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Capitol Support Agencies Soldier Through Storm

The Capitol is closed to visitors, and Congressional offices are dark as Hurricane Sandy sweeps through the Washington, D.C., area, but for many Capitol support agencies, it’s business as usual.

“Our essential personnel report to work so that [Capitol Police] can continue to provide 24/7 coverage throughout all of the Congressional Office Buildings and across the entire Capitol Campus in spite of this weather,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Lt. Kimberly Schneider said. “The public will see police officers in the field and on patrol inside and outside of the buildings.”

Schneider added that, during weather emergencies such as this one, Capitol Police stays in close contact with federal, state and local agencies to report and communicate news of, among other things, felled trees, downed wires and areas with severe flooding.

The Architect of the Capitol is also paying attention to conditions on the Capitol campus, according to AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki.

“We will continue to monitor the weather and our facilities and grounds throughout the duration of the storm,” Malecki said. “We implemented our hurricane preparedness procedures over the weekend, which included activities such as securing loose items outside and clearing storm drains.

“We also patrolled all project sites to ensure that items such as scaffolding and construction materials are adequately secured,” she continued.

Similar preparations and procedures took place during the February 2010 snowstorms, weather events that swept through the area and resulted in weeklong government closures, suspension of public transit and thousands of dollars in damage-control costs.

This time around, the strong rains and wind are pelting Washington in the middle of a Congressional recess, with most lawmakers back in their home states and districts preparing for the elections next Tuesday. Many legislative aides normally based on Capitol Hill are accompanying their bosses out of town, and the ones who have stayed in Washington are generally tackling lighter workloads that make it just as easy to work from home if necessary.

But in addition to the Northeastern Members and staff who find themselves in the path of the storm outside the Beltway, Hurricane Sandy could still cause some minor setbacks on Capitol Hill, where there are several projects with looming deadlines.

The House Administration Committee, for instance, is finalizing preparations for the New Member Orientation, a massive undertaking with many moving parts that requires planning even before anybody knows the size of the new freshman class.

The Capitol Police Board is nearing a decision on whom to tap as the next Capitol Police chief. The Police Board is close to the end of its contract with the outside firm assisting in the nationwide search, and necessary background checks on top candidates could be slowed as the relevant federal law enforcement agencies are likely scaling back personnel during the storm.

And the AOC has to finish building the inaugural platform on which either President Barack Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney will be sworn in on Jan. 21.

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