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Fed Worker Evac Plan Said In Place

The Bush administration has reportedly approved a plan designed to begin an orderly evacuation of the nation's federal workers within 15 minutes if there is a broad attack or imminent threat from nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Under the plan, the heads of the Office of Personnel Management, Federal Emergency Management Agency and General Services Administration could release up to 350,000 federal workers in the Washington area and 1.8 million nationwide if a threat is confirmed, The Washington Post reported in Saturday editions.

Directors of the three agencies would alert the White House, local officials and regional emergency managers within minutes, the Post said. Federal agencies and the public would then be notified.

The plan, prompted by confusion during the Sept. 11 attacks, is intended to allow for an orderly evacuation, the newspaper said. The procedures have been months in development and were presented to local government officials this summer.

On Sept. 11, federal and local officials were initially overwhelmed by the unfolding attack that rendered communications difficult and forced improvisation, the Post points out.

The three agencies have set up new 24-hour operation centers, which are in constant contact with the FBI, anti-terrorism task forces and state and local law enforcement, the Post said. Some government officials have been assigned cellular or satellite phones or other wireless devices along with emergency call lists.

"You just don't know what might happen next," a federal official familiar with the plan said to the Post. "Who knows? But next time, we feel we'll be better prepared, and there won't be a director saying, 'Get hold of the mayor, get hold of local government,' and we can't deliver on it but still as a federal agency have to act."

The plan envisions a critical role for the news media, the Post says. While federal agencies would receive orders through an updated Cold War-era telephone land line, newsrooms have set aside unpublished, dedicated telephone lines on which federal orders would be issued.