The American Evaluation Association will honor a Washington, DC-based federal employee with its 2009 Alva and Gunnar Myrdal Government Award. His work – and influence – has been instrumental in safety initiatives that led to reduced derailments and fewer injuries, as well as new federal safety legislation.
Michael Coplen, a Senior Human Factors Program Manager in the Office of Research and Development with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration, began his career some 30 years ago first as a brakeman and then as a locomotive engineer. He saw firsthand the hazards that come with the job and watched death claim co-workers in crashes that hit too close to home. While some of these tragic incidents were likely related to extended sleep deprivation, it was his own lack of sleep that resulted in a near collision and an eye-opening work/rest log that became the impetus for Coplen’s subsequent change of career.
As a young rail employee, Coplen became increasingly concerned about the dangers brought on by fatigue resulting from long hours, irregular scheduling, and interrupted sleep. Being naturally inclined toward evaluation, and long before he knew the field existed, Coplen began recording his own sleep-wake schedule and reported his observations in the news media, citing bouts of up to 26 hours with no sleep and one of every 6 days with less than 5 hours of sleep. He has dedicated the last 20 years to serving as a bridge for change. Through Coplen’s efforts to spearhead safety initiatives, his pilot projects in the rail industry have seen significant reductions in at-risk behaviors and locomotive engineer de-certifications, as well as improvements in rule violations and personal safety awareness.
“I am deeply honored and humbled by this award, the most meaningful of my career,” says Coplen. “It highlights how individuals in federal government – with dedication, perseverance, and a utilization-focused evaluation approach – can make a real difference.”
The American Evaluation Association is an international professional association with approximately 5500 members representing all 50 states in the US as well as more than 60 countries. The association will hold an awards ceremony on Friday, Nov. 13, during its Evaluation 2009 conference to be held in Orlando, Fl.