Although COVID-19 has significantly limited the on-site presence of many Architect of the Capitol employees, someone still has to keep the utilities running.
That's where Capitol Power Plant employees come in. They have powered their way through the worst of the pandemic thanks to their extraordinary efforts and endless reliability.
"By late March, we were very concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in D.C. and the surrounding areas," said Capitol Power Plant Director Chris Potter. "We were very worried that if some of our workers got sick and everyone had to quarantine then we wouldn't be able to continue the operation of the Capitol campus, which would’ve been devastating."
The gravity of the situation prompted the creation of a plan that made the 2010 "Snowmageddon" snow event — when some workers spent two to three days straight at the Power Plant — look like a jaunt. Once all of the new pandemic-specific policies and procedures were approved and in place, two sequestered teams of workers were established. These Sequester Teams, as the only CPP workers on-site, rotated their time at the Power Plant, staying there day and night and sleeping in three trailers parked in the back of the plant.
From the middle of April through the end of May, these two teams — around 10 employees each — stayed on-site initially for two weeks straight before reducing the length of time to one week at a time before switching off with the other Sequester Team. They worked in shifts to perform regular maintenance, refrigeration plant operations and steam plant operations.
However, the teams had much more to do than their normal tasks, according to Ladislaus "Dave" Jagoda, who led the first Sequester Team. "The plant normally has at least 40 to 50 people here at any given time," Jagoda said. "So we had to do a lot of additional things like dealing with deliveries. Every shift also required a lot of extra communication to get everything done safely while maintaining social distancing," said Jagoda.
The sequester system was a best practice followed by other utility providers as well as hospitals, as a way to keep essential workers safe and essential operations going. "We really appreciated the dedication shown by the Sequester Teams. They kept things running, protected themselves and their families, and allowed the rest of the Capitol Power Plant workforce to stay safe at home," Potter said.
Power Plant perseverance wasn't confined to the sequestered employees. Following the Sequester Teams, shift operators and electricians resumed their normal work schedules. "Everyone is doing an amazing job under the most difficult circumstances," said Potter, "but we are especially grateful to the power plant operators and shift electricians. They can't telework and need to keep up their 12-hour shifts, really pulling their weight to keep the entire campus running." To help safeguard worker health, Power Plant engineers helped design and set up a second control room to allow the shift workers to keep their social distance and operate the equipment from two different areas. Creating two physically separated work groups helps prevent having to quarantine all of the workers if one of them gets sick.
"These are the unsung heroes who are at the plant 24/7," said Potter. "A few have been approved for administrative leave for age or underlying medical conditions but, otherwise, they're always here. We couldn’t continue to keep things running without them."