Emergency Response Planning


An emergency response plan (ERP) is a written document that outlines what to do and whom to call in case of an emergency. An ERP is designed to:

  • Provide an efficient, systematic step-by-step response to and recovery from an emergency event
  • Reduce the impact the event has on your water system and water users.

It also enables a water supplier to:

  • Inventory all possible emergencies
  • Assess system vulnerabilities
  • Establish procedures to follow in the event of an emergency (“Be Prepared”)

A good introduction to ERPs, with illustrations, is available from Interior Health at the link here: ERP PowerPoint Presentation by Interior Health

Glossary of Terms

Microscopic living organisms that usually consist of a single cell. Most bacteria use organic matter for their food and produce waste products as a result of their life processes.


The introduction into water of micro-organisms, chemicals, toxic substances, wastes, or wastewater in a concentration that makes the water unfit for its  intended use.


The cloudy appearance of water caused by the presence of suspended and colloidal matter. In the waterworks field, a turbidity measurement is used to indicate the clarity of water. Technically, turbidity is an optical property of the water based on the amount of light reflected by suspended particles.

Reasons to have an ERP

The most immediate reasons to have an ERP are as follows:

  • To protect your water users from illness – A quick response to an emergency can prevent exposure to pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, as well as exposure to harmful chemicals. Having a plan makes it easier to respond quickly.
  • To reduce liability – An ERP can help increase water system security, reduce potential damage to your system by helping you respond quicker to emergency events, and is a part of good due diligence.
  • It’s the law – In BC all regulated drinking water systems must have an emergency response plan.
  • Minimize downtime due to maintenance.
Components of an ERP

An Emergency Reponse Plan has several components:

  1. Contact List – this section should include the names and contact information for those that need to be contacted for the purposes of public notification, servicing the water system and assistance.
  2. Map(s) of the Water System – this section should include the location of the critical components of the water system, such as the water source, buildings, water lines, valves, etc.
  3. Inventory of Possible Emergencies – this section should identify the types of emergencies that could occur with your water system and planned responses.
  4. List of Actions to be Taken – the action list may be combined with the inventory of possible emergencies. You should develop actions for each emergency. The action list should include specific persons and their roles and responsibilities. They should be presented in a step-by-step and easy-to-follow manner.
  5. Public Notification/Communications Strategy – this section should describe the steps that must be taken to effectively issue a public notification, such as a Water Quality Advisory, Boil Water Notice, Do Not Consume Notice, or Do Not Use Notice.  

The checklist linked here will help you complete the steps of an ERP: 

Reviewing and updating your plan:

Remember that an ERP is a living document. Personnel will change, your water system may change, and the activities around your system may change. It should be updated on a regular basis, ideally every year. You may also want to update your plan following an emergency event. That is also a good time to debrief with staff to talk about whether or not the plan was effective and if it can be improved.

For more information and details, please see the step-by-step guide Emergency Response and Contingency Planning for Small Water Systems (BC Ministry of Health). The lists attached below are a good starting point for preparing your own ERP:

What are Emergencies for Small Water Systems?

Emergencies for a Small Water System are any unexpected event (natural, technological or human-caused) that might interfere with the normal operation of your drinking water system and affect the safety of your users' drinking water. Some common examples include

  • Loss of source or interruption of supply
  • Damage or malfunction of water system components
  • Contamination of water

Some events that can lead to these emergencies include the following:




Power outage

High Turbidity

Human Error/Mistake

Pump failure


Spill-Train Derailment

Main break/leak


Spill-Transport Truck

Pipeline leak/spill






Emergency Response Planning
Emergency Response and Contingency Planning for Small Water Systems
Water Advisories
Water Advisory Templates

Public Notifications for Emergency Response Planning, with 4 fillable templates for: 

  1. Water Quality Advisory
  2. Boil Water Notice
  3. Do Not Consume Water Notice
  4. Do Not Use Water Notice