Preparedness

Climate change, wild weather, and your water

Storms that cause rivers to flood their banks are becoming more frequent.

Storms that cause rivers to flood their banks are becoming more frequent.

By Jennie Saxe

This blog, the first of two Healthy Waters blogs this week, focuses on adaptation to a changing climate.

In recent years, I’ve experienced a lot of wild weather here in the mid-Atlantic: torrential rains have caused flooded basements on my street; hurricane-force winds and derechos have downed our beautiful trees and caused power outages; and epic snowstorms have kept me from getting to work (and gave my kids way more snow days than we had planned for). We have also bemoaned both extreme heat and bitter cold.

A vast body of scientific assessment tells us that as the climate continues to change, we can expect to see trends toward more of this extreme weather and that there are a range of impacts that we should plan for. To protect our water supplies, we need to consider everything from the impact of increases in temperature on water quality and aquatic life to careful groundwater management to changes in how much water is used and what it is used for. And as we plan, we can no longer rely on past conditions as a predictor for what will happen in coming decades.

These weather phenomena can also have other consequences that not everyone thinks about right away, like interruptions in drinking water supplies and overwhelmed wastewater treatment plants. To help minimize these impacts, EPA has been working with states and water and wastewater utilities across the mid-Atlantic to translate the volumes of climate change assessments into practical actions they can take to make sure they’re prepared for weather-related emergencies as well as the impacts of climate change on water resources. States across the country have set up networks of utilities that have volunteered to help each other when disasters arise. EPA also partners with states to provide information to help water utilities and individuals ensure a safe supply of water when weather-related emergencies are threatening. EPA has also engaged with audiences across the region – from college students in Virginia to mayors in Delaware – to discuss the expected effects a changing climate has on our water resources and on our communities.

Although we have made tremendous progress in protecting and restoring our water resources, climate data shows the urgency of staying vigilant in our preparedness for severe weather events even as we are taking steps to adapt to the longer-term changes already underway. Our children and grandchildren are depending on us to make decisions today that ensure safe, reliable water resources now and into the future.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She reminds everyone to assemble or refresh their emergency kits during National Preparedness Month.

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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Being Prepared

By Tom Damm

It wasn’t prophetic, just prudent to do a Healthy Waters blog earlier this year on preparing for water emergencies.  Since then, the Mid-Atlantic region has been pounded by a hurricane and drenching storms that have wreaked havoc in flooded communities across the area.

It’s time to revisit and broaden that topic since September is National Preparedness Month.  We can’t be reminded too often of the need to be ready for natural disasters and other emergencies.

That was clear when our EPA offices in a Philadelphia high-rise started to vibrate in the recent earthquake, and we trudged down flights of steps to evacuate and get over to a staging area.

The Department of Homeland Security encourages all of us to:

As we move on after marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there will be activities across our area to promote emergency preparedness at home, at work and in the community.

Take advantage of these opportunities and check out these websites sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and EPA for more information.  And share with us any practical steps you’ve taken to be prepared.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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Maintaining Healthy Waters in Emergencies

Is your water supply secure in case of an emergency or natural disaster?

By Christina Catanese

The CDC’s recent blog about emergency preparedness for the zombie apocalypse got us thinking about Healthy Waters in emergency situations, undead or otherwise.  How can the safety of water and the health of people be maintained during an emergency, and what preparations can be taken in advance to be ready for any issues you may face before, during and after an event?  Whether you are a citizen trying to protect your own health or a facility operator responsible for protecting the health of many others in your community, the best time to plan to protect your source of water is before an emergency.  And whether the emergency involves zombies, a hurricane, or floods, preparedness for water emergencies is key.

Everyone depends on a safe supply of water to operate their business, a hospital or school.  Water is needed to fight fires and it restores hope in communities hit hard by natural disasters.  But natural disasters or other emergencies can disrupt drinking water supplies and wastewater disposal systems.  Conservation or emergency disinfection orders can be issued to affected water system consumers in the aftermath of an event, if the safety of water supplies cannot be immediately ensured.

The tornado outbreak at the end of April 2011 hit states in the southeast the hardest, but in Region 3, storms in Virginia resulted in damage to a number of water systems in the southwestern part of the state, mainly because of power being knocked out by high winds. In some areas, boil water advisories were issued because the water was not safe to drink.  Water systems and water treatment plants need power to treat and distribute water, so it’s important to restore power as soon as possible, either through emergency generators or priority restoration of service.  This protects health of people (by ensuring that affected populations have access to safe drinking water), pets and water bodies (by making sure that waste gets treated before it is discharged to rivers).

Have your own septic system?  Be aware of actions you need to take to protect you and your family if your system becomes flooded.  Have a private well for your drinking water?  Check out our blog “Is your well well?” for information about how to maintain the quality of your private well or disinfect it if necessary.

There are both planning and recovery efforts in any emergency event.  That’s why EPA has provided resources on suggested pre- and post- disaster event activities to water facilities, like tabletop exercises, staff training, and facility evaluation.  EPA has also provided grants to purchase emergency generators so they have a backup source of power in case of an outage.  To learn more about emergency generators see our regional factsheet.

There’s also the Water/Wastewater Agencies Response Network, a network that lets water utilities in an emergency situation request the help of other utilities, which can provide emergency assistance, from people to equipment.  It can also be used for smaller, non-disaster emergencies, as it was recently during a water main break in Harrisburg, when nearby water companies responded to the PaWARN activation to assist with the repairs. If your utility is not a member, contact your WARN Chair.

Have more questions about water security in the Mid Atlantic RegionFind out who to ask at EPA.

Have you assembled an emergency kit in your house, or taken any other preparatory measures for an emergency?  Do you know of any preparations being done in your community?  Get involved with community based resiliency!

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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It’s Hurricane Season!

About the author: Mary Kemp is currently the Homeland Security Coordinator in the Dallas, TX regional office. Mary started at EPA in 1985 and has worked in the asbestos, Superfund, and air programs.

Recently, Dan Heister mentioned the Incident Command System. The Incident Command System is part of how we respond to emergencies under the National Response Framework (NRF). We are responsible for Emergency Support Function (ESF) #10, Oil and Hazardous Materials Response under the NRF. An example of ESF #10 activities was after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita we collected and properly disposed of thousands of paint cans, propane tanks from gas grills, and other hazardous household items that were tossed around.

View of a hurricane from space
Seeing the destruction that Hurricane Rita left on a community that was located along the Gulf in Cameron Parish was absolutely unbelievable. Every house in this community was swept away! The only thing left of the community was a few pilings, the concrete of the carport bays, and a couple of child’s toys. When I first saw it, I asked the group I was with, “You mean there was really a community here?” We were later told that the debris field from the community ended up about 9 miles north in the Marsh.

The Storm Surge from a major hurricane can be incredible. In Cameron Parish, the only structure left standing was the Courthouse. We were told later that the Storm Surge from Hurricane Rita was up to 20 feet. In fact, we were also told that the entire Parish was under water after Hurricane Rita came ashore. Because of the destruction from Hurricane Rita, we set three hazardous waste collection points within Cameron Parish. All of these activities were under ESF #10.

We have been involved with several major disasters including the World Trade Center, Space Shuttle, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, etc. We have learned the need for better preparedness and the need to utilize other EPA employees that are field trained. We tested this concept called the Response Support Corp during the Space Shuttle Columbia recovery. We have also learned that we need to set a goal of being able to manage more incidences at once. To improve our preparedness, we have goals within the Current Strategic Plan.

In closing, we are moving into the peak of Hurricane Season, typically August and September. If a hurricane is heading your way, please secure paint cans, propane tanks, etc. in a place where they won’t be swept away. We don’t want to find your paint cans or propane tanks in a marsh or along the side of the road.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.