Protecting U.S. water & wastewater systems from terrorism

2/17/2003 12:00 AM

Since 9-11-01, the heightened public awareness of potential terrorist targets in the U.S. has led to concerns about the vulnerability and security of water and wastewater facilities in this country.

In response to those concerns, TEEX is offering the first of four planned Water and Wastewater Security Training Courses. The first course is “Public Works: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)/Terrorism Preparedness and Response for Water and Wastewater Executives.”

The course is grant-funded and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP) and delivered to members of the water and wastewater utility profession.

Paul Muraca, who is coordinating the training program for the National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC), says there is a big demand for the course, which is booked through June 2004. Two pilot classes were delivered in Florida and one in Texas during January and February 2003, Muraca said. More courses are scheduled for those states, as well as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and others.

“We’re teaching people to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a WMD/terrorism incident,” said Muraca, manager of water/wastewater and environmental training for the TEEX Engineering, Utilities and Public Works Institute.

The course covers the characteristics and use of potential chemical, biological and radiological agents and explosives and the associated delivery methods related to water and wastewater systems. It also trains officials to conduct vulnerability assessments of local systems to determine the current state of preparedness, to mitigate risk and to enhance security. Participants develop or revise emergency response plans and learn how to interact with media and citizens to provide public information during and following a WMD/terrorism incident.

“We discuss likely contaminants and what to do in a given situation,” Muraca said. “For example, if there is contamination in a water system or source water, what steps should officials take, such as isolating that section of the system, taking water samples and providing customers with an alternate source of water. We talk about what’s likely and the relative risk.

“Fortunately, a lot of redundancy is built into a water system. In case of an incident, the contaminated area of a system could be isolated, or, if necessary, a community could get water from another city.

“We tell them to plan for a potential WMD/terrorism incident by identifying vulnerable areas and what kinds of security measures can be implemented to reduce the likelihood of contamination, such as fencing around reservoirs. One of the most important messages is that they can’t do it all by themselves. Communities need to work together and coordinate their resources.”

This first course is aimed at disseminating information to the public works directors, water and wastewater department heads and assistants as well as city council members and city managers. These are the people who would likely go to the Emergency Operations Center if a WMD/terrorism incident occurred, Muraca said. The goal of the course is to help them determine what resources they have to pull together and what precautions and measures to take to protect the public.

“We’re providing them with information they need,” Muraca said. “We don’t want to tell them how to build a watch; we just want them to know how to tell time.”

Other courses under development will be geared to plant operators, distribution and collection personnel, and small water/wastewater systems with less than 250 connections.

Contact Information

© Copyright 2019 Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service
A member of the Texas A&M University System
Ver.1.2015.0204