By Carolina Ardon Ayala, Elizabeth Bennion, Elaine Kelley and Luke Meinzen
Established in 1961, the Operations Center, or Ops, is an excellent introduction to Washington, D.C. Ops officers get a front-row view of U.S. foreign policy in action. From their seventh floor offices, officers in Ops see how senior officials and the interagency process play out in real time and the policy process. Ops is composed of two parts: the Watch and Crisis Management and Strategy (CMS). At its inception, the Watch was designed to be manned 24 hours a day, with communication links to the Pentagon, CIA, White House and senior Department officials. Fifteen years after the Watch was started, Ops added CMS to support task forces and help the Department manage and learn from crises. Today, all of Ops works together to respond to major events, both in the United States and abroad.
Ops has expanded since its early days, yet the mission remains the same: to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Watch officers facilitate everything from the Secretary’s telephonic diplomacy with interlocutors throughout the world to connecting U.S. citizens abroad to life-saving assistance at all hours of the day or night. Watch officers sift through a flood of information to alert and brief Department officials and bring together key decision makers from across the government in a timely manner.
Watch officers and crisis management officers (CMOs) are dedicated Foreign Service generalists, specialists and civil service employees. The entire Ops team contributes a broad set of skills and perspectives to support the Secretary and keep Department officials informed and private citizens safe. Teams are an integral part of Watch culture and form the backbone of fast-paced task forces—in both, officers rely on everyone to contribute. Watch teams have a special bond forged by managing high-profile emergencies even during nights and weekends.
“Your team becomes family,” said Watch officer John Ambrose. “You can depend on your teammates to have your back, while you have theirs.”
CMS also provides preventative and long-term assistance to posts. From reviewing crisis preparedness plans and developing dynamic plans with posts approaching crises to managing 24/7 task forces and mass evacuation planning, CMS ensures posts have the skills and support they need to respond to any kind of emergency. CMOs have coordinated the Department’s response to critical events such as the 2017 hurricane season and ongoing unrest in Venezuela. They also analyze the Department’s response to crises and disseminate lessons learned to ensure posts are safer, well prepared and ready for future challenges.
Preparing for its largest renovation since inception, Ops will be moving into a brand-new space fitted with some of the latest communication, content and knowledge management technology, providing new tools for Ops to support the Department into the next 60 years. The project is estimated to be completed by late 2020. Whether it’s getting a bird’s-eye view of the inner workings of the Department, forging strong bonds with colleagues, supporting high-level officials or taking advantage of professional development opportunities, there are myriad reasons to join the Ops team. To learn more, email SES-Nominations@state.gov.
Carolina Ardon Ayala, Elizabeth Bennion and Elaine Kelley are Watch officers. Luke Meinzen is a crisis management officer in the Operations Center.