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AWWA Water Security Conference Provided Great Opportunities

From September 11-14, 2011, water security professionals from across the nation came together to learn about new technologies and techniques to enhance the overall resiliency of our water infrastructure.  The Conference, held in Nashville, TN, opened with an excellent description and discussion of Nashville’s recovery from its major 2010 flooding event.  The ‘lessons learned’ resonated throughout the rest of the conference as fundamental issues for us all.  They were:

  • Communication and collaboration is essential.
  • Reliable pre-disaster planning and warning systems are critical.
  • Long term mitigation plans must be developed.
  • The vulnerability of critical facilities must be assessed.

Talks on resiliency continued the theme by describing a Metropolitan Washington (DC) Council of Government’s study to consider how to find efficiencies in hospital water use within the first 96 hours of an emergency and how to incorporate the findings into a detailed emergency response plan.  Looking at needs (e.g., potable, sanitation, fire suppression, food/laundry service, HVAC) via a detailed water usage audit demonstrated that the greatest use is HVAC and that HVAC is the least able to reduce its usage.  The study findings recommend several options to mitigate HVAC needs:  establish separate pressure zones for new construction; dig a private well; use partially treated water; and enhance onsite storage.

In the funding arena, EPA’s Water Security Division described a new web tool called FedFUNDS, which stands for Federal Funding for Utilities in Natural Disasters.  WSD hopes to launch the tool later this Fall.  The effort will speak to available information on various Federal disaster reimbursement funding options for water and wastewater utilities such as the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program; the USDA Rural Development Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants; and HUD Community Development Block Grants.

Communication capabilities were emphasized during a session entitled, “Boil Water Advisories to Do Not Use:  Scope, Scale and Severity as a Framework to Integrate Utility Communications and Operations Practice.”  Presenters described a new Drinking Water Advisory Toolbox (developed by AWWA and CDC) and emphasized that the toolkit is not a cookbook approach to communicating risk; nor is it a replacement for Federal and state regulatory requirements.  It does, however, include tools, templates, and an array or resources that cover a wide range of events that explain when and how to distinguish the need for a boil water advisory versus “do not drink” or “do not use” orders.  One key communication fact that was emphasized was the ongoing need to communicate with your primacy agency.

Mutual aid through WARN program discussions also emphasized the success of pre-disaster planning, collaboration, and long term mitigation.  Tabletop exercises, boot camps, business and continuity of operations planning, and creating a security culture through hiring and promotion practices are all essential components of a vibrant water security community.  Finally, discussions surrounding the ongoing criticality of cyber and physical security initiatives combined with the foundational needs of protecting public health brought the focus full circle as the Water Security Conference came to a close.