Preparing for the Worst: Ten Relatively Easy and Inexpensive Things that Most Wastewater Systems Managers Can Still Do to Improve Thier Disaster Preparedness

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Courtesy of Water Environment Federation (WEF)

ABSTRACT
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 served as an emergency preparedness wake-up call for many agencies, including wastewater systems. That event provided some new lessons in utility disaster preparedness, but primarily provided reminders of previously-known lessons. Hurricane Katrina and other events have dramatized the potential impact of natural and man-made disasters on utility infrastructure, including wastewater systems. Although much of the subsequent focus has been on water systems and other infrastructure, wastewater systems have also proven to be very vulnerable, with significant service and environmental consequences when they fail. Although many emergency preparedness improvements have been made in recent years, there are a number of additional opportunities for improvement.

INTRODUCTION
Following 9-11-2001, 100% of the water agencies in the U. S. serving populations of 50,000 or more, and most of the remainder of the approximately 8,000 water systems serving populations of 3,300 or more, have completed their EPA-required Vulnerability Assessments (VA) and Emergency Response Plans (ERP). Most water agencies have begun or completed the implementation of the recommendations of their VAs. Many of these agencies have also applied some of their post-VA improvements to their wastewater systems, as well.

Some wastewater utilities have voluntarily conducted separate VAs on their wastewater systems. There are currently three bills in the US Congress that would mandate VAs for wastewater treatment plants / systems.

Hurricane Katrina and other recent disaster events have provided new and refresher lessons on many disaster preparedness needs for wastewater agencies and others. Those events have dramatized the potential impact of natural and man-made disasters on utility infrastructure. Among the potential direct impacts on wastewater systems are:

  • Damage to treatment plants and pump stations from wind, flooding, down trees, etc.
  • Damage to aerial sewer mains from those causes, as well as erosion
  • Loss of electrical power to treatment plants and pump stations
  • Damage to gravity and force mains by wash-outs and up-rooted trees
  • Accumulated silt and debris washed into manholes and mains
  • Sanitary sewer overflows (SSO) resulting from those conditions and sometimes causing additional damage.

Although systems of different sizes and in different areas of the US and world are subject to different types of disasters, the basics of preparedness and response are the same, whether the vulnerability is hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornados, acts of terrorism or others.

Although many preparedness improvements have been made since 2001, there are many additional opportunities for improvement. This paper will focus on ten relatively easy and inexpensive things that most wastewater system managers can still do to prepare for these disaster events. Although most or all of these preparedness activities also apply to infrastructure other than wastewater systems, this paper will focus primarily on the wastewater systems perspective. These ten opportunities for improvement are:

  • Promote Awareness and Address Employee Concerns in Security Incidents and Disasters
  • Develop Emergency Response Plan Details and Conduct Associated Training
  • Provide for Emergency Electrical Power
  • Protect Critical Assets
  • Foster Inter-agency Relationships
  • Establish Mutual Aid Networks
  • Invest in Reliable Communications Systems
  • Prepare a Crisis Communications Plan for Communicating with the Media and the Public
  • Utilize Initial Damage Assessment Teams
  • Practice, Practice, Practice

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