Maintaining Operations During the COVID-19 Crisis

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Thomas Haster

Chief Business Development Officer

Organizations serving the water, wastewater and public works sectors are sharing advice, resources and other information to make sure providers have the tools they need to maintain their vital operations.

A webinar sponsored by the American Water Works Association reviewed emergency response plans being implemented by large and small utilities because of the coronavirus and offered a variety of tips for crisis navigation. Click to watch the full webinar.

Some key steps to follow

  • Coordinate with your local health officials to make sure your workforce has access to your facilities and can make repairs to distribution or collections systems if your community limits travel.
  • Stay in touch with your suppliers about essential chemicals, PPE and other supplies.
  • Communicate with your customers about the safety of the water supply, based on the most up-to-date guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control.
  • Consider setting up alternative payment methods to eliminate face-to-face interaction: Some options are online systems or dropboxes.
  • Postpone any customer shutoffs to sustain hygiene and sanitation during this critical time.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has designated water, wastewater, drainage and public works employees as Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers during the COVID-19 emergency. Also included are electricity industry workers, including those involved in power transmission and distribution, and environmental remediation/monitoring technicians.

The full list of essential workers was released through the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Maintaining enough staff on the job to keep operations going is a major concern for operators. Here’s some advice shared during the AWWA webinar:

  • Keep your employees safe. Make sure they have supplies for good hygiene in the workplace and have sick workers stay home.
  • Make sure your facilities and inventories are secure. Restrict visitors and limit contact between your staff and delivery personnel when receiving shipments.
  • If absenteeism brings your staffing levels low, EPA recommends contacting your state certification office to find other certified operators.
  • Maintain a current Standard Operating Procedures manual and checklists in case someone new has to help in an emergency at your facility.
  • Understand the stress on your employees and their families and help them deal with it as much as possible while fulfilling your responsibilities to keep operations going.

Here are more resources

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Thomas Haster, P.E., is the Chief Business Development Officer in Fort Worth.