Protocol moves into high gear during pandemic

By Whitney Lacy

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Executive Protocol Office ensures smooth visits for distinguished guests amid COVID-19 challenges

VIPs stand on floor dots to ensure adequate distancing
SOCIAL DISTANCING — Creative Services placed “stand here” labels on the floor of the Steve Schiff Auditorium lobby to help NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Haggerty, center, and other attendees at a July COVID-19 poster session ensure they were maintaining a safe distance. (Photo by Lonnie Anderson)

On any given day, Sandia’s Executive Protocol Office hosts distinguished visitors that focus on the multitude of Labs priority programs; but during a pandemic, nothing is normal.

“We have COVID-19 safety protocols that everyone must follow, including distinguished visitors,” said Annie Waters, who manages the team. “Everyone must adhere to these safety protocols, and as you might imagine, communication with visitors and their teams is paramount when managing expectations.”

Sandia will host a variety of visitors throughout the year, and each visit involves multiple layers of coordination among many organizations, including Badging, Security, Facilities, Transportation, Media Relations and Creative Services. Protocol ensures that all the behind-the-scenes activities and logistics are as seamless and distraction-free as possible.

Each visit may involve weeks of planning, but requirements and decisions can change frequently, even up to and during the event itself. The pandemic has added a new challenge.

Sandia’s partial shutdown followed the state of New Mexico’s lockdown in mid-March, and at that time, the Executive Protocol Office was in the middle of preparations for multiple high-level visitors. Many of these visits were either canceled, postponed or turned into a virtual event, until recently.

“Our first post-COVID-19 visit was in early July for the Undersecretary of the Department of Energy,” Annie said. The team aggressively forecasted a path forward within the confines of the pandemic that added several new layers of planning in addition to the usual requirements.

“Now, we’ve added Medical for COVID screenings of all our guests. We included the Risk & Emergency Management team and we involve the Pandemic Response Team in all planning processes,” she said. “These additional steps consume much more time, especially with COVID provisions, travel restrictions and other variables changing on a weekly to daily basis.”

New normal

To ensure compliance and safety, all visitors, including distinguished visitors such as NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, who visited Sandia on July 15, must complete Sandia’s Health Check screening before coming on-site and must wear a face covering.

conference table with spaced seating
SIX FEET APART — Strategically placed seating assignments help ensure social distancing in Sandia conference rooms. (Photo by Annie Waters)

Catering, which normally is brought on-site by outside vendors, must now be picked up by Protocol staff; all food items are pre-packaged and team members wear gloves when handling the food.

Social distancing is required in everything from the buses used to transport visitors from place to place, to where each person can sit or stand. Per Sandia’s requirements, conference rooms also are limited to a maximum of 10 participants, and everyone must be spaced, to the greatest extent possible, a minimum of six feet apart.

This was demonstrated during Administrator Gordon-Hagerty’s visit, which included, among other events, a conference room briefing with Labs leadership and a COVID-19 poster session in the lobby of the Steve Schiff Auditorium. 

“Creative Services did a great job of printing and laying down ‘stand here’ labels across the lobby and having seating assignment labels for the auditorium,” Annie said.

At the end of each visit, the team works out the bugs and improves their logistics with a post-event meeting that will better prepare them for the next visit.

“Everyone, including visitors, needs to know what to expect during these uncertain times.”