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Preparedness Reduces Risk

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As providers of water and wastewater service, we have an obligation to properly prepare to respond to unforeseen events. A lack of preparation produces consequences none of us care to contemplate. If you think preplanning is an effort not worth expending, or buying high tech security equipment is all it takes to reduce your risk and make your utility less vulnerable, you are developing a false sense of security. Without proper training as a key component, the results you may envision due to the reactive responses that occur will not be what is demanded of you by your customers.

The City of Henderson, Nevada's, Department of Utility Services, recognized that rapid growth was adding significantly to their service demands. The addition of new personnel, staff turnover due to promotions and retirements, increasing demands from an ever-expanding customer base and on-going worldwide events were adding new challenges for maintaining a safe and reliable Water and Wastewater system. Public perception is such that being prepared to effectively respond to and handle any of a multitude of potential disruptive threats, whether natural or manmade, should be an inherent part of our business practice. As a service provider within a much larger municipal organization, complexities are compounded due to the coordination efforts that must take place during these events. These efforts, which are oftentimes large in scope, involve other City departments that do not readily interact or communicate with one another on a day-to-day basis. Therefore it is contingent upon us to identify and prepare for these coordination issues ahead of time.

Starting in 2002, the Department of Utility Services proactively undertook a Vulnerability Assessment of both the water and wastewater systems, which resulted in physical improvements to facilities throughout its systems. A single, comprehensive Emergency Response Plan (ERP) was developed for both systems for ease of accessibility and use. With plan in hand the Department of Utility Services began training employees on the use of the plan, including establishing common terminology and procedures for responding to a threat and/or disaster. The initial training was intended to provide the foundation for further enhancements to both its Plan as well as response actions. The commitment towards continual improvement and performance excellence is exemplified by the completion of three (3) annual exercises, starting in 2004. As indicated above, in 2004 the Department of Utility Services conducted its first tabletop exercise as part of its preparedness program, to ensure there would be continuity in its response operations. Using the EPA Response Protocol Toolbox and subsequent Tabletop Exercise Materials as a starting point, the Department of Utility Services customized a scenario around its facilities using the threat of a water system contamination as the basis. This first tabletop conducted for senior level management and resulted in a number of lessons learned that better was prepared them to understand how they would react and work together in a real world situation. After this first highly successful exercise the Department determined mid-level managers and supervisors, who would likely advance up the chain of command, would benefit from the same training scenario. Conducted a second time, the exercise revealed an even wider variance in responses and adherence to the Emergency Response Plan.

Now, five years since starting down the path to better secure and protect the water and wastewater systems from possible natural and manmade disasters, the Department of Utility Services has advanced and expanded training to the functional level, which includes Police, Fire, Public Works and other City Departments. These efforts have proven to be beneficial, as the level of involvement in these exercises has also been elevated by incorporating the City's Emergency Operations Center and an All-Hazard Emergency Operations Plan to produce a successful joint exercise.

This oral presentation will discuss the considerations that were made, steps that were taken and the valuable lessons that were gained by committing to a preparedness philosophy. By training those that are essential to achieving response success and learning first hand through the performance of tabletop exercises, the City has been able to demonstrate the appropriate level of readiness desired. Building and maintaining public trust and confidence is a continual process. However, the loss of credibility can be instantaneous. Being ill-prepared to respond to an unforeseen event is a lesson none of us can afford to learn.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2008

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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