Emergency response plan for water and wastewater operations
Preparing an emergency response plan is essential to managing a water-wastewater system. The dusty, old 3-ring binder on your shelf marked “ERP” isn’t going to cut it in this day and age. Now is a good time to update it, as there is a good chance much of it isn’t relevant any longer. People retire, contractors go out of business, equipment is replaced and new treatment process are implemented.
A good ERP prepares the water-wastewater system for all kinds of emergencies, from natural disasters and man-made events to terrorist activities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development requires all systems that receive USDA/RD funding must complete a Security Vulnerability Assessment and Emergency Response Plan. Even if your facility isn’t receiving this funding, a good ERP will help improve the management of the wastewater system and increase the system’s ability to respond to emergencies.
The following preparations are important to consider when drafting your ERP:
- Specific instructions about who to call if there is an emergency that may affect the water or wastewater system. This should include an Incident Commander, a list of staff and responsibilities, emergency responders, and emergency contractors and equipment vendors.
- Location of safety data sheets, gathering points and site specific hazards.
- System map and facility drawings.
- Procedures for responding to events that affect the drinking water, such as a contaminated water source or reservoir.
- The Vulnerability Assessment – This is an evaluation of each wastewater system component to identify weaknesses or deficiencies that may make them susceptible to damage or failure during an emergency.
- Security measures for the water system.
- Communication procedure to notify customers, the news media, and the general public. This should include a designated public spokesperson (and alternate) who will contact regulatory agencies and deliver messages to the news media and public.
- Replacement and equipment repair parts.
- Important management and operations procedures such as Standard Operating Procedures for equipment and treatment processes, sampling plans and Mutual Aid agreements.
Developing a good ERP is only part of the process. The plan must be available to anyone potentially involved in an emergency. A 3-ring binder is great in for those in the office, but not so great for first responders. Many communities are uploading the plan to the cloud for remote access. I recommend inviting emergency responders to tour your facility and become familiar with the layout. You should also consider performing tabletop exercises to prepare for emergencies before they happen.
Last but not least, there must be response actions. In other words, there are a series of general steps to take in the event an emergency occurs:
- Analyze the type and severity of the emergency
- Take immediate actions to save lives
- Take action to reduce injuries and system damage
- Make repairs based on priority demand
- Return the system to normal operation
Mead & Hunt has numerous years of experience in operations and engineering, and we can assist you in developing or updating your Emergency Response Plan. We’ve worked with municipalities, industries and regulators helping prepare for emergencies over the years, and we can help find a solution that works for your facility.
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