"You can't prevent every event, but you have to be prepared for every event," says Christy Cooper, Water Sector Director of Research and Analysis for Kansas City, Mo.-based Black & Veatch. Once a vulnerability assessment has been performed, the key to preparedness is developing an emergency operations plan (EOP). It can save property and lives.

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection had an EOP in place six years before Sept. 11. As a result, the department was prepared to coordinate water division personnel amid the chaos at Ground Zero.

According to Cooper, a water agency's EOP would likely have the following elements:

  • Purpose — Creates a general statement of what the EOP is meant to do.

  • Situation and Assumptions — Establishes particular hazards the EOP must addresses and which aspects of jurisdiction might respond to an emergency.

  • Concepts of Operations — Determines the overall approach to an emergency situation, such as what should happen, when, and at whose direction.

  • Assignment of Responsibilities — Establishes the emergency organization that will be relied on to respond to an emergency situation.

  • Administration and Logistics — Covers general support requirements and the availability of services and support for all types of emergencies.

  • Plan Development and Maintenance — Provides an overall approach to planning, including the assignment of planning responsibilities.

  • Authorities and References — Indicates the legal basis for emergency operations and activities.

  • A key step in developing an EOP is bringing federal, state and local personnel together to meet with the utility, Cooper says. The agencies can brainstorm about the possible emergency events and responses, including both terror attacks and natural disasters. “In the event of a major emergency, the utility can find itself out of control if it is not aligned with the appropriate federal, state and local authorities,” Cooper says. “If they're not plugged in, they may not have sufficient influence in case of emergency.”

    Other agencies have ample resources to draw upon, but water utilities need to know what they are. “You don't have to have all the resources for effective response if you know of other local agencies that have something you need, and if you have established a working relationship with them in the event of a contamination incident well in advance,” wrote Robert Hebert, president of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships in Washington, D.C., in a paper on water security. “In an event, there is no time to find out who has what.”

    Determining who will communicate with the public is another critical aspect of an EOP. In an emergency, the public needs to know quickly whether they should use or not use the water. In the court of public opinion, the water agency will be held responsible for any and all problems if emergency events are not adequately handled, Cooper says.