WATER/WASTEWATER SYSTEMS STATUS REPORTING DURING DISASTERS

[Editor’s Note:  Our colleagues at EPA’s Water Security Division have asked us to share the following.]

BACKGROUND:  In past disasters, one of the challenges faced by federal agencies has been maintaining situational awareness of the state of water infrastructure in the impacted area, and relaying this information to decision makers. Overcoming this challenge will help federal agencies involved in emergency response to quickly direct resources where they are most needed.

EPA PLAN:  EPA would like to continue or, in some cases, initiate a dialogue with States (via the state primacy agencies/permitting authorities or other state agencies involved in emergency response) on the best way of sharing drinking water and wastewater operating status information during major disasters.  For the purposes of discussion, a major disaster is considered an incident where federal assistance is being considered or provided, or where a significant portion of the water sector in a state has been impacted.  Examples of facility operating status are boil water and do not use notices (for drinking water systems) and treatment bypass (for wastewater systems).  The hope is that such an information request can be fulfilled without creating any additional work for states – in most (if not all) cases, the state will be compiling this information for its own purposes, such as for reporting to the governor’s office.

As a recent example, during the response to the Colorado floods of September this year, the Colorado Department of Public Works and Environment posted tables showing impacts to drinking water and wastewater facilities on a ‘Flood Information’ Web site. In other instances, states collecting information on impacted facilities have simply added EPA to their distribution list.

CONCLUSION:  Effective response to disasters requires information sharing among response partners.  EPA recognizes that information sharing, no matter how necessary, can intrude on limited responder time and energy if it does not take into account existing state mechanisms for collecting information. EPA’s goal is therefore to work with states to identify the appropriate point within each state’s emergency management structure to request/receive pre-existing information on water/wastewater system status during a disaster response.

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS:  If you have a question or comment about this proposed approach or simply want more information on this topic, please contact EPA Water Security Division’s Kevin Tingley at tingley.kevin@epa.gov.

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One Response to WATER/WASTEWATER SYSTEMS STATUS REPORTING DURING DISASTERS

  1. June Swallow says:

    I think the answer to this question might change depending on who they ask…for example a state’s emergency management agency (EMA) and drinking water program might both answer that it was the appropriate contact, but were EPA to conclude that the EMA was the correct answer there would be the unintended consequence of more work being created for the drinking water program…EPA’s request to the EMA would then translate into a demand from the EMA to the drinking water program to provide the information whether it was available or not. EPA should work with the drinking water programs to determine the correct point of contact for drinking water information.