What's the Evacuation Plan for Lebanon?...and what's GSA got to do with it?

Posted July 31, 2006

A lot more than you might think. Whether providing emergency supplies or responding to citizen inquiries, GSA is usually behind the scenes when it comes to disaster support. In the latest example, GSA’s National Contact Center (NCC) ramped up to give the State Department 24/7 coverage in answering a deluge of phone calls about the growing crisis on the Lebanon-Israel border.

In the two weeks following the initial July 13 attacks, the GSA National Contact Center had answered 22,000 calls on behalf of the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services. Anyone calling the State Department’s designated number, 1-888-407-4747, for news about loved ones or evacuation logistics was connected directly to the GSA National Contact Center. Information specialists responded as State Department personnel with information provided by the State Department. Talking points evolved as the situation in Lebanon shifted and as new questions from citizens emerged. More complex questions were referred to the appropriate task force at State.

GSA fielded these calls under an agreement with the State Department through GSA’s USA Services. The agreement was reached in October 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The agreement provides regular, ongoing, toll-free services, while making it possible for the Department of State to respond to citizen inquiries on short notice when there is an emergency.

The contracting vehicle for this Contact Center service is “FirstContact.” Five pre-vetted vendors are able to act immediately when a government agency needs quick support for an unexpected event. The State Department has also used the National Contact Center to answer citizen questions about the Indian Ocean tsunami and the terrorist bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London.

In the United States, a number of agencies besides State have used FirstContact to handle unexpected crises in this country. For example, GSA has provided Contact Center support for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in hurricane disasters and for the Department of Veterans Affairs following the recent theft of personnel data.

Federal government agencies interested in taking advantage of FirstContact’s emergency support can get additional information from the USAServices website or by contacting Carole Dobbs at (202) 219-1680 (carole.dobbs@gsa.gov).

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