If Hurricane Sandy had hit Kentucky, Would Your Drinking Water System Be Prepared?

Kentucky’s drinking water systems can experience a share of natural disasters, from the 2009 ice storm to the 2012 tornadoes.  However, they have not taken a direct hit from a hurricane, although Ike in 2008 provided strong winds with resulting damage and hurricane-related rainfall, which can offset a drought or cause flooding.  Because the state’s geographic location separates us from the oceans, our drinking water systems may be not be concerned with what is happening along the Atlantic coast—but neither were the northeastern and middle Atlantic states who unexpectedly got a direct hit from a hurricane.

So what can Kentucky’s drinking water systems do to prepare for a potential big wind-high rainfall event?  Here’s a list:

  1. Pay attention to the weather and be proactive.
  2. Have an updated, usable Emergency Response Plan specific to your utility. Know where it is and use it.

Communication within and outside of the water system is critical!

  1. Develop a critical contact list and keep it current through good communication––power companies, transportation crews, chemical suppliers, alternate power sources, equipment and material vendors.
  2. Develop a good working relationship with the media; have one contact at the water system to handle media calls.
  3. Establish good working relationships with your neighboring utilities, share equipment, material and staff.
  4. Establish an internal call-out schedule for staff, make arrangements in advance to protect staff’s safety, provide rotation of staff and supply staff with the “comforts of home” (bedding, food) if required to stay at water system locations and consider hiring temporary staff.

Prepare the system

  1. Top off chemical and diesel tanks as delivery service can be interrupted.
  2. Determine if reservoir levels can be dropped before the event in order to handle heavy rainfall and prevent flooding or damage to dams.
  3. Prepare a sampling schedule for source water, treatment and distribution. Make sure enough bottles are available for the critical tests. Contact your laboratory in advance and have a back-up lab ready, as well.
  4. Prepare a plan on how you will bring the treatment plant and distribution system back online should they be affected.
  5. Sandbag what you can.
  6. Pull electrical panels and boxes, telemetry/SCADA and pumps from flood-prone areas.
  7. Review insurance policies and finances. This event will result in expenses.

After the event, response will include accounting for staff, inspecting facilities, bringing treatment plants and distribution systems back online and sampling. Of course, there will be paperwork—insurance forms, FEMA reports, after-action documents and media stories.

Long-term planning will help offset the next hurricane-like event. Such things as the relocation of critical equipment outside the flood-prone areas, acquiring emergency power, removing trees from around critical power lines or buildings, exercising your Emergency Response Plan and simply thinking ahead will go along way in preparing Kentucky’s drinking water systems for the next Hurricane Sandy. For additional information, check out this article on EPA’s website.



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