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Networking to Improve Emergency Response

2012 September 24

By Rich Weisman

As I watched the progression of Hurricane Isaac several weeks ago, I thought back to 2003 when Hurricane Isabel impacted my water system in Virginia and caused local schools to close. Water and wastewater utilities are vulnerable to threats such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and other natural and man-made disasters. Water systems are not often impacted during emergencies that may affect other aspects of a community, but when a disaster does impact a utility, they work diligently to restore services as quickly as possible. (My colleague Laura Flynn imagined a day without water as part of our blog series for Preparedness Month). Mutual assistance programs like the Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, a network of utilities helping utilities, provide access to specialized resources needed to restore water services.

The Minnesota Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network was activated in June when Duluth and surrounding areas experienced significant flooding that washed out roads and interrupted 911 service. Through the network, seven communities asked for and received assistance in the form of water pumps and support personnel. Several years ago, the Colorado Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network helped respond to a Salmonella contamination incident in the city of Alamosa. Water utilities from around the state provided crews and equipment to help plan a response to the outbreak, and then flush, disinfect and sample 49 miles of the Alamosa water distribution system.

For larger emergencies, federal agencies often provide assistance when local and state resources are exhausted. EPA’s water emergency response program has developed tools, resources and training opportunities to prepare water utilities to respond to and recover from disasters, and to help utilities practice navigating this process.

One resource that helps utilities plan for and practice their responses to emergencies is a tabletop exercise tool that EPA developed. The tool contains 15 scenarios that address an “all-hazards” approach to emergency preparedness and response as well as introduces users to the potential impacts of climate change on the water utility sector. Each scenario has a customizable situation manual, discussion questions and PowerPoint presentation. Utilities can modify these materials, allowing them to conduct a tabletop exercise to meet their needs.

And, since finding the resources needed to recover from disasters is critical, we provide information about where to find federal funding that supports disaster recovery. In all these efforts, EPA works closely with our partners and stakeholders in local communities, states and other federal agencies.

About the author: Rich Weisman has worked at EPA since 2006 and currently serves as Team Leader for the Water Emergency Response Team in the Water Security Division of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. He can be reached at weisman.richard@epa.gov.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    September 24, 2012

    Networking Or System ?

  2. Greg J. permalink
    September 28, 2012

    Interesting article Rich. Thanks for posting. I am interested how the EPA Water Response Program interacts with ESF 3 under a Diaster Declaration?

  3. Rich Weisman permalink
    October 18, 2012

    Hi – thanks for the follow up questions. EPA works closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) as a support agency under Emergency Support Function 3 (ESF-3) of the National Response Framework. For example, when there is an emergency incident that affects water or wastewater utilities, and the Federal government is brought in under the Stafford Act, FEMA might provide a mission assignment to EPA to support emergency response activities. USACE may, in turn, task EPA to support the assignment, performing tasks such as assisting states/tribes in determining the status of water sector infrastructures; conducting inventories of public water supplies and publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) within areas affected by the incident; conducting preliminary operational assessments (e.g., operational status, emergency power status/need, and physical damage, including conducting preliminary field facility assessment surveys); identifying laboratory support for sampling and analysis of drinking water to confirm the suitability of its finished water for human consumption; and coordinating among federal, state, tribal, local and municipal representatives concerning planning and execution efforts. This has happened in the past when the emergency incident overwhelms local and state resources, and the state/tribe requests federal support.

    Regarding the question about networking or system, the WARN program is generally discussed as a network of utilities helping utilities. It has been very helpful in many emergencies over the past several years in supporting the needs of individual utilities to respond and recover, and helping them to quickly get back into service.

  4. Thomas Freed permalink
    December 23, 2012

    Networking is one way of improving the emergency response. It can help you to know where the emergency response is needed. Reading this article will surely help you to know some of the networking information to improve emergency response. Nevertheless, if you have some emergency problems, you can contact the emergency response team Westerville to help you over your problem.

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