A Warning, from 2016, to the U.S. Water Sector about Pandemics and Disasters

During the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security asked an advisory council to prepare a report on the ability of the country’s water and wastewater providers to withstand a disaster.

The National Infrastructure Advisory Council’s report, published in June 2016, identified a number of key risks. Natural disasters, including pandemic flu, topped the list.

During a major disaster like a pandemic flu, “the effects of the event on the workforce will be a major challenge to overcome,” the report stated.

Some utilities are being tested now with the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly small utilities that are worried about operators becoming ill.

The report also warned of “cascading failures,” which are a series of unfortunate events. Power outages, for instance, that cause water plant shut downs.

Emergency managers see potential cascading failures on the horizon. Federal forecasters expect major flood risks in the Dakotas and throughout the Mississippi River watershed. The mayor-president of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told Nola.com that she foresees “a fight on two fronts” — against the virus and the river.

Bryan Koon, the former director of Florida’s division of emergency management, argues that disaster planning should not be neglected in the face of the virus response.

“The bottom line here is that leaders of every government agency, private business, charitable organization and family need to start thinking about how they’re going to deal with the inevitable natural disasters yet to come.”

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