Feds warned to evacuate path of Tropical Storm Michael

Updated Oct. 11 at 8:30 a.m.

Michael was downgraded to a Tropical Storm as it moved over Georgia and South Carolina on Thursday, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was moving east-northeast and expected to hit central and eastern North Carolina, and southeastern Virginia in the afternoon.

Published Oct. 10 at 4:50 p.m.

Federal employees and government facilities announced closures, emergency response procedures and evacuation notices before Hurricane Michael made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast Wednesday.

Thousands of workers and families, both civilian and military, were warned to clear the path of the storm which reached Category 4 strength and winds of up to 155 mph by 2 p.m. EDT, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The Veterans Health System announced it had closed Florida clinics in Marianna, Tallahassee, Eglin, Panama City and Perry, as well as those in Valdosta and Waycross, Georgia. However, several medical centers and outpatient clinics remained open as of about 4:30 EDT Wednesday.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday it would stage approximately 125 personnel from the National Disaster Medical System and an Incident Management Team in Mobile, Alabama; and Jacksonville, Florida to help state and local authorities respond to community medical needs. HHS also said it placed about 100 additional personnel on alert from the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps.

For displaced federal employees or those with major home repairs due to the storm, the Federal Employee Education & Assistance Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to federal and postal employees, said it was collecting tax-deductible donations to help. Feds in need after the storm can can also visit FEEA’s website to apply for aid.

OPM guidance for affected feds

federal agencies civilians staff Florida Georgia AlabamaThe Office of Personnel Management provides flexibility for inclement weather and emergency safety leave provisions when it has determined that employees cannot safely travel to, or perform work at their normal work site, a telework site, or other approved location.

Last month when Hurricane Florence battered the southeastern Atlantic Coast, OPM reminded agencies that weather and safety leave is a form of paid time off authorized under the Administrative Leave Act of 2016.  It will generally be used in conjunction with an operating status announcement issued by an employing agency.

Agencies normally cannot offer weather and safety leave to teleworkers who are not prevented from working safely at an approved telework site during the emergency, although some exceptions to the rule are found in OPM’s regulation.

Agencies may also authorize advance payments, continuation of pay, and payments for travel and subsistence expenses to employees ordered to evacuate, according to OPM’s Handbook on Pay and Leave Benefits for Federal Employees Affected by Severe Weather Conditions or Other Emergency Situation.

Florida military bases limit operations for storm

Naval Air Station Pensacola announced Tuesday it would close to all visitors and non-critical personnel in preparation for the storm along with Corry Station Navy Base and Saufley Field Navy Base.

Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida, issued a mandatory evacuation order for all assigned personnel Monday, Oct. 8. The base reminded personnel that military members with government-issued travel cards could be reimbursed for evacuation expenses incurred for an evacuation between 100 miles and 500 miles from Tyndall AFB. Those without the cards could be eligible for a cash advance with a DoD I.D. card and evacuation orders.

The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt Field posted Wednesday on Facebook that it expected to escape the worst of Michael’s winds, but it would remain open on a limited operating status Thursday. Beginning at noon that day mission essential/recovery personnel and facility managers could return to the base and resume normal operations by Friday.

Eglin Air Force Base said it would remain open for limited operations on Thursday, when personnel associated with recovery efforts and facility managers authorized to return could do so after noon.

The Coast Guard station in Yankeetown, Florida, prepared boats for rescue responses on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday afternoon the Navy announced that Gulfport, Mississippi, could be a safe haven for personnel and their families who were evacuating from Naval Support Activity Panama City, Florida. Temporary quarters and Fleet and Family Support Centers would be available on board the Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, the service said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activated emergency operations centers Wednesday in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina in anticipation of storm response.