opportunity for a dry run.

“People in the area are coming to the realization that they are not going to be able to leave their homes, and if they are in D.C. they are not going to be able to get out,” Auten said.

Conditions will be helped somewhat by the fact that the federal government will be closed on Jan. 20, but many businesses in the area will remain open. The government, through the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration and in cooperation with the Telework Exchange, encourages telecommuting through a program that operates 14 remote telework centers in the Washington area, from Hagerstown, Md., to Winchester and Fredericksburg, Va.

Of course, working remotely could add to the strain of a communications infrastructure already expected to be burdened that day, and wireless carriers will be put to the test as well.

Auten said her organization has been in touch with major carriers such as Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and others. “They are very aware of the strain they are going to have,” she said.

Sprint already has announced plans to beef up capacity for the day, drawing on its experience in dealing with other special activities and sporting events. It increasing coverage in selected high-traffic areas and is positioning equipment to enhance its data and push-to-talk capacity by 40 percent for consumer customers, and by 90 percent for public safety users.

Although congestion is expected to be greatest on the Tuesday of the inauguration, opportunities to benefit from telecommuting could extend well beyond that, Auten said.

“I think the increasing traffic won't just stop on Wednesday,” she added.

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