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Friday, Sep 30, 2016

Emergency planning identifies system strengths and weaknesses

Flood response in High River

Municipalities often prepare a Disaster Plan to prepare for different disaster scenarios.  Disaster planning requires access to a number of resources and response agencies. Emergencies, typically smaller events, can occur at any time and can impact a myriad of systems. Emergency planning and response are often overlooked, especially in small communities (populations less than 10,000). Smaller communities are often less prepared to deal with emergent issues that may arise.

Some examples of emergencies could be loss of power to a sewage lift station, lack of water supply from a regional water line, accidental severing of a communication line from a community’s wells to the water treatment plant during construction, severe weather event resulting in heavier than normal rainfall and surcharging of a wastewater system, or a sudden depressurization of a water distribution system resulting in backflow from adjacent properties.  With climate change, we are experiencing increased intensity and frequency of severe weather events, so emergencies such as flooding are becoming more frequent.

Emergencies can result in short-term impacts to customers, such as localized flooding or an interruption in service, but may often escalate into larger issues. Emergency planning is normally prioritized based on the following principals:  
- Prevent fatalities and injuries
- Reduce damage to buildings, inventory, and equipment
- Protect the environment and the community and
- Accelerate the resumption of normal operations.

As part of the Emergency Planning process, a Vulnerability Assessment can help to determine where the greatest risks are to a utility. A number of excellent documents are available from the AWWA Bookstore to guide in the preparation of a Vulnerability Assessment. The World Health Organization’s Drinking Water Safety Plan is also an excellent resource. Associated Engineering and our subsidiary, ATAP Infrastructure Management Ltd., can also assist. The benefits to completing a Vulnerability Assessment include:
- Knowing your system and its risks and strengths
- Identifying the weaknesses to help establish priorities, and
- Knowing the baseline data to understand how climate change, population growth, and capital planning negatively or positively impact a utility.

Once the risks are properly assessed, developing an Emergency Response Plan is the next step.  Establishing a diverse team to assist with developing the Vulnerability Assessment and the Emergency Response Plan is very important. Retaining external assistance from engineering consultants and operations specialists can help facilitate the process and improve the understanding of the issues.

As an example, the Town of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan applied a systematic approach to developing its Safety and Emergency Program. The Town retained ATAP to provide a complete Safety and Emergency Program, developed over three years.  The process involved three steps:
- Drafting a complete Safety Plan, and understanding all aspects of the system from an operation and maintenance perspective, and the strengths and weaknesses of the existing infrastructure.
- Developing operating procedures and safe work practices and procedures, including input from administration, safety officers, and operations staff.
- Developing an Emergency Response Plan that is based on the deeper understanding of the Town’s systems and the assets and vulnerabilities of the Town’s infrastructure.

Far too often, Safety and Emergency Response Plans are developed using a reactive approach, after an emergency event. Proactively developing Safety and Emergency Response Plans allows engineers, operators, and administrators to analyze their systems and infrastructure without the stress and sensitivity of an emergency incident. Proactive planning provides the opportunity for communities, especially smaller communities, to consider and evaluate internal and external resources -- to create partnerships with nearby municipalities to develop resiliency and strength when emergencies arise in their municipality and region.

 

About the Authors:

Andrew Stevenson is the Manager of ATAP Infrastructure Management in Saskatchewan.  Andrew has over 17 years of experience in the operations and maintenance of water and wastewater infrastructure. He is the newly elected President of the Canadian Public Works Association.  You can reach Andrew at stevensona@ae.ca

Grant Dixon is the Manager of ATAP Infrastructure Management in Edmonton.  Grant is an Operations Management Specialist, with over 20 years of experience as a utility operator and manager of water and wastewater operations and administration. You can reach Grant at dixong@ae.ca