Entries for the 'Emergency Response' Category


The news out of South Carolina has a lot of communities and utilities asking, "What would we do if something like that happened here?" With extreme weather events like tropical storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes becoming more frequent, the importance of having a strong answer to this question grows nearly every day. 

In part three of our series on improving emergency response plans, we want to help you find that answer. The tips and resources below will walk you through the process of developing an extreme weather response plan and provide specific guidance for some of the most common hazards. 

  1. Understand your vulnerability to extreme weather. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is a great resource here. Their PrepareAthon website has information on when and where extreme events are most likely to take place.  
  2. Identify vulnerable assets. Are key equipment located in the floodplain? Are your circuitry and control panels secured for high winds? 
  3. Identify possible mitigation measures would protect vulnerable assets and priority operations. Putting in place a procedure to top off water in storage tanks prior to a hurricane or bolting down chemical tanks in advance of a flood are just a few examples. 
  4. Determine which mitigation measures should be implemented. Keep in mind costs, effectiveness, and practicality when making this decision. 
  5. Identify actions that will need to be taken immediately before and after an event. For example, sandbagging treatment sheds or turning off water meters at destroyed homes and buildings. 
  6. Write a plan to implement mitigation and rapid-response measures. This should be revised periodically and integrated into your utility's overall asset management process. 
  7. Be prepared to act. Include rapid-response measures in your employee training programs and keep staff and other stakeholders up-to-date on any changes. 

For more planning tips and information on common hazards, check out these resources and visit our Documents database. You can also learn more about drought preparedness in part two of this series. 

1. Climate Ready Water Utility: Adaptation Strategies Guide & Planning for Extreme Weather Events
This webinar presentation highlights the Workshop Planner and the Adaptation Strategies Guide, and how a utility can use them both when developing adaptation plans. It also highlights utility experiences with the tools. 

2. Drinking Water Natural Disaster Preparedness Guide
This 3-page document contains suggestions for public water supplies that the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) recognizes as lessons learned from areas in Louisiana and Mississippi devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

3. Flood Resilience: A Basic Guide for Water and Wastewater Utilities 
With a user-friendly layout, embedded videos, and flood maps to guide you, EPA's Flood Resilience Guide is your one-stop resource to know your flooding threat and identify practical mitigation options to protect your critical assets.

4. Incident Action Checklist – Tornado
Use this comprehensive list from U.S. EPA to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a tornado. 


For those of us outside the arid West, it can be easy to push aside droughts and their impacts as somthing others have to worry about. But a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor quickly reveals that droughts—even long-term ones—are a concern coast-to-coast. In fact, increasing temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns are exposing more and more communities to the risk of droughts and other extreme weather events. 

Incorporating a drought contingency plan into your broader emergency response plan is one of the best ways to ensure your public water system is prepared for water shortages and other drought impacts. And there are a number of resources available to help you do just that.

The templates and guides below can help you design a plan that meets your system and community needs. Whether you use one of these or create your own, keep in mind these seven steps to an effecive drought management plan. These were developed by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation based on the model used by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  

  1. Seek public involvment by forming a committee of stakholders who encourage and suppor a public "buy-in." 
  2. Define goals and objectives, such as targets for reduced consumption, identifying which customers can and should be restricted and which cannot, legal requirements, minimum flow requirements, etc.  
  3. Assess supply and demand – identify all existing and potential water supply sources and balance these against average and peak demand, historic demand trends, use by customer sector, interior vs. exterior use, and projected future demand. 
  4. Define a system-specific drought index, such as ground and/or  surface water storage, stream flows, soil moisture, rainfall deficit, well drawdown levels, and other indicies. 
  5. Identify potential mitigation measures, such as water audits, alternative supplies, leak detection and repair, public education, restrictions/bans on non-essential use, pricing disincentives (surcharges), and, finally, rationing. 
  6. Assess potential impacts of mitigation measures, such as reduced revenues, customer acceptance, rate equity, legal implications, history, and implementation costs. 
  7. Develop and implement the plan using the management strategies, templates, and statistics assembled during the assessment process. 

If you don't see something that fits your system's needs below, search "drought" in our documents database to find more resources. You can also find information on water conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy for small utilities in Sustainable Infrastructure for Small System Public Services: A Planning and Resource Guide. And be sure to read the Part 1 of this three-part series for help building a comprehensive emergency response plan. 

1. Drought Contingency Plan for a Public Water System (Example): ABC Water Company Drought Contingency Plan
This 11-page document provides an example of how to fill out the model drought contingency plan for retail public water suppliers. 

2. Drought Management Toolkit for Public Water Suppliers
This 49-page handbook was developed by the Utah Division of Water Resources to help public water suppliers better prepare for and manage future droughts. This toolkit consists of two main elements: a model drought mitigation plan and a model drought response plan (or contingency plan, which can also be used to address other water shortages). 

3. Drought Contingency Plan summary – Well Levels Known
This 1-page document, when completed, summarizes an operator's plan for a drought. It is broken down into three stages, depending on how severe the drought is. 

4. Drought Contingency Plan: Public Water System
This 36-page template can be used for a drought contingency plan for a tribal public water system. The template covers a broad list of sections and topics with the aim of being applicable for a majority of the water systems. Because tribal water systems vary, it is recommended that the tribe edit and modify the template to best fit their specific situation and context, and only include those sections that are necessary.


Hazard resilience and emergency planning were front-and-center at the U.S. EPA Drinking Water Workshop last month. Stories of drought, bacterial contamination, and power outages highlighted the struggles of effective emergency planning. Fortunately, there is a suite of resources available for utilities—and small water suppliers particularly—to help you prepare for the unknown and plan for the rare events. 

This is the first of a three-part series with guides and tips to help you build a comprehensive emergency response plan. The free templates provided here will help you get started. 

Emergency Response Planning Template for Public Drinking Water Systems

This 20-page document developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership is intended for use by any water system serving a population of 3,300 or fewer and can be modified to fit specific system needs. The template is intended to be used as a starting point based on what is relevant for the type, size, and complexity of the system. 

Rural & Small Water and Wastewater System Emergency Response Plan Template

This 48-page template is designed to be a guide for Emergency Response Planning. Emergency Response planning should be a coordinated and planned process. Proper planning can lessen the impact of an emergency. All staff should be trained as to their responsibility within the plan and how it will be implemented. This template was designed to address various emergency hazards that may occur in rural and small systems. It incorporates emergencies that may be the result of terrorism. Regardless of the type of emergency whether natural or man-made each system has the responsibility to be prepared to protect the public health and to restore services that may be impacted. 

Disaster-Specific Preparedness/Response Plan for Public Drinking Water Systems - XYZ Water System Template

This 25-page template has been developed to help you prepare your Emergency Response Plan. The ERP Guide (see separate document, here) and Template is intended for use by any water system and may be modified to fit the specific needs of each system. The ERP guide follows the outline in the template—section by section 

Emergency Response Plan Template

This 26-page form is an outline of an emergency response plan for water operators to fill out and complete. This document is  in pdf form, but the fillable Word format of this document can be found here

Emergency Response Plan of Action 

This 40-page template is used to create an emergency response plan for a public water system. There are many situations that may cause impairment of water quality or disruption of service. In Maine, the most common is loss of water pressure or contamination of the water supply, source, or lines. Some common examples include main breaks, power outage, treatment failure, numerous types of contamination, extreme weather and or structural damage, floods, and equipment failure. This template goes over each topic to create the most efficient ERP. 

If you don't see something that fits your system's needs, search "emergency response plan templates" in our documents database to find more resources.     


The struggle to provide safe drinking water in the face of the Gold King Mine spill is reminding many utilities and operators of the importance of knowing what to do if water service is disrupted. But creating a strong emergency plan is often easier said than done—and the middle of an emergency is the worst time to discover you’ve forgotten something.

Hosting a water emergency roundtable discussion is a great way to boost plans for service disruptions and help others in your community do the same. These events also provide a unique opportunity to connect water security with broader preparedness and community resiliency efforts underway in your region.

Here’s a quick glance at what you can do to host a successful discussion:

  1. Consult with partners within your water community to identify the groups that need to be at the table. Some groups to consider include hospitals, schools, farm operations, industrial parks, municipal pools, and first responders.
  2. Set a date and secure a meeting place that meets your meeting needs.
  3. Work with partners or co-hosts to ensure that the room has the equipment needed, such as a laptop, PowerPoint projector, and pens and pads for meeting participants.
  4. Have your water utility manager or superintendent call the groups to invite them to the event. A personal call typically results in a more positive response and can be followed by a formal invite and RSVP request.
  5. Call confirmed participants to outline what types of information participants will need to bring with them, how the discussion will be facilitated, and how sensitive information will be treated.
  6. Confirm with partners or co-hosts who will be responsible for facilitating the discussion, compiling participant data, putting together registration packets, welcoming participants, presenting, taking notes, and writing a meeting summary.
  7. Arrive at least on hour before the event is scheduled to set up materials and manage last minute details.
  8. Use meeting notes and discussed action items to develop a short report for participants.
  9. Write and distribute an internal and external report on progress towards action items approximately six months after the event.
  10. Determine the need for a follow-up meeting.

For more tips and sample invitation scripts, read the Water Emergency Roundtable—Outline for Discussion developed by the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators and EPA Region 5. 


As smart phones and tablets become more and more common, many organizations and individuals have found that they can be useful, portable resources in an emergency. One resource available to utilities as they plan for and react to emergency situations is the EPA’s mobile Water Utility Response site.

Water Utility Response On-The-Go is a site specifically formatted to be comfortably viewed on smart phones and other mobile devices. The homepage displays a menu of links for tracking severe weather, contacting response partners, responding to incidents, taking notes and recording damage, informing incident command, and accessing additional planning info. The weather tracking and response partners links use location data to help you access forecasts and contacts specific to your area. The Respond to Incidents section includes action checklists for drought, earthquake, extreme cold and winter storms, extreme heat, flooding, hurricanes, tornado, tsunami, volcano, and wildfire. The option labeled Take Notes and Record Damage leads to a section that includes a generic damage assessment form, while Inform Incident Command includes ICS forms 213 and 214 (the General Message and Activity Log, respectively), as well as additional information on Incident Command. The section on additional planning info includes links to EPA webpages on emergencies/incidents, planning, response, and recovery, as well as to WARN and mutual aid info.

Some of the external links from the site are not formatted for mobile viewing, and the .pdf forms may require an Adobe Reader app if you wish to fill them out on your mobile device. However, the site overall is well organized and easy to navigate, and can be a great tool for utilities dealing with weather emergencies and natural disasters. For a visual overview of how the site works, see the EPA’s video, below.

Interested in attending training or finding more information on emergency planning? Search our calendar and document database using the category “Water Security/Emergency Response.”



A recent news article highlights eight tribes that are ahead of the curve when it comes to climate change adaptation. For a lot of small or rural systems, we often hear that climate change is a "not now" problem, especially when there are so many "right now" challenges. 

Planning for climate change can simply start with building resiliency, an attribute that not only supports future issues but current challenges as well. Resiliency is simply the ability to promptly respond to unexpected changes and readily cope with the impacts. 

Through a
user-friendly tool and a pilot program, US EPA's Community-Based Water Resiliency initiative seeks to help water systems integrate and coordinate their efforts with community emergency preparedness and response programs. 

This video serves as a useful aid for outreach to community leaders and local government regarding use of the CBWR tool as part of new and existing efforts. A resilient water system will better be able to cope with any issues that may impact service and public health protection. 


The USEPA has released a new video that showcases WARNs in action. A WARN is a Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network, or a network of utilities helping utilities, that helps facilitate emergency aid and assistance in the form of personnel, equipment, and other associated services. This video presents the types of events in which WARNs can be utilized and discusses in detail one specific WARN response. The video emphasizes that, despite the type of emergency event, WARN coordination with response partners is crucial to a successful response.


In a past blog entry, we’ve talked about the importance of mutual aid agreements and state WARNs in utility emergency response. Here, we highlight two state WARN programs that have assisted small systems in a jam.

MoWARN: Helping Rural Utilities in Missouri

In Missouri, MoWARN is closely affiliated with Missouri Rural Water, which helps operate and maintain the network. Their members currently range in size from a utility with 200 connections to one with 4,500 connections, but they welcome members of any size. Big regional events like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy are frequently cited as examples of WARN helpfulness, but smaller utilities can face other challenges as well. MoWARN chair Randy Norden speaks of helping with drought-related problems, tornadoes, floods, and even a mistake that led to a loss of power at one utility. Missouri Rural Water’s strong commitment to emergency response has meant that they already have a lot of resources in place to help WARN member utilities with requests as they come in.

As with all WARNs, signing up with MoWARN is free, though it does require a membership application and a signed mutual aid agreement. This doesn’t mean you’re signing over your resources to someone else; you still get to decide when to volunteer resources, and you can even recall volunteered resources if you need to. On the other hand, the benefits are many, including quick access to tools, generators, and other help, and the satisfaction of helping other systems get back on their feet. In addition, if you do have to deal with a large-scale disaster, being part of a recognized mutual aid program makes it easier to get reimbursed by SEMA and FEMA. Missouri utilities interested in joining MoWARN should visit the website, or contact Randy Norden if they have questions. As a recent MoWARN email points out, “Membership costs you nothing; benefits are priceless.”

SDWARN: Commended for Their Help

Last summer, a rural county water system in South Dakota experienced a severe main break resulting in a water outage. The South Dakota DENR and SDARWS, the state rural water association, enacted a WARN emergency. Volunteers from SDWARN member Fort Pierre responded, along with two SDARWS circuit riders. Working together, these four volunteers helped to locate and repair the leak and restore service. They also helped haul water from a hydrant twenty miles away to refill the water tower.

In recognition of the hard work put in by these WARN volunteers, SDWARN and the two volunteers received commendations from the DENR secretary and the governor of South Dakota. In his letter to the Fort Pierre utility, DENR secretary Steven Pirner wrote, “It was great to see the resources provided through the South Dakota Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (SDWARN) work as intended. As the SDWARN facilitator [at Ft. Pierre], you and your drinking water team are demonstrating how ‘utilities helping utilities’ in South Dakota truly make a difference.” To learn more about the water leak response from the SDARWS perspective, you can read the pdf found here.

South Dakota utilities wanting to know more about SDWARN can visit the website, where they’ll find a regional directory of members, contact information, and a copy of the mutual aid agreement.

Want to know if there’s a WARN in your state? Check the national WARN regional directory.


Hurricane Sandy is giving the public and our industry a reminder that water and wastewater utilities are essential but vulnerable. With reports of sewage treatment plant failure and overflow (Maryland, Connecticut) as well as preventive and reactionary boil water orders (New Jersey), it's an appropriate time to highlight best practices for emergency situations. 

The best source of information - for both utilities and the public - is the
CDC Water-related Emergencies portal. The information is more comprehensive and consolidated than what is found elsewhere. However, the Post-Hurricane Checklist from EPA is the perfect place to start for a utility impacted by an hurricane. It includes a thorough look at all vulnerable points of the system.  

Information for the Public
Communicating with the public may be one of the biggest challenges during an emergency. When internet, phone, and electricity are down - sometimes cellular networks are still up. Twitter is increasingly being used as an
emergency notification tool.

It makes sense to include in your emergency response plan a list of resources you would share with the public. The US EPA has a
guide to emergency disinfection of drinking water. This information is available in many forms (some others below), but you can take some time now to identify which are most helpful. 

Thinking Ahead
If an emergency situation caught you off guard, it may be time to create or update your emergency response plan. Joining a mutual aid network could be part of that effort. Here are a few resources to that end:

 Because those who are impacted by this current disaster may lack access to internet, we hope this guide can also help on-the-ground responders better serve their communities. 


The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Recently reached out to the community for assistance in developing a geographic response plan.

A geographic response plan is a planning document that provides crucial information guiding first responders in quickly and safely assessing and addressing oil or chemical spills that may threaten water sources. The Washington State Department of Ecology has a slideshow available the covers some of the basic information about what these plans are and how they should be developed.
In the case of this particular council, they were seeking information about access points and the availability of access to the river should a spill occur. By receiving permission for and documenting the access points, first responders and cleanup crews will be able to address spills more immediately and limit the area of damage. As the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection explains, “As a response tool the GRP allows quick decisions to be made by providing detailed geographic information on shoreline types, sensitive natural and cultural resources. This information, together with estimates of response equipment requirements, staging locations and pre-identified deployment strategies for protecting sensitive environmental areas, provides a basis for local responder to develop a more effective and coordinated initial response.”
Tribal water operators may find it useful to review local GRPs to understand how a spill and the resultant response plan may affect their operations, and to ensure that they are included in the list of people to be contacted should a spill occur.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s website provides detailed information about how their GRP was developed. While the challenges and constraints for communities in Alaska are unique, the site offers extensive details and examples that may be helpful in guiding tribal communities and rural areas in developing a plan of their own. 
I was at an asset management workshop recently that included a number of state regulators. The theme was asset management and certification, but O & M and the tie-in to understanding your assets kept coming up.

O & M Is Tied To Asset Management
I realize the title of this blog post is about SCADA systems, and many small communities don't even have them, but whether you use SCADA or not, the principles behind good O & M are important for all systems. It's all about understanding your system, the equipment, infrastructure, and treatment, as well as the process of running the plant (O & M). I know everyone hears about the importance of testing generators monthly and servicing pumps when recommended, but many times these things are low priority. Weeks turn into months and months turn into years. I was at a plant this summer that was using a federal grant to get a new generator for their water plant. I had just been in the wastewater plant for this same community this last fall where there was a perfectly good generator that would serve the purpose. I brought this up to the consultant managing the grant, but he said it wouldn't work. Unfortunately, the community had no warranty on the generator because they didn't follow the maintenance schedule. It had sat in a garage for number of years and not been ran. As a taxpayer, that's frustrating, but as a small systems advocate, it gives us all a black eye.    

So On To Best Practices
At the workshop, someone from Michigan mentioned that one of their larger communities was planning to shut down their SCADA system for a week. This wasn't being done to allow upgrades or changes to the system, this was being done because the Water Supt. wanted to make sure his staff knew how to run the plant. This system is being proactive, both from an emergency standpoint, and also from an operations standpoint. We all rely on technology and automatic this or that for so many things these days, but to really "know" your plant, to be able to troubleshoot and tell when something isn't quite running right, you really have to have a comprehensive understanding of how your system works. 
I Know, You Already Know Your Plant That Well
You are thinking, I already have that level of understanding of my plant, I know when something doesn't sound right, look right, or even feel right. Thats great, but what about the next level of support? What happens when you are not there? Do you ever take vacation or have to be out of town for a day or two? Is the person left in charge of your plant as familiar with your system as you are?  Do they know your plant well enough to troubleshoot when a problem pops up? They need to have that level of understanding, or have something they can turn to that has those details.
That brings us back to one of those O & M things that are a pain, take time, and because you know the plant so well, keep putting off or don't see a need for. You should have an O & M manual for your plant. No one else can write it, and its only as useful as the information you put into it. It comes down to being prepared and taking full responsibility for the operation of the plant. That also means being prepared in case you can't be there for some reason.    

Getting Started 
First of all, develop an emergency response plan. There are templates available from a number of sources. You can contact a TA provider you work with, they will be able to get you started. If you want to look at some of the better ones, type in "emergency response plan" in our document keyword search, and use "type = templates". But, for those of you that already have an ERP, take the next step, develop an O & M plan for your plant. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Florida require O & M plans, I'm sure there are others. New Jersey has an O & M template that operators can use to help them develop their O & M plan, as do Florida, Louisiana, and Vermont. Georgia has a guidance manual as well. It was also brought up at the workshop that Colorado is developing an O & M and training manual geeared toward walking you through developing an O & M plan for your facility. It sounds like it will be a great resource. Once the Colorado document is available, we'll post an update and provide those details. Lastly, if you need some help, email or call us. We can either help you directly or find someone in your area who can help you get started.

Clean drinking water and functional wastewater systems are important resources that contribute significantly to getting a community back on its feet after a disaster. Though this has always been true, it was not until after Hurricane Katrina highlighted the absolute necessity of these services that utilities and governments began to realize just how essential this work can be.

Since this is a new mindset that can be unfamiliar for many utilities, a number of resources have been developed to help water and wastewater facilities plan and prepare for emergency response. One resource is tabletop exercises: group exercises where utilities work out on paper how they would respond to a possible disaster scenario. The utilities give their emergency response plan a dry run, providing them a chance to strengthen the plan and think through their options before being faced with a real-world disaster.

See a Tabletop Exercise in Action
Late last summer, the Texas Section of the AWWA and Texas WARN sponsored a state-wide tabletop exercise that included not just TxWARN and their member utilities, but also a number of state agencies that would be involved in emergency response. TAWWA and TxWARN videotaped this exercise, which is now available in four installments online on vimeo. All four videos are currently linked on the TxWARN homepage, or you can view them directly here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. This was an all-day exercise, so there is a total of several hours’ worth of training here. Non-Texas utilities may find the first three parts most useful, as the fourth part is mostly discussion of action steps specific to Texas agencies and utilities.

Get Insights on Every Level of Emergency Response Planning
In TxWARN/TAWWA’s exercise, the participants discussed a fictional event in which “Hurricane Gary” makes landfall in Corpus Christi and then proceeds to cause flooding and power outages elsewhere in the state. Facilitators from Horsley Witten presented the event an episode at a time, giving the utilities and agencies the opportunity to prepare for or react to each stage of the storm. Though the scenario and some of the details of the response are specific to Texas, these videos provide an excellent introduction to many of the questions any utility would need to ask as they consider their own emergency response plans.

In addition to responses specific to the scenarios (some of which can be very informative), the participants also touched on topics such as local officials that need to be included in the emergency response planning process, important information to include in assistance requests, and ways to prepare when providing aid to neighbor utilities in trouble. In addition to these and other topics, viewers will also get a sneak peek at how state-level emergency response works, which can give them a glimpse of how they might fit into a similar large-scale response in their own state. This perspective could be particularly helpful to WARN administrators from other states, giving them a detailed look at what is working and what needs work in Texas.

Find Out About Helpful Resources
In addition to the information provided by the exercise itself, the video references a number of outside resources that can help utilities in their planning, such as the AWWA/EPA Water and Wastewater Mutual Aid and Assistance Resource Typing Manual (opens a 72 page .pdf), which can aid in communication between utilities and emergency response organizations, and the All-Hazard Consequence Management Planning for the Water Sector (72-page .pdf) document, which can help water utilities expand and improve their existing preparedness, response, and recovery plans and protocols.

Attend an Upcoming Tabletop Exercise
USEPA is sponsoring similar exercises in several states this summer and fall, including Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. It is not necessary to be a member of a state WARN program to register for these free events. 

Do It Yourself
Have you watched the TxWARN tabletop exercise and think you’d like to run a similar training for your own utility? The video also mentions the EPA’s Tabletop Exercise Tool, which includes a number of canned scenarios which could be altered to help most small utilities conduct tabletop exercises of their own. 

This is the 3rd post covering the communication toolbox, a new tool available from CDC on how to prepare, deal with, and learn from situations where you need to (precautionary) or have to (mandatory) communicate with your customers to advise them of a drinking water situation in your community.  The 1st blog post provided an overview of the toolbox, the 2nd blog post discussed the introduction section of the toolbox, which explained some of the basics about when and why you should communicate with the public. Today, we'll provide you with some suggestions they provide for small systems.
For Small Systems Using the Toolbox
The toolbox was written for water systems, both large and small.  But, it was developed with both in mind.  We've already mentioned that we think the toolbox is one of the most complete tools available to help you with communicating with the public during an emergency, and on page 13, they offer some suggestions for small systems, recognizing that sometimes small systems may not have the capacity to implement all of the suggestions listed in the toolbox.  Basically, these are the things every small system should do to be prepared, regardless of the emergency.
1. Identify and prioritize specific tools or sections in the toolbox to use.  The toolbox is worth going through, cover to cover, to really understand what it means to communicate with your customers and to be prepared in an emergency.  In doing so, you will find many great ideas that will help you prepare, act, and recover from an emergency situation.  Pick and choose what you think will work for your specific situation and within the capacity of your system and community.
2. Incorporate water advisory protocol planning into regular activities, such as sanitary surveys and updating emergency response plans.  I'm sure some of you think this is "beyond" what you can do, and may not even have an emergency response plan in place for your system.  That is a great place to start and there are some great templates available from RCAP and Rural Water that walk you through development of a plan.  Do that first, and you will understand why its important to be prepared and think ahead, rather than react to an emergency. (call or email us, we can help, as can your local TA providers.  See the links to the templates below).
3. Build water advisory protocols into regular communication, such as customer updates.  Again, some of you may look at this and say, I never send stuff to my customers.  Why not?  When operators tell me their customers want "free" water, and don't value what they do, I tell them to start marketing to their customers, help them understand what a service you provide, how important safe water is to your community. Operators can't just do the technical stuff anymore, they have to engage their communities to understand the need and importance of safe water.  Along with that is the importance of dealing with emergency situations.
4. Partner with local public health and neighboring water systems. Planning for an emergency means working with others outside your community.  When a real disaster happens, you need to know what to do, who you can call, who you can rely on for help.  You need to ask yourself, what does your community deserve? Doing it all on your own usually ends up hurting your community when a disaster occurs. It's the responsible thing to do, and best for your system and customers.  This would also be a good time to mention your state's WARN program.  Look into it, consider how it might benefit your community.
Getting Started
Remember these suggestions as you go through the toolbox.  Find the pieces that you think will work for you.  It states that many of the actions you can consider taking, as described in the toolbox, shouldn't require outside support from consultants or others.  It also says building a network of partners and organizations to work with in an emergency is the key to success.  We agree.
Should you have any questions, let us know. We will gladly help you navigate through the material and find resources that you can use with your customers for both emergency response and just for marketing the value of your water system.
Below are links to some of the resources mentioned above:
Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP)
National Rural Water Association (NRWA)
Water & Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARN)
(click on the "WARN Regions" tab to find your state WARN program)


How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Monday.


A little over a month ago, we let you know about a new tool available from CDC on how to prepare, deal with, and learn from situations where you need to (precautionary) or have to (mandatory) communicate with your customers to advise them of a drinking water situation in your community.  In that blog post, we said we would provide more information about how this tool can help you. Today, we are going to cover some of the basics about when and why you should communicate with the public.
Why Send Out Advisories
You all know when its required, legally, to send out an advisory, most commonly a boil order, but there are a range of things that could result in an advisory, and more importantly, would be good business practice to do so.  The thing you need to take away from this blog post is that you can use advisories for your benefit, to educate your customers and to engage them to take ownership of their water system.
Advisories are many times required, necessary, and bad news; they can also help you by helping your customers understand what is going on with your water system. The toolbox says there are 4 reasons to issue an advisory:
  • to provide information,
  • to encourage preparedness,
  • to recommend action, and 
  • to meet public notification requirements. 
Using Advisories For Your Benefit
Do you send out advisories to provide information?  These are the advisories that don't require any customer action, but let them know that something is going on.  The example the toolbox mentions (on page 10) is to let customers know about seasonal changes in taste.  How many of you let customers know when you are flushing lines, or dosing chlorine, or when a large storm affects your influent water quality and taste or color?  Or even when you are going to be working on a water main that might shut down a road in town?  Or when you are drilling a new well? Some of you may not see the need to let your community know about all of these things, they would rather deal with the few phone calls they get.  What you are missing is an opportunity to teach your community more about what you do. 
Changing Public Opinion
Most of us would agree that in small towns, people tend to take their water for granted.  Many pay very little for clean, safe water, but the public tends to view their water as a right, not a privilege.  You, as the operator, understand this is not the case.  You, as the operator, are also in the best position to change that public perception.  Advisories are one way to do that.  When you are drilling a new well, send out an advisory letting the community know they will be getting a new resource that will benefit them.  Include the cost, why its necessary, what it will mean to the town.  When chlorine is going to be an issue, send out an advisory.  Let them know why its necessary, how it protects them from bacterial contamination, and offer them additional resources to learn more about it.
Be Proactive
It can't be stressed enough that the operator is the front line person for educating the public about their water system and why water costs what it does.  The public needs to understand that though water itself is free, delivering clean, safe water to every home, park and building has a cost both in delivery and to maintain. You are the person who should be explaining those costs, every chance you get.
If You Need Help
If this is all new to you and you need help, let us know.  We would be glad to find free materials for you to use with customers.  We can also contact your local/regional technical assistance providers to get their suggestions and support of your efforts.  If you really want to get serious about keeping your community in the loop, you could even start a Facebook page and post information regularly on different aspects of your system.  We can help you set that up too (for free).

By Sandra Fallon, Training Specialist, National Environmental Services Center

If a natural disaster or other incident strikes your town, local water and wastewater utilities must rely on their own resources immediately following the crisis. It can take 72 hours or longer for assistance to arrive from the state or federal government after a state of emergency is declared. Because first responders, local businesses, community and health services, and the public continue to rely on water services during and after an emergency, and because water service disruptions can make recovery efforts even more difficult, it’s prudent to plan ahead so that assistance is in place for rapid, effective response and recovery.

Public and private water and wastewater utilities, both large and small, can now participate in the Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN), a utilities-helping-utilities program that uses mutual aid and assistance agreements, which are established and signed prior to an emergency, to help affected utilities quickly obtain resources such as personnel, equipment, materials, and related services from utility signatories to the WARN agreement. In an emergency, WARN support kicks in when local resources are overwhelmed or unable to provide what's needed. WARN can be activated by any impacted signatory utility in response to an emergency, and aid can arrive quickly, saving critical response time. "Simply put, WARN helps ensure continuity of operations" says Kevin Morley, manager of the Security and Preparedness Program with the American Water Works Association (AWWA). "If a system is impaired or impacted, WARN provides an option to recover as fast as possible."

Now is the time to encourage your local water and wastewater systems to join WARN, before disaster strikes.  WARN programs are underway in almost all 50 states, and those without a WARN are working on it.  You can find your state WARN contact information on the National Warn Web site at www.NationalWARN.org.

Partnerships, Planning, and Mutual Aid
The network is formed through partnerships among public and private water and wastewater utilities and key representatives from professional associations, state water and wastewater regulatory and emergency management agencies, and the regional Environmental Protection Agency. This collaboration helps facilitate pre-disaster planning and training, and encourages sharing information and lessons learned from other disasters. Ongoing communication among WARN leaders and members is essential to keep the network up-to-date and ready to handle an emergency.

The heart of WARN is the mutual aid and assistance agreement, which addresses members' responsibilities, procedures and protocols for providing aid, legal and liability concerns, and issues related to crossing jurisdictional boundaries to provide emergency aid. These agreements are designed to meet National Incident Management System (NIMS) and federal requirements for homeland security grants, and such agreements must be in place prior to an incident for federal disaster assistance reimbursement. According to Morley, all communities are required to become NIMS compliant (http://www.fema.gov/national-incident-management-system), and becoming a WARN signatory helps a community achieve this goal.

WARN members in each state use the same pre-established mutual aid and assistance agreement developed by that state's initial WARN leadership team. This agreement takes into account state laws and regulations, establishes a cost recovery process for utilities, and addresses expectations for reimbursement. The agreement also addresses how workers’ compensation, insurance, or damaged equipment on loan will be handled. The WARN agreements address hazards ranging from small incidents like power outages and major line breaks to large, catastrophic disasters, and facilitate assistance from across state lines if necessary.

Benefits of Joining WARN
WARN offers a practical and affordable approach with multiple benefits for the utility and community. "WARN functions like a no-cost insurance policy," says Morley. There is no cost to join the network, and in an emergency each utility decides whether it can respond on a case-by-case basis; there is no obligation. The utility may incur some planning and coordination costs such as staff time to attend meetings, conducting legal reviews, or communication efforts. Overall, the costs are small and well worth the benefits.

AWWA conducted a survey to determine the economic benefits of WARN and found that WARN participation improves a utility's ability to respond to emergencies and reduces their costs to respond. Cost savings include reduced costs to purchase and maintain back-up power capabilities, such as portable generators, and to borrow rather than purchase and store other emergency supplies and equipment. Utilities also indicate reduced loss of water and wastewater revenues due to expedited recovery of services. WARN membership can be a positive factor in risk assessments for insurance purposes, resulting in reduced insurance costs.

Encourage Local Utilities to Join WARN
No community or utility is immune to disaster, and past experience suggests that outside help can be a long time coming. WARN helps the water and wastewater sector become more self-reliant and offers rapid, specialized assistance for emergency response and recovery. Securing this help requires a utility to join its WARN program before disaster occurs. Trying to figure out who can help when your treatment plant is flooded is not good business. According to AWWA's Morley, "WARN participation should be a key part of every utility's business continuity and risk management plans. The costs are small and the benefits to the utility and the community it serves are large." By making sure that your local utilities join your state WARN, you'll be taking a positive step to protect your community, its water services, and the water utility's ability to return to normal operations as soon as possible.

This article is part of the Water We Drink series, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC).

In June, we announced the kick-off of our internship pilot program. Over the next several months, we'll be documenting the progress, challenges and lessons learned in this experience.
Two Communities So Far
We have found two communities, so far, that we will be working with this summer. They will be utilizing our intern to assist them in developing tools and information that they can use to help run their systems more effectively. Each community is in a different place, and has unique issues they want help with. 
Our idea, when we started this program, was to find a few communities interested in developing ERP's, asset management plans, and long range plans, and have our intern, who is a Class C water and Class D wastewater operator in Illinois, provide some of the man power necessary to develop the inventories, look up information, etc. 
Every System Is Unique
Boy is this an understatement. Neither community fit the model we envisioned for this project. Community A, for lack a better name, is actually in really good shape. Their operator and village president are on the same page, they have an idea of where they want to go, they have an ERP (with help from ILRWA), and they have a little money in the bank. It's a community of only 800 people, and they are doing a great job managing their system. They actually contacted us, after seeing the article in our newsletter, and asked for specific help with asset management.
The best way to describe the situation in Community A is they are doing well and are being proactive and moving further forward. They are in a classic situation where succession planning needs to be a part of the picture - with the village president and operator on the verge of retiring in 5 years or less. They have the CUPSS software from USEPA and were a little intimidated with trying to work with it, so Nate's main job for them is going to be to get CUPSS set up for them. We are also using the new "AM Kan Work" manual from NMEFC, and plan to have Nate develop both sets of tools for each of the communities that ask for our help.
Community #2
This community was suggested to us by Illinois RCAP, and we are grateful for their help and support.  Community #2 is a community that is starting from scratch. We haven't talked to them yet, our first meeting is tomorrow, but the information we do have suggests that it is a community that has had significant problems in the past, and are now stepping up with new managment and village officers to try and get a handle on their water and wastewater systems. They first need an evaluation of where their systems stand, so Nate will be conducting a Vulnerability Assessment for them. Based on those results we will move forward. Illinois RCAP is also assisting this community, and will be advising Nate as we work with the community. 
Working Out Better Than We Had Hoped
The goal of the program is to expose Nate to a variety of community situations that will better prepare him for managing his own system, while providing a measureable benefit to each of the communities that participates. We are already seeing that Nate's exposure to even these two communities, is going to go along way in preparing him for his first head operator position. And for the communities, we are developing plans with Nate that will really help them move forward and meet their needs.
Note #1: We are still looking for 1-2 communities of under 1000 people within an hour of St Louis, that would be interested in participating in this program.
How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

When an EF-5 tornado ravaged Joplin, MO on May 22, our community of water and environmental professionals was quick to respond. Rural Water circuit riders were among those who aided recovery efforts, along with officials from Missouri DNR and US EPA. In just 6 days, the boil water order was lifted for the American Water-served town of 49,000.

Missouri American spokeswoman Ann Dettmer credits their emergency response plan and strong relationships with local providers in aiding the water system's quick recovery. Though the treatment plant was relatively unharmed by the tornado (and stayed online), there was widespread power loss and damage to water mains and service equipment. Staff from Missouri Rural Water provided manpower in the first three days to make repairs and assist where needed, including helping to restore pressure to the system. 

Further Reading

Photo Credit: National Rural Water Association / Missouri Rural Water Association

Problems With Public Notification
Recently, I attended the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems (WARWS) Spring Conference and I heard a talk that was really interesting and new to me.  Every system has public notification requirements and the requirements for reporting to your customers can sometimes seem a little outdated in todays technology filled world.  In Wyoming, there are areas where there is no local television station, so there is no one to provide a report to.  In those areas, many people have satellite television with no local news or info.  Also, sending press releases to newspapers can be ineffective, especially today when fewer and fewer homes take the paper anymore.  In a time crucial emergency, such as a boil order, operators are left with putting out hang tags or contacting every customer individually.  This can be expensive, time consuming, and worst of all, hang tags can be ineffective, should they be thrown away without being read or blow off in the wind.
Where Things Are Headed
This was all brought up during a talk by a company that sells public notification services, Swiftreach Networks.  Never heard of these services? Neither had I, or at least I didn’t realize what it was.  What these services do is provide you with a way to contact every customer electronically through cell phone, home phone, email, SMS text, and even twitter and facebook.  These systems are very robust and surprisingly affordable, but what they really offer is a way to be sure that your customers receive your message.  The way they explained it, the system allows you, the operator, to set up a message tailored to your needs, and when you use the system, it sends that message out to every one of your customers.  The system keeps track of who answers, who listens to the whole message, and provides detailed reporting of the status of whether each customer was reached.  It can even require that the customer press “1” to acknowledge that they received the message.  Regardless of availability of other media, having a record of who was contacted is a great feature for your peace of mind.
Why They Are Better
The really special thing about these sorts of applications is that they can be shared by all of your community personnel and emergency responders.  The examples they gave were many, from informing a community to stop drinking their water because of a train derailment and spill, to reminding your community to set out your recycling, to having elderly folks in home environments press 1 to confirm that they are ok each night.  Here at the University of Illinois, they have implemented a similar system for staff and students. It came about because of some of the campus shootings that have occurred across the country, but it is also used to provide timely non-emergency information to the campus community.  It can be used to inform about road closings, upcoming meetings, just about anything you can think of that would be relevant to your customers and community. 
Roxbury Example
Swiftreach Networks gave me a great example of how their system was used to support a community water supply.  Roxbury Water Company had an isolated E. Coli outbreak that only affected a small number of homes, but the news media picked up the story and incorrectly identified the outbreak as system wide.  It caused an immediate scare in the community and the city personnel were faced with how to deal with notifying all of their customers with the correct information.  In addition, they started getting calls from scared customers that were flooding their system.  Using their Swift911 system, the community was able to send out telephone notifications correctly describing the situation right away, which allowed them to reach everyone quickly and also saved their staff tons of time on the phone with concerned customers.  What’s unique about these systems is that your customers can provide multiple phone numbers, numbers for text messaging, and email addresses, so that they are more likely to receive your message.
Our Disclaimer
Swiftreach Networks is one of several companies that provide these types of services.  We at SmallWaterSupply.org don’t endorse any individual company, and we recommend you do your own research to find out which system might best serve your needs.  That said, we greatly appreciate the time Swiftreach Networks gave us to learn more about how these systems work and their track record with small systems is impressive.  Whether you contact them or another company, these services are remarkable and its worth your time to find out how a system like this might benefit your community.

From tornadoes to floods, recent natural disasters have likely raised your attention. You might be wondering, "are we prepared?" should an emergency situation impact your community.

CDC's Water-related Emergencies and Outbreaks portal offers a comprehensive set of tools and resources for not only responding to a crisis, but also preparing for the worst. The Before An Event Preparedness Toolkit includes specific checklists for drinking water and septic systems. CDC also links to an EPA  list of preparedness activities for water and wastewater systems.

While your system should have a comprehensive emergency response plan in place, you can use these lists to generally assess your preparedness and determine whether a more rigorous exercise in emergency planning is necessary. If you need to revise your emergency response plan or still need to develop one, the Rural & Small Water and Wastewater System Emergency Response Plan Template from the National Rural Water Association is an excellent place to start.

Are you prepared for a natural disaster?