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Before an Event: Collaborating with Partners

Identify Partners

Partners are simply any organization or agency that can help you plan, develop, and distribute messages. Having a network of agencies and organizations can help advisories to be more effective and timely. To identify partners, start with public agencies, especially those focused on local public health. Agencies and organizations to consider include the following:

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  • Drinking water primacy agency.
  • Local and state public health departments.
  • Consecutive, wholesale, and neighboring water systems.
  • Critical and priority customers, including hospitals and businesses.
  • Emergency management, public works, public safety, social services, and other government agencies.
  • Community organizations.

See the Critical Customer Checklisttool icon [DOC - 1 page] for more information.

Table 1 provides examples of target audiences and partner organizations and agencies.

Table 1: Examples of Target Audiences and Organizations for Drinking Water Advisory Communications and Potential Agencies for Assisting with This Communication
Communication Target Examples Potential Agency for Communicating with Target Group
Businesses Business community, including hotels Local:
Economic development coordinator, chamber of commerce
Childcare Licensed childcare providers Local:
Local public health department and childcare facilities
Health and welfare (e.g., human services, social services, etc.)
Correction facilities Local or regional jail Local:
Sheriff's office, chief of police
Department of corrections
Food facilities Restaurants, grocery stores, catering services, event venues (e.g., fairs, sports facilities), bakeries, canneries, dairies, food production facilities, ice manufacturers, meat processing facilities, etc. Local:
Local public health department
Health department, agriculture and consumer services
Health care facilities Hospitals, clinics, emergency care facilities, nursing homes, physician offices, pharmacies, dialysis centers Local:
Local public health department
Schools Public schools, private schools Local:
School superintendent, local public health department
Susceptible populations Elderly, infants, young children, persons with limited literacy or English skills, disabled persons, persons living in poverty Local:
Public health department, social services, community organizations  


Public Health: A Key Partner

Developing a working relationship with local and state public health authorities can help water systems identify community organizations, develop specific messages and materials, and work through issues like translation. Working with the public health officer can put the risk of illness into perspective for public outreach.

Public health departments at the local, regional, and/or state levels work with susceptible populations and critical customers such as:

  • Hospitals and medical facilities.
  • Health care providers (HCPs), physicians, pharmacists, home health nurses.
  • People who are elderly, low income, and homebound.
  • Schools and childcare providers.
  • Pregnant women and parents of young children.
  • Food establishments.

Include public health departments in planning and discussions about advisories. Since in many cases they license these establishments, they can help with notifying these groups and developing specific messages. This allows water systems to focus on their core responsibilities. Local public health can assist with outreach through contact lists, websites, and newsletters.

See Communicating with Susceptible Populations Worksheet.tool icon [DOC - 5 pages]

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Planning before an advisory is crucial to understanding the capacity of local public health departments to participate in a communication network. Formalized agreements, such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU), will clearly define capacity and responsibilities for both the health department and the water system.

Public health codes may have different requirements for the various types of establishments that prepare or process food, such as restaurants, community kitchens, grocery stores, and cafeterias. Knowing these codes for each locality will help water systems work with critical customers.

Public Health Capacity

Capacity is the ability to respond to a situation with resources such as staff, materials, and expertise. Local, regional, and state public health departments vary greatly in their ability to support activities around drinking water advisories.

For more information about public health and outreach, refer to the guidance for the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). See Appendix B: Online Resources, Safe Drinking Water Act.resource icon

Record Contact Information

Collect and record the contact information of each partner in a list or database. Include name, phone numbers, postal and e-mail addresses, after-hours contact information, and social media information (The Information for Communication Planningtool icon [DOC - 1 page] and Point of Contact Templatetool icon [DOC - 1 page] will help with this activity). Be sure to verify and update all contact information on a regularly scheduled basis.

Public Health and Critical Customers

Local public health departments often license food establishments and childcare facilities. They are good resources for contact information.

Develop a Communication Network

Water systems generally are responsible for issuing advisories. However, timely, effective, and extensive outreach simply cannot be done by one entity. Water systems must work collaboratively with public health and other partners to get the job done effectively.

Did You Know?

Many health departments still use faxes as a way to quickly notify hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other health facilities. Consult with your local health department about using this method during an advisory.

Some communities have an established communication network, usually coordinated around emergency management. If there is a communication network in your community, learn how to become a part of it. If there is no such network, develop one.


Copy and laminate the contact list or database. Keep one copy for work and one for the field and update them regularly.

Figure 3. Layers of outreach. Comprised of concentric rings of different colors, representing, from inside to outside The center circle indicates the Water System itself. Next, in white, is Ring 1: the Primacy Agency. Outside this, in light green, is Ring 2 containing Public Health/Primacy Agencies, Public Safety, Public Works, Schools, Emergency Management, Local Elected and Appointed Government Officials, Other Government Agencies, Consecutive Water Systems, Adjacent Jurisdictions, and Social Services. Outside this, in dark green, is Ring 3: Susceptible Populations, Community-based Organizations, Faith-based Organizations, Critical and Priority Customers, and Nongovernmental Organizations.

Figure 3: Layers of Outreach. Shows how creating a local network can extend an agency’s outreach capacity. Click the image for a larger version.

Collaborations for Reaching Susceptible Populations

A key element of effective communication planning is to consider populations that can be defined as a group with common characteristics that make them a susceptible population. For a drinking water advisory, water systems and public health agencies need to communicate with three specific susceptible populations:

  1. Persons with communication needs, including low literacy levels, limited English proficiency, cognitive disabilities, and hearing or vision impairments.
  2. Persons with medical needs that make them sensitive to water quality issues, such as babies, young children, pregnant women, and people who are immunocompromised, elderly, or on dialysis.
  3. Persons with low income or who may lack the resources to act on information in a drinking water advisory or the awareness of a possible threat to their health and their family’s well-being.

For more information, see the Communicating with Susceptible Populations Worksheet.tool icon [DOC - 5 pages]


Include smartphone PINs with contact information to permit direct communication if e-mail systems are down.

Communication Network

Advance collaboration, communication, and cooperation with other public agencies and private organizations before an actual event provides the opportunity to:

What is a Network?

Network refers to the ways organizations work together to address problems they cannot solve on their own.

  • Determine existing resources.
  • Distribute advisories quickly and effectively.
  • Develop protocols to assure coordinated, consistent messaging during an advisory.
  • Share the communication tasks amongst partners.

Meet and Discuss Protocols and Resources

Schedule a meeting with partners to discuss how collaboration can improve drinking water advisory communication. Determine where and when you will meet and for how long. Set a brief agenda that includes communication protocols within the network and resources (translation services, other contact information, websites) that are available for message distribution.


Local and state agencies can help facilitate outreach to community organizations and susceptible populations.

Plan and Conduct Regular Communication

Keep partners engaged through regular communication within the network. Send copies of meeting notes. At least four times a year, send e-mails or make phone calls to ask partners about:

  • Additional information they may want to know;
  • Their suggestions for activities, such as participating in an exercise; and
  • Other organizations that can be invited into the network.

Plan meetings to address other issues that network members may have in common.

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Previous Page: Organizing for Drinking Water Advisories Next Page: Developing a Message

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