Community-Based Water Resiliency

Tools for Building Disaster Resilient Communities

By Eli Walton

As a student in Connecticut, I witnessed first-hand the effects of major disasters like Hurricane Sandy and “Winter Storm Nemo,” the February 2013 blizzard. Downed trees and branches littered streets and green space, record snowfall rendered roadways impassable for residents and emergency services, and hundreds of thousands of people were left without power, sometimes for weeks. Having experienced these impacts, I am grateful to be part of EPA’s efforts to help communities better mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from events like these.

Disaster responders in hazmat suits clean up

EPA Responds to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010.

Disasters—whether a hurricane, oil spill, or contamination event—can strike at any time, at any place, and can have devastating consequences for human health and the environment. They may make existing problems worse, like when the Joplin, Missouri tornado exposed people to toxic waste lingering from Joplin’s mining days. They also may create new environmental hazards, like when mold plagued homes and businesses flooded by Hurricane Sandy. While not all disasters can be prevented, the potential harms and risks they pose can be mitigated with the right tools and actions.

Researchers and scientists in EPA’s Homeland Security Research Program, along with collaborators across the Agency, are constantly developing and refining new tools for decision-makers. These tools, compiled in this inventory, serve a variety of purposes, including cleaning up contamination, managing waste and debris, and modeling watersheds. Individually, these tools address different issues that may arise when preparing for or responding to an event. Altogether, they can help communities become more resilient to disasters.

An American flag hangs above wreckage from a tornado.

Wreckage following a 2013 Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

For example, the Incident Waste Assessment & Tonnage Estimator (I-WASTE) can help with disaster preparedness and planning by identifying appropriate waste disposal technologies and facilities before they are needed. The Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool (CBWR) can help with emergency planning for an event that may affect water resources and can be used by utilities, officials, and concerned citizens alike. When environmental contamination arises, the Aggregated Computational Toxicology Online Resource (ACTOR) can be used to inform decisions based on chemical toxicity and the potential health effects of chemical exposures in the environment.

The tools in this inventory are just a sample of EPA’s resources, and much more work is underway across the Agency and with collaborators to help strengthen both individual and community disaster resilience.

About the Author: Eli Walton is a Student Services Contractor with the National Homeland Security Research Center in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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A Day Without Water

By Laura Flynn

In June, a storm knocked out our power for several days and made me wonder what we’d do if we had lost water.
To help start my path to preparedness, I decide to walk through my typical day…but imagine it without water.
“No water?! I can’t brush my teeth or make coffee!”

As kids awaken, they shout, “I NEED a shower before school!”
I pass out gum, claim messy hair is in, and promise a drive-thru breakfast. Crisis averted, or not…
Drive-thru is closed, no water.
Well, the kids can just grab breakfast at school, or not.
There’s a steady stream of cars heading out of the parking lot – school’s closed.
“YES!!! School will be closed for days!”
“No” I reply “water will be back soon. It always is.”
Driving home, we pass empty malls and see parents putting kids back into cars. Workers are walking home from bus stops.

We try to buy bottled water, but stores are closed.
We then hear the county is distributing bottled water.
Lines are long and I wonder if they’ll have enough.
I panic, but just a little. The water will be back soon. It always is.
I turn on the news at home and hear we could be without water for a week.
Panic is setting in and I realize it’s not even noon in my imaginary day without water.
How can I avoid this nightmare? I need to do something to fix this imaginary day gone bad.

I check FEMA’s Ready.gov website, and decide to stockpile water. I need one gallon, per person, per day for three days, or 18 gallons…plus extra for coffee!
I think broader.

Do community businesses have back-up water supplies, such as storage tanks or bulk water delivery? No? I can direct them to EPA’s Community-Based Water Resiliency page.

I can also urge my water utilities to enter into mutual aid agreements so they can restore services in hours instead of days. I can point them to EPA’s WARN page, urge them to install a contaminant warning system, plan a table-top exercise, or explore other resources found on EPA’s Water Security homepage.

Imaging a day without water can be pretty scary, but it doesn’t have to be…not if I act now and prepare!

About the author: Laura Flynn is a Team Leader in the Water Security Division. After hours she shuffles four teenagers to soccer, basketball, and track. She can be reached at: Flynn.Laura@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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