Establishing Effective Public Health Partnerships with Water Utilities

 

Speaker:                                 Homer C. Emery, Ph.D., R.S.

Diplomate American Academy of Sanitarians

Sr. Environmental Scientist, San Antonio Water System

Short Abstract:

Lessons being learned in today’s reality of the terrorist threat to public water supplies and the impact that natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina can have on potable water systems underline the need for water utilities to establish and maintain effective partnerships with local health departments.  In San Antonio, Texas, water utility operators were able to participate in a tabletop exercise with local sanitarians to learn basic epidemiological techniques used by public health officials in the investigation of illness outbreaks.  Teams composed of water operators and local public health sanitarians used data from mock patient histories to construct an epidemiological curve to approximate the time of exposure and calculate specific food attack rates.  Using basic epidemiological techniques, it was possible to identify the probable source of the illness outbreak. Water operators learned that public health partnerships are needed long before the decision to “don’t drink the water” must be made.

Long Abstract:

Lessons being learned in today’s reality of the terrorist threat to public water supplies and the impact that natural disasters such as Katrina can have on potable water systems underline the need for water utilities to establish and maintain effective partnerships with local health departments. In San Antonio, Texas, local water utility operators participated in a tabletop exercise with local public health sanitarians to gain a better understanding of established local, state and federal emergency response networks.

 This paper reports how Don’t Drink the Water, a simulated disease outbreak, was designed as a training exercise to introduce water utility operators to basic epidemiological techniques used by public health sanitarians in the investigation of a suspected waterborne illness outbreak.  Participants composed of local sanitarians and water operators worked together in investing a possible waterborne illness outbreak.  Teams used mock patient histories to construct an epidemiological curve to approximate the time of exposure and to identify the most likely source of the illness.  Using basic epidemiological techniques to calculate specific food and beverage attack rates, it was possible to identify the probable cause of the illness.

Partnerships established through– Don’t Drink the Water – have led to improved planning for possible terrorist water contamination threats and a better understanding of established local, state and federal emergency response networks.

 Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify established local, state and federal emergency response networks within the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
  2. Apply basic epidemiological techniques in the investigation of a possible waterborne illness outbreak.
  3. Use and apply EPA’s water emergency response toolbox in responding to a large-scale water contamination event.

State Drinking Water Program Responses to Water System Emergencies

 

Speaker:                                 Anthony E. Bennett, R.S.

Senior Technical Specialist

Texas Commission on Environmental. Quality

Short Abstract:

State Drinking Water programs have been tasked with working with EPA and water systems to develop emergency preparedness and response programs for public water systems.  As experience has shown in the last few years, these emergencies can come from both human actions as well as natural disasters.  In order to be prepared for such events, The Public Drinking Water Program at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has taken a number of measures to improve its own capabilities as well as the capabilities of water systems.

Long Abstract:

State Drinking Water programs have been tasked with working with EPA and water systems to develop emergency preparedness and response programs for public water systems.  As experience has shown in the last few years, these emergencies can come from both human actions, purposeful and accidental, as well as natural disasters.  In order to be prepared for such events, The Public Drinking Water Program at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has taken a number of measures to improve its own capabilities as well as the capabilities of water systems.  This presentation will cover the minimum requirements for water systems under the Bio-terrorism Act, it will present examples of education programs that TCEQ has sponsored to help prepare water systems, and will outline TCEQ's planned response to potential contamination events.  Example activities by the TCEQ in response to damage from Hurricane Rita and individual system failures will be presented.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Know the requirements for water system vulnerability assessment.
  2. Know the requirements for water system emergency response plans.
  3. See where other environmental health programs may fit into planning and response to water system issues.