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Water Utility Preparedness

2012 September 13

By Lauren Wisniewski

During National Preparedness Month, many of us hear about the importance of preparing for disasters. Hopefully, this prompts us to make sure we have enough food, water, and supplies to keep our families safe for at least three days.

In my water security work, I’ve learned that drinking water and wastewater utilities also need to prepare for emergencies. Water utilities are vulnerable to a range of threats including hurricanes, aging infrastructure, and other natural and man-made disasters. Since most of us rely on water utilities to provide drinking water and sanitation, water utility preparedness can greatly impact how quickly our communities can recover from an emergency.

Just as there are many things we can do to minimize potential impacts of emergencies on our families, there are numerous steps utilities can take to increase their preparedness. The Key Features of an Active and Effective Protective Program describes 10 basic elements of a protective program that can help drinking water and wastewater utilities enhance their ability to prevent, detect, respond to, mitigate, and recover from adverse events. For example, utilities can prepare and test emergency response plans, develop internal and external communication strategies, and partner with first responders and other utilities.

I’ve had the opportunity to learn about ways utilities have increased their preparedness. One medium-sized Mid-Atlantic drinking water utility assessed critical points of failure and provided redundancy in the system for those points. This utility also signed an agreement with an adjacent county to provide water and emergency assistance for drinking water and wastewater. Another utility, the Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department (RWRD) in Arizona, developed a continuity of operations plan (COOP) in 2009 to prepare for the then-impending threat of a pandemic flu outbreak. The COOP requirements include annual readiness training. Pima County RWRD includes external partners in this annual training, which has strengthened its partnerships with other organizations.

Water utility preparedness can reduce the risks to public health and the economic and psychological consequences of water service interruptions. However, as individuals and families, we must also recognize the possibility that we may be without essential services such as water after an emergency and plan accordingly. Are you prepared?

About the author: Lauren Wisniewski has worked at EPA since 2002 and currently works in the Water Security Division. She has an undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from Duke University and a Masters of Public Health from George Washington University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. kerala permalink
    September 14, 2012

    While reading your blog it seems that you research on this topic very much. I must tell you that your blog is very informative and it helps other also.

  2. Richard Davey permalink
    September 15, 2012

    I am delighted that you are raising the issue of water utility preparedness…….everyone should be concerned about this issue and should begin to prepare.

  3. Robert permalink
    September 27, 2012

    Hi Lauren- Great article. As a MPH you realize the importance of your career as it pertains to employing protocols at the local and national levels to protect against hazards, pandemics, epidemics and such. The protection of our water supply is absolutely vital to our well being I feel we all take water for granite. Based on the key Water security features on the Water section of the EPA, is it safe to assume the majority of water utilities are prepared for such possible hazards?
    http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/watersecurity/features/index.cfm.

    Regards,
    Robert/Owner

  4. Lauren Wisniewski permalink
    September 28, 2012

    Thank you all for the comments. Robert, since water security is a voluntary program, there is no easy way to assess the preparedness of utilities across the country. However, drinking water and wastewater utilities have made a lot of improvements over the past decade to increase their preparedness and enhance their security.

  5. IT Support Melbourne permalink
    March 27, 2013

    Wonderful presentation and delivery. Thanks for the help

  6. John Peterson permalink
    May 6, 2013

    Great, I like your website. This is a cool site and I wanted to post a note to let you know, good job! Thanks

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