A Day Without Water

Imagine it is a typical Tuesday morning and your alarm sounds. You slap at the buttons to turn off the blaring buzz, climb out of bed and shuffle to your bathroom to wash your face and brush your teeth.? You are getting ready to start your day as an operator at the nearby drinking water treatment plant. You go turn on your tap, but nothing comes out. You try the shower and, again, nothing. The same goes for the kitchen faucet, the one next to your coffee pot. No shower, no pearly whites, no coffee?this is not going to be a good day. ?
Suddenly your cell rings. An incoming text alerts you to a broken water main in your neighborhood and repair crews estimate water will be off the entire day, possibly for longer. A second text indicates area schools have closed. A third text indicates the town?s hospital is scrambling to maintain operations without water. Your day is going from bad to worse. ?

You grab your keys and drive to the plant. As you arrive, your colleagues are moving quickly to address the crisis but it is a large water main and repairs could take several days. In the meantime, large portions of your community will be entirely without water or placed on ?boil water? advisory. The town?s emergency manager is arranging for a bulk water delivery as other officials are trying to locate bottled water to distribute. A Unified Command has been established to coordinate across impacted jurisdictions.

During an emergency, drinking water and wastewater utilities (referred to collectively as the water sector) often need to coordinate with law enforcement and other critical infrastructure sectors, including healthcare and public health, food and agriculture, transportation systems, and critical manufacturing, to name a few. So, how do all of these different players learn about one another?s roles and responsibilities before disaster strikes? ?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) works in partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to co-host Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection and Crisis Response Workshops.? These free workshops help participants to better understand cross-sector assets, threats and response capabilities as well as to network with other local and state officials.

Each two-day Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection and Crisis Response Workshop draws about 100 participants from federal, state and local governments, drinking water and wastewater utilities, law enforcement, public health, food manufacturing/processing and the agricultural sector. Participants learn about multi-sector, multi-agency water preparedness and response through a series of informational presentations, local case studies and a tabletop exercise (TTX).

Each workshop is tailored to the needs and concerns of the host community in order to help improve local coordination and response capabilities. Workshop topics generally include water sector threats and vulnerabilities, cyber security, community-based water resiliency (CBWR), emergency response capabilities and capacities, and information sharing.? Presenters use both local examples and recent events to highlight potential threats to the water, public health/healthcare, manufacturing, food and agriculture sectors and demonstrate the need for cross-sector collaboration. Case studies provide in-depth analyses of actual events and the resources and explain the coordination needed to resolve them.

According to participants, one of the best parts of the workshop is the TTX exercise. Using a hypothetical disaster scenario, participants work through details of how disaster response to a water service interruption would work in their community. Participants leave with a better understanding of their individual and organizational roles and responsibilities during a water emergency, get a chance to meet potential response partners and start discussion on how to work together to resolve water emergencies quickly. Water utilities can benefit tremendously from the TTX because they can also use the exercise to identify opportunities for cross-sector coordination and collaboration before an emergency. ?

These workshops provide a great opportunity for water utilities to more effectively plan, prepare, and respond to service disruptions. To date, the EPA and its partnering agencies have held nine workshops across the United States. Workshops are already planned for three additional communities in 2013, the next being Feb. 20-21, in Biloxi, Miss.

For more information about attending a Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection and Crisis Response Workshop near you, contact WSD-Outreach@epa.gov. To review other EPA resources that promote all hazard disaster preparedness in the water sector, including community-based water resiliency (CBWR) and emergency response planning, please visit the water security website at water.epa.gov/infrastructure/watersecurity or download the CBWR electronic tool at www.epa.gov/communitywaterresiliency.

Michael Dexter
is an ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) Participant with the U.S. EPA?s Water Security Division within the Office of Water.

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