Water Emergency Planning: Expect the Unexpected


It’s 2:45 am Sunday morning; the phone is ringing off the hook. You answer it, half awake. All you hear are alarm bells and a lot of commotion. The violent background noise makes it difficult to identify the voice of the caller. You realize It’s John the midnight shift Operations Manager from the hospital. Finally, you hear the panicked voice screaming into the phone “WE LOST WATER!! BOILERS HAVE SHUT DOWN!! I NEED HELP NOW!!!” You sling yourself upright, wide-awake now….

This unfortunate event does happen, and Murphy’s Law would have this happen at the worst possible time and set of circumstances. Are you prepared for this call? What would you do? Do you know who to call first?

The possibility of such events makes it imperative for hospitals to be prepared—To develop and practice emergency preparedness procedures that will ensure the facility can remain operational until the water supply is returned to safe and normal operations.

Assuring the operator, help is on the way “Calm down John! You can do this. Start the emergency procedures we practiced last month. I’m on my way, and I’ll get help for you.” You hang up, throw on clothes, while simultaneously calling the security base. “Good morning Lieutenant, this is Facility Operations. We have an emergency situation. I need one of your officers to go to the plant and help ASAP. I’m on my way, and I’ll start waking up the maintenance staff to come in too.” You then initiate the emergency response team, “We have lost city water into the facility; start the Fire Watch tours.”

Water source interruptions and failures can occur for many reasons, including: a broken water main, loss of pumping at the city water plant, contamination from other sources, positive bacteria testing, etc. The severity depends on a variety of factors–the duration of time, extent of contamination, and the degree of interruption.

What systems would be affected within your facility? Most certainly a total loss of supply water would cause several severe adverse effects. Consider other departments that would also be affected–Nursing, Central Sterile, Nutrition, Environmental Services. Work with them to generate a united plan.

Don’t forget about the loss of water serving the fire pump and fire protection systems. Do you have onsite laboratories with eyewash and shower stations?

With any unplanned emergency event, disturbance in operation is inevitable. How quickly and thoroughly an emergency action plan is executed, of course, minimizes the disturbance. Unexpected water loss should be explicitly addressed in the emergency management plans. Ensure the plan addresses the response, mitigation, and recovery procedures. A good place to start would be the development of a Hazardous Vulnerability Analysis (HVA).

Practice the plan, improve the plan, and work through potential glitches to refine the plan. Drill, Drill, DRILL!


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