Water Security

Community Resiliency Supports Community Sustainability

By Gregory Sayles, Ph.D.

The three pillars of sustainability

Figure 1. The three pillars of sustainability

Whether it’s the residents of lower Manhattan recovering from flooding and power outages in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, entire municipalities evacuated from areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, or California’s farming communities adapting to long-term drought conditions, everyone’s talking about “resiliency”—what it takes to bounce back once a community has been impacted by a natural or human-made disaster.

Reducing environmental risks and restoring environmental services are essential components of resilience.

Last week, nearly five dozen scientists, program managers and community liaisons from across EPA gathered for a two-day workshop to parse through scientific and policy definitions of “resiliency” and examine the critical factors that support community resiliency. The group then brainstormed ways to create indicators and an index that communities might use to evaluate their vulnerabilities to disaster, their capacity to bounce back, and the resources they need to prepare for future disasters.

Our discussions taught us that resilience is built on many community functions and qualities, most of them interdependent.  Brian Pickard, of EPA’s Water Security Division highlighted how community drinking water systems are inter-connected to energy supplies and health delivery systems.  If a tornado, flood or hurricane knocks out electricity, drinking water pumping stations crash and critical care facilities such as hospitals need back-up supplies to continue operating.  Hospitals and emergency rooms must have access to emergency water supplies to manage the casualties and injuries that often result following a disaster.

Strengthening community resiliency means becoming better prepared for the next disaster.

How are resilience and sustainability inextricably related?  Sustainability strives to balance three pillars—economic, social, and environmental—in equilibrium (see figure 1).  Disaster disrupts that equilibrium, and with it the path toward sustainability. Resiliency is building in the capability to restore this balance following a disaster.

According to EPA sustainability researchers Alan Hecht and Joseph Fiksel, “sustainability is the capacity for: human health and well-being, economic vitality and prosperity, and environmental resource abundance” while, “resilience is the capacity to: overcome unexpected problems, adapt to change, and prepare for and survive catastrophes.”

Workshop participants agreed to continue developing a discrete set of indicators that can be used to measure community environmental resiliency and present them at a follow-up workshop in July. Our long-term goal is to deliver a Community Environmental Resilience Index to communities, EPA, and other federal partners. The index will help local and national stakeholders assess and improve resiliency and guide planning for disasters.

EPA’s homeland security research program is excited to be working with partners from across the Agency to help communities understand and shape their own resilience.

About the Author: Gregory Sayles, Ph.D. is the Acting Director of EPA’s Homeland Security research program.


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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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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