ST. PAUL, Minn. - Life changed abruptly this past spring with the advent of COVID-19.The week of March 9 and prior, an average of 1 percent of the district’s workforce could be found teleworking on any particular day – maybe more on Friday – but by the end of the following week, roughly 50 percent of the district (95 percent of the office staff) started working from home. What’s more, with schools and a number of daycare facilities closed, many employees found themselves faced with trying to both work at home and homeschool and/or take care of small children.As a response to the pandemic, the district activated its Continuity of Operations Plan, or COOP, March 17 and was able to rapidly adapt to a virtual environment.Phil White, readiness chief, said the district’s ability to do this and accomplish both its day-to-day missions, as well as a FEMA mission assignment involving the assessment of alternate care facilities (see story, Page 4), is a testament to the district’s professionalism and capabilities.He credited the district’s success to a number of things, including quickly adjusting telework and human resource policies, embracing technology, empowering supervisors to make a number of decisions they might normally not make and leveraging relationships with employees to quickly get everyone moving in the same direction.To be able to effectively operate, White said, district staff also had to embrace a number of new technologies previously available yet not widely used to include the use of video conferencing and collaboration software. “These tools have allowed us to meet as a team and keep working,” White said. “Initially there were some hardships with the Virtual Private Network, or VPN, but I think the information technology staff quickly and adeptly fixed the problems.”Nick Glatz, information technology chief, said the VPN capacity for the Corps at the time the COOP was activated, was for approximately 10,000 concurrent VPN connections run out of two centers. “Unfortunately, when approaching 3,500 connections at each center, we experienced degradation of service,” he explained. “As there was a significant demand for more service, the Corps temporarily, within a week, added another 10,000 connections to each center, as well as made several infrastructure improvements, to get everyone working.”With large numbers of staff teleworking, internal communication became even more important. Readiness staff created a clearinghouse of COVID-19 information on its internal COOP page, the district’s commander and public affairs staff began providing regular updates via email and video, and divisions began hosting all-hands meetings.“An important part of work is the connection that employees have with their organization and their peers,” said Lt. Col. Pat Sullivan, deputy commander. “It was the intent of district leadership to make sure everyone was doing okay at home, because this is a difficult and unprecedented experience for our workforce and society as a whole. Some of the different organizations have been very creative in trying to create these connections virtually. There have been virtual coffee breaks, all-hands meetings to get information out to everyone and virtual happy hours among other things.”What the district could not assist with, however, was childcare. “It is very difficult,” said Derek Ingvalson, planning. “Both my wife and I are trying to work 8 hours a day, while taking care of two Pre-K children and teaching curriculum assigned to our school-aged child. One of us works, while the other watches the kids and plays teacher. She gets up to start work at 4:30 a.m., and I usually do not go to bed until 11 or 12 at night. Despite being home with my wife all day, we typically do not get to have more than a couple of hours of quality time together.”Camie Knollenberg, plan formation branch chief, said, “I’ve really enjoyed some of the distractions that have occurred during video conferences. My favorite was when the presenter’s daughter gave him some jellybeans during his very serious talk on hydropower,” she said. “He didn’t miss a beat. He said, ‘Oh, jellybean delivery, thanks very much,’ and he popped them in his mouth. On that same conference, a participant kept trying to contribute, but each time the baby was screaming,” she continued. “He switched to using the chat function after that.”A number of perks to teleworking, however, have included a shorter commute, a more casual dress code and happier dogs. Barry Simmonds, safety chief, said, his Australian Shepherd Ginger thinks having him home “is the greatest thing ever!”The district’s next steps include refining a reconstitution plan for when and how individuals will return to work. There is also a taskforce working on ensuring that district staff have enough personal protection equipment, for those who can’t social distance because of their duties such as the Dredge Goetz crew.-30-