The Katrina hurricane disaster rocked the personal lives of many in the Southeast United States. It also threw a big spanner into business operations for workers, including those in the Louisiana Department of Revenue. Fortunately, the organization had already implemented a technological infrastructure to support virtual training efforts. The Department was still in its initial testing phase when disaster struck, but technology moved to the forefront and allowed them to meet urgent training challenges head on.
New training had to be developed and delivered in a short period of time as a result of new laws and regulations that went into effect following the disaster. Programs that previously might have been done in the Baton Rouge headquarters had to be moved out to eight regional offices so it would be easy for tax payers to get help. “We had some trouble training those regional offices,” said Bernice Taylor, training and development program manager, Louisiana Department of Revenue. “Normally we would have an instructor-led program where we would work with a subject matter expert (SME), develop the training and then deliver it. Because of Katrina, we were forced to develop and deliver these very quickly, and we were forced to use technology, which we had in place.”
Taylor said the department’s organizational learning staff stepped up to the challenge and worked wonders identifying SMEs and keeping tabs on the almost daily emergency declarations that came down from legislature such as a three-day sales tax holiday where tax payers could make purchases without paying state sales tax. “We had communications that were vital because this was broadcast around the state, and (our staff) was also instrumental in educating the taxpayers on issues with tax returns that were normally sent out in December. They weren’t sent out until almost March because we had to wait until the federal government developed their returns because we piggyback credits and deductions that the federal government allows. We had to wait until they got theirs complete before we could even start on ours, and it pushed back things that would normally be a routine procedure. This caused a scramble.”
Fortunately, Taylor said the department had technology to fall back on, including an LMS and live meeting software, which they used to create and deliver classes. Regional employees evacuated from their offices were pushed to the headquarters and other locations and were required to take on duties they ordinarily did not do and thus had not been trained for. “Our contact center was called upon to answer calls for the FEMA hotline. We had our admin services and our revenue processing center, which is our operations, that was actually getting mail for the cities and parishes in affected areas and processing their mail. We had personnel from the regional offices and headquarters that were called upon to man some of the different places set up for evacuees. All of these activities had some kind of training involved in them.”
Taylor’s staff orchestrated training efforts, set up training schedules and matched SMEs to courses, which were accessible via computers throughout the state because of virtual technology. “We learned that we’ve got to start utilizing this technology. We’ve got to have these courses in place. We’ve got to have software that will allow us to develop something in a very short period of time and deliver it,” Taylor said. “We were very well prepared for this. Organizational learning had purchased the software that we thought we needed, and we were in the process of building courses, but we weren’t building them real fast. It opened our eyes and showed us the potential that these software products and programs have.”
The department implemented several policies as a result of the disaster including standardization of course development to help set objectives and make the process easier. “We’re also going to start concentrating more heavily on computer-based courses,” Taylor said. “We’ve had situations where a person was not trained in a certain area but because they were dislocated from their regular offices. They came into the headquarters and took on other duties. I think if we had computer-based programs in place they could review in case they hadn’t worked with a certain tax type for a year or so. It’s very important that we have something in place so if they need reviews they can take these computer-based courses.”
Taylor stressed that new computer-based courses won’t be solely content rich. They will contain multimedia elements to boost interactivity and aid engagement. “It was so devastating what we went through. Not me personally, but our state. They estimated about 35 percent of the income for the state of Louisiana was derived from these coastal parishes in New Orleans, Lake Charles area. We lost a lot of people as a result of budget constraints, so we had fewer people to do the job, but it didn’t slow us down any,” Taylor said. “In every phase of this, it required some training. You had people who went down to open mail and batch. We’re on an automated system where it’s not just a matter of opening it up and putting it somewhere. It takes training in order for them to do that. We really need to pat our people on the back because they stepped up to the plate, and they had everything going.”
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