DHS moves its National Operations Center off site after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

Caitlin Dickson and Jana Winter
·Reporters

The Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center is relocating today after a member of its team tested positive for COVID-19, according to an internal DHS document obtained by Yahoo News.

DHS describes the National Operations Center as “the primary national-level hub” for sharing and coordinating information related to terrorist attacks and “domestic incident management.”

Information about the center’s relocation was provided on the March 30 update of the National Operations Center “COVID-19 Placemat,” which provides daily information about different agencies that have been affected by the virus, as well as a national breakdown of illnesses and deaths, among other data points.

The National Operations Center is located at the site of the planned new DHS headquarters at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. Last week, DHS moved to restrict access to the St. Elizabeths campus in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Homeland Security's St. Elizabeths campus
The Department of Homeland Security St. Elizabeths campus in Washington, D.C. (Carolyn Van Houten/Washington Post via Getty Images)

“We can confirm there is a case within the National Operations Center at St. Elizabeth’s campus,” a DHS official told Yahoo News. “As a precaution, we have temporarily shifted the watch to an alternate facility in order to clean and sanitize the NOC in accordance with existing medical guidelines. This move will not impact operations.”

While the document does not identify where the alternate site is located, government agencies typically have facilities that can be used in case of national emergencies, ranging from nuclear attack to pandemic. The Pentagon, for example, has an alternate site at the Raven Rock Mountain Complex, in Pennsylvania.

According to a 2015 article by NBC News, the DHS’s alternate site for the National Operations Center is at Mount Weather, in Virginia.

COVID 19 Placemat by Sharon Weinberger on Scribd

The U.S. is now the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with 156,931confirmed cases as of Monday afternoon, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

According to the DHS document, as of Monday, a total of 292 employees from across the sprawling department had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 8,524 on self-quarantine or self-monitoring.

The agency most impacted by the virus is the Transportation Security Administration which, per the internal document, had 129 employees test positive for the virus with more than 4,000 self-quarantined as of Monday. TSA screenings have fallen by more than 90 percent since the same time last year, according to the document.

It also notes that the U.S. Coast Guard is tracking five cruise ships set to arrive in the United States with more than 9,000 combined crew and passengers. The U.S. Coast Guard also has eight vessels that are not able to operate due to COVID-19, according to the document.

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