Collaborating with Partners

Identify Partners

Key Questions for Collaboration with Partners

  • Who needs to know?
  • Who is responsible for coordinating communication?
  • Who makes decisions related to advisories?
  • Who needs specific types of information, including technical information?
  • What are the procedures to inform public officials?
  • What are partners’ capacities for outreach?


Early involvement of stakeholders allows them to provide input in the messaging and enables consistent communication and message buy-in among partners throughout the incident.

Partners are organizations and agencies 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:

  • 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.
  • Local elected officials
  • Community organizations.

See the Critical Customer Checklist Cdc-word[DOCX – 1 page] small wrench icon representing tools 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


Potential Agency for Communicating with Target Group


Business community, including hotels

Local: Economic development coordinator, chamber of commerce


Licensed childcare providers

Local: Local public health department and childcare facilities

State: Health and welfare (e.g., human services, social services)

Correctional facilities

Local or regional jail

Local: Sheriff ’s office, chief of police, local emergency management

State: 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

State: Health department, agriculture and consumer services

Healthcare facilities

Hospitals, clinics, emergency care facilities, nursing homes, physician offices, pharmacies, dialysis centers

Local: Local public health department, local emergency management

State: List of licensed healthcare facilities


Public schools, private schools, colleges, universities

Local: School superintendent, local public health department

Susceptible populations

Elderly, infants, young children, persons with limited literacy or English skills, disabled persons, immunocompromised persons, persons with limited resources, persons with limited access to transportation

Local: Public health department, social services, community organizations, faith-based organizations

See Appendix C: Online Resources for resources focused on communication with Target Audiences and Organizations.

Public Heath: A Key Partner

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.

Public Health and Critical Customers

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

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 authority can put the risk of illness into perspective for public outreach.

Open and frequent communication between utilities and public health is particularly important when issuing advisory guidance (e.g., flushing protocols) and when ending advisories. Working with public health can help utilities reduce potential health effects for affected populations. Teaming up with public health can also expand jurisdictional reach. For example, if the health department declares an emergency, the water utility may have access to certain residential and building premises normally outside the regulatory structure.

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

  • Hospitals and medical facilities
  • Healthcare 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 local 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. Cdc-word[DOCX – 5 pages]small wrench icon representing tools

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.

For more information about public health and outreach, refer to the guidance for the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR). See Appendix C: Online Resources, Safe Drinking Water Act.small key representing resources

Local Emergency Management Groups

The Governor of each state has a designated State Emergency Response Commission (SERC)External that is responsible for implementing Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) provisions within its state and overseeing Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs). For communities without LEPCs, find planning resources in Appendix C: Online Resources, Exercise Planning and Preparedness. small key representing resources

Did you know?

Having a health alert network in place is 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.

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 Planning Cdc-word[DOCX – 1 page] small wrench icon representing toolsand Point of Contact Template Cdc-word[DOCX – 1 page] small wrench icon representing toolswill help with this activity.) Be sure to verify and update all contact information on a regularly scheduled basis.


Check all email contacts to ensure the email addresses you have listed are able to receive messages from your account. Update your email contact list as necessary.



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


Water systems generally are responsible for issuing advisories. However, timely, effective, and extensive outreach simply cannot be done by one entity; in some cases, it may be determined that other organizations (e.g., the local or state health department) are better equipped to lead communication efforts. Water systems must work collaboratively with public health, emergency response, and other partners to get the job done effectively. If another agency is determined to be a more appropriate lead for communication, this should be clearly mapped out prior to any emergencies occurring.

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, what resources are needed to join, and whether it has the capacity to meet emergency needs. If there is no such network, develop one.

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:


Have options for special needs customers to self-identify within your alert system to receive priority alerts.

  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; persons who may lack the resources to act on an advisory; or persons who may lack 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. Cdc-word[DOCX – 5 pages]small wrench icon representing tools

Communication Network

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

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

Figure 3 shows how creating a local network can extend an agency’s outreach capacity.

	Fig 3. Layers of Communication Outreach. A circular diagram consisting of 3 concentric rings around a core circle with Water System at the center. First ring out: Primacy Agency. Next ring out: Social Services, Public Health/Health Primacy Agency, Public Safety, Public Works, Schools, Emergency Mangement, Local Elected and Appointed Officials, Other Govt Agencies, Consecutive Water Systems, Adjacent Jurisdictions, and Social Services. Last ring out: NGOs, Susceptible Populations, Community-based organizations, Faith-based organizations, and critical/priority customers.

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. Be sure to cover roles and responsibilities defining which partner groups will be responsible for contacting specific groups or susceptible populations.

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:

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

Plan meetings to meet new contacts and address other issues that network members may have in common.