Tales from the EOC: Worrying & Laughing

COVID-19 EOC, Rosemary Recreation Complex, Needham, MA 2020

Have you been wondering what it is like to work in a medium sized metro-Boston community during a global pandemic? Every day there are about 1,289 decisions to make, and when you look up from your computer it is already 5:00.

Many local government managers are working entirely remotely. I tried working at home one day a week, and it was a real struggle.  I have a private office in a mostly empty Town Hall where I can work safely, and I spend a few days a week in the Emergency Operations Center.   I find that the loss of camaraderie is one of the most difficult aspects of this pandemic quarantine, so I treasure the opportunity to sit with our amazing EOC team leading us through and out of this pandemic. The people in the EOC make very difficult decisions.  They are under constant pressure to find resources and handle difficult telephone calls.  They are hounded for information they cannot divulge, and they are working constantly.   But life does go on – one member just accepted a new job, and another bought a new house.

Since the only antidote for anxiety is connection with others, I am constantly looking to colleagues in other communities for reassurance and advice. As local government managers, we are filled with anxiety all the time.  We are worried about how to keep our staff employed, paid, and busy at home.  We are worried about the employees who do have to report to Town.  We are under constant scrutiny to justify the “work at home” plan.  We secretly Google the symptoms of COVID-19 regularly because we are so run down. 

While social media and on-line resources are invaluable, they can also cause unhealthy comparison.  Those of us who are confident in our ability encourage and motivate our teams look on with despair at the amazing outward-facing messaging of our colleagues whose skills lie in that area.  And vice versa.

We worry that we simply won’t be able to cover payroll.  We worry that the many people in our communities who are not being paid or whose businesses are in jeopardy will become increasingly intolerant of the status quo. 

We worry that the first responders will get sick.  That our family members will get sick.  That we will get sick.

We worry because the world as we knew it is gone, and we don’t know whether we are up to the challenge of charting a new course. 

We wonder how we will adjust to not wearing jeans and sneakers and hoodies to work, and having to attend night meetings again.

We wonder if we can accommodate remote working options in the future, and keep the innovative spirit alive after the declared state of emergency. 

We also learned to appreciate the moments of hilarity and joy. 

The incident commander for this emergency is the Director of Health & Human Services.  It is highly unusual to see an EOC with no uniformed personnel in sight – unless you count logo fleece vests.  Another way you know this isn’t a public safety EOC is that for some unfathomable reason, three of the four staff sit with their backs to the window. 

The highlight of the day is ordering lunch to be delivered.  This topic starts right after the daily 10:00 EOC check-in call.  Sometimes before.

There is a lot of snack food around.  One member has taken to baking sourdough bread constantly.

We had so many complaints we had to ask the police to hunt down an unlicensed ice cream truck.

We had to install increasingly harsh signs closing parks, and then had to barricade their parking lots.  We had to issue a clarifying email banning the Easter bunny from visiting physical rather than virtual parks. 

Conversations like this are normal:  “Hey, I can get hand sanitizer in a month!”  “Great, how much can you get?”  “So, I have to order a pallet.  That’s 144 gallons.  But its only $6,000.”  “Do it.”

We put out a makeshift donation bin (repurposed trash bin from DPW) with a big sign that tells people what to donate.  We are so grateful for donations of Clorox wipes and masks.  One week we also got a bag of dog poop.

Improvised Donation Bin, Rosemary Recreation Complex, Needham, MA

Just before the pandemic the Town got a therapy dog – a white golden retriever by the name of Rocket (of course – the Needham High mascot). He is the most popular mammal in Needham, and has more Instagram followers than I do. Every week or so his handlers bring him to the EOC. He took my place on a Zoom call and that made my week.

Officer Rocket, Needham, MA

We have a pool going as to how close the Governor’s press conferences will be to the actual noticed start time.

Last week I had meetings on Teams, Free Conference Call, Go to Meeting, Webex AND Zoom all in one day. 

Did I mention my hair is many shades, none of them particularly attractive, and I have to stare at it on my monitor all the time?

Stay well, wash your hands, reach out to the lonely.  But only reach out to my mother if you want to hear how great Andrew Cuomo is.

How are you working during the quarantine? What is your worry? What makes you laugh? Let’s practice – six feet apart.

Very Kate and the replacement donation bin, Needham, MA “No Dog Poop, Please”

8 thoughts on “Tales from the EOC: Worrying & Laughing

  1. Thanks for writing about the challenges in a real and honest way. I specifically liked the following:

    “As local government managers, we are filled with anxiety all the time. We are worried about how to keep our staff employed, paid, and busy at home. We are worried about the employees who do have to report to Town. We are under constant scrutiny to justify the “work at home” plan. We secretly Google the symptoms of COVID-19 regularly because we are so run down.”

    My favorite, personal reality, is the fact that I do keep googling symptoms (could also be the allergies I have tried to ignore too)!

    Thanks Kate.

    Like

  2. Dear Kate,
    I truly enjoy reading your blogs as it provides me with a dose of what people being real can be. I really like that you wear your humor on your sleeve, (whatever that means?)! I work in a local California Government of 45.000 population and it is the most economically challenged community in Santa Cruz County with the lowest median household income and primarily an agricultural community. As you know first hand, Emergency Operation Centers (E.O.C.’s) are established primarily with any funding left over after all the other bills get paid.

    It usually is high on the communities wish list but low on making it an functioning actuality to rise to the level of 100% effectiveness. I have worked in a few local governments across the mid-western United States and California. The effort to achieve a really good E.O.C. varies greatly from highly effective in Boulder County Colorado to barely on the radar in others. Most local governments are reactionary, few are proactive in the effort to provide really good Emergency Operation Plans. I find that Leadership can play a critical role in the success of a really great E.O.C. but “Leadership with a vision” is required to really pull it off! This does not happen instantaneously, it progress and grows over time with the retention of those same leaders that started the fight to begin with.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and letting everyone know we are not alone in our quest to make a difference in local government. By the way, I think Rocket is a Golden Retriever not a “golden receiver” as you stated in your Blog. I am thinking that you purposefully did that to see if anyone was paying attention. Keep up the great work you are doing and thanks for always sharing. Cheers! Rob Allen

    Like

    1. Hi There – so great to hear from you. Thanks for the editing tip (my daughter weighed in right after you did). In my last post i called the pandemic COVID-10. Thank goodness I have people who proofread and that I can update errors! Please keep in touch and stay strong. We can do this!

      Like

  3. Loved the Golden Retriever!!! I hope your blog gets picked up so that more people can understand the important work that our public employees do even under tremendous stress.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kate,

    Your post is uplifting and spot on. You’ve managed to capture the essence of this crazy time and how we’re all attempting to cope, both professionally and personally. Your honesty and transparency is so encouraging. We are in this together, facing the same challenges and working so hard to navigate this emotional roller coaster. You’re a terrific example and your words touch our hearts.

    Keep doing great work! Be safe.

    Thank you,
    Rob Muller

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Kate-Your humor in the face of such challenges will surely help to get you through. Thank you so much for all that you and your staff are doing to keep the Town safe, adaptive, functioning and laughing during these unprecedented times!

    Liked by 1 person

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