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Community Drinking Water Use

Before an emergency or a temporary problem with a community water system, a community drinking water treatment facility should have an emergency plan in the event that service is disrupted. Water treatment facilities monitor drinking water to meet federal and state regulations. For a complete description of how a community water treatment facility works, types of water treatment, and how water quality is monitored, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has prepared a guide to Drinking Water Treatment.


Community Drinking Water Systems


Before an emergency

EPA's emergency preparations for a community drinking water or wastewater system include the following:

  • Identify and schedule emergency operations and cleanup crews. This could consist of heavy equipment and extra personnel to assist in clean-ups.
  • Adjust work schedules so that key staff members are onsite or can be reached to keep all services operational if the facility remains online or to shutdown and startup facilities if and when necessary.
  • Notify state and federal levels of the Emergency Management Agency of the location and telephone numbers of the emergency personnel owner/operator for the water system operations. Confirm and prepare an emergency water supply, if necessary.
  • Review emergency response plans and make sure emergency contacts are current.
  • Ahead of time, set up clear lines of communication with local police and fire department, in case of an injury or other emergencies. Request that local law enforcement check on any water staff that may remain onsite at the water system.
  • Establish contacts to request emergency water supply, if necessary. This may include trucking in of purchased water from another potable water supply.
  • Make arrangements with the local power utility to be prepared to restore power to the water system as a priority customer.
  • Pre-arrange to purchase materials and supplies and to borrow/lease heavy equipment needed to make repairs to the water system. This could include piping, valves, chemical feed-line tubing, and hydrants.
  • Make arrangements to have materials and chemicals delivered as soon as it is safe and you are ready for operation.
  • Establish the appropriate media for customers to access information and press advisories. For possible boil water advisory status, do the following:
    • Have a “Boil Water Notice” prepared, including multilingual.
    • Have emergency disinfection of drinking water procedures prepared for customers.
    • Have “Shelter-in-Place” guidelines ready in case of release of hazardous materials. This is information to be provided to the public that may need to remain indoors.
  • Stock up on first-aid supplies, batteries, flashlights, and cellular phones or other wireless communication devices. Check all normal and emergency communication equipment and charge or replace batteries.
  • Stock an adequate supply (one week) of non-perishable food and water for any essential persons that remain on site or are considered first responders to the water system.
  • Establish alternative transportation strategies for rotating in core employees to the facility if high water prevents travel. Personnel should bring a jump bag with them, which contains change of clothes, sleeping bag, flashlights, extra batteries, medications, and other essentials.
  • Make sure all essential personnel are trained to shut down and start up system in case of emergency.
  • Notify the state level of the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and the Water/wastewater primacy agency if a plant is taken off-line or the water system is inoperable.
  • Review distribution maps to ensure they are up-to-date with isolation valves properly identified. Extra copies may be necessary for staff working in the field.

For a complete list of emergency preparations for community drinking water systems, please visit EPA's Suggested Pre-Emergency Activities for Water and Wastewater Facilities. The National Environmental Services Center website contains resources and guides for small community drinking water systems.


After an emergency

After a water-related emergency, community water treatment facilities may have to increase the amount and time for the disinfection of drinking water. EPA's emergency response for a community drinking water system includes the following:

  • Line up and schedule emergency operations and cleanup crews.
  • Maintain contact with state and federal levels of the Emergency Management Agency of location and telephone numbers of the emergency operating center or command post for the utility.
  • For public water systems, be sure to line up contacts to request emergency water supply, if necessary.
  • Consult public health officials and your primacy agency for public notifications (i.e., boil water, do not drink).
  • Notify customers and media where to access information and press advisories.
  • Arrange for food and water for the crews.
  • Maintain clear lines of communication with local authorities, such as police and fire in case of an injury or other emergency.
  • Make arrangements with the local power utility to restore power as a primary customer.
  • Make arrangements with local companies to purchase materials and supplies and to borrow/lease heavy equipment needed to make repairs to the plant.
  • Confirm with local companies that materials and chemicals can be delivered to the plant as soon as it is safe and units are repaired and ready for operation.
  • Plan for appropriate disposition of personal protection equipment (PPE) and other equipment.

For a complete list of emergency response for community drinking water systems, please visit EPA's Suggested Post-Emergency Activities for Water and Wastewater Facilities.

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The Healthcare Sector and Water Disruptions


Following a disruption of community drinking water supplies, healthcare facilities will have to make repairs as soon as possible, but at the same time, provide clean water for drinking and medical purposes. The CDC has the following advice for healthcare institutions in the event of a water emergency, which calls for recovery and remediation measures during a water-related emergency:


Contingency plan items


  • Ensure access to plumbing network so that repairs can be made.
  • Provide sufficient potable water, either from bottled sources or truck delivery.
  • Post advisory notices against consuming tap water, ice, or beverages made with water.
  • Rinse raw foods as needed in disinfected water.

Water treatment


  • Heat water to a rolling boil for 1 minute.

Remediation of the water system after the “boil water” advisory is rescinded


  • Flush fixtures (for example, faucets, drinking fountains) and equipment for several minutes and restart.
  • Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle.
  • Drain, disinfect, and refill water storage tanks if needed.
  • Change pre-treatment filters and disinfect the dialysis water system.

For a complete list of emergency measures following water disruption, please visit CDC's Healthcare Water System Repair Following Disruption of Water Supply.

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Hauled Water


After a water-related emergency, hauling and storing drinking water may be necessary for a community. Using the proper hauling and storing containers is crucial, to avoid water contamination. Only food-grade containers and containers used exclusively for bulk water should be used for water hauling and storage. Water storage tanks should also be disinfected on a regular basis. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has created Bulk Water Hauling Guidelines [PDF - 31.47 kb]. The World Health Organization has created a step-by-step guide to emergency Cleaning and Disinfecting Water Storage Tanks and Tankers [PDF - 378 kb].

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