by Nushat Thomas
I recently participated in a preparedness exercise at a hospital, involving a hurricane scenario that included surgery, pharmacy, food service, safety, maintenance and environmental health services. The facilitator informed the exercise participants that a storm had interrupted water services. He then turned to each group and asked how they would respond. I was concerned to hear that many groups were planning to continue patient care, meal service and instrument sterilization; and none of their plans included a backup water supply. After some time, I asked if they knew who their water utility provider was and if there was a backup water supply to support their plans – the answer was a resounding no.
My experience in this exercise mirrored many others I’ve had; many stakeholder groups outside of the water utility community are ill-prepared to continue essential services during an interruption in water services. The reality is that there are over 600 water main breaks a day in this country causing water service interruptions, not to mention impacts from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe weather events. In addition, service interruptions can be caused by human error, malfunctioning equipment, and vandalism or other crimes. Being prepared for interruptions in drinking water and wastewater service begins with knowing your local water utility. Do you know who your provider is for both drinking water and wastewater services? If you participate in emergency preparedness training in your community, have you ever considered including drinking water and wastewater service providers so you can learn more about their emergency operations and restoration process? Even if your role in the community or organization does not include exercise participation, this information is valuable and will assist in building your resiliency to water service interruptions.
The Community-Based Water Resiliency initiative assists communities in understanding the importance of including water utilities in emergency preparedness efforts. The Community-Based Water Resiliency (CBWR) electronic tool features a self-assessment for community members to assess their current preparedness and learn more about free tools and resources for improvement. You can help enhance water resiliency in your community by using the tool, which includes access to over 400 free resources on water preparedness. You can also help spread the word about these great, free resources by posting the new CBWR widget on your organization or personal website or blog, as well as by sharing through electronic newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets.
About the author: Nushat Thomas joined EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water in 2009, as an Environmental Protection Specialist in the Water Security Division. She is the project lead for Community-Based Water Resiliency, an initiative to increase awareness of water interdependencies, and enhance water resiliency, at the community level. She is also an Environmental Science Engineering Officer in the DC Army National Guard and worked closely with the water utilities at Fort Bragg to reduce potential impacts of water loss while on active duty.