An emergency is an unexpected event that has the potential to disrupt the operation of your water supply system and impact the safety of your community’s drinking water. Many types of emergencies could affect the quality and/or quantity of water in your system, such as loss of source, water main breaks, power outage, damage to critical infrastructure, biological/chemical contamination of water supply, wildfires, floods, etc.
These emergency or unexpected events fall into three categories:
Natural-caused events - These are events caused by the natural environment and weather. They include events such as high turbidity, landslide, wildfire, earthquake, flood, drought, etc.
Technological-caused events - These are events that happen due to technological or mechanical issues. They include events such as power outage, pump failure, main break or leak, chemical pipeline leak or spill, backflow issues, etc.
Human-caused events - These are events related to the actions or mistakes by humans. They include events such as improper chlorine residual, structural fires, improper repairs, train derailment, transport truck crash, vandalism, terrorism, etc.
Making a plan covering what you need to do in the case of these events allows you to recover from an emergency event faster, and reduce the impact the event has on your water system and water users. An emergency response plan (ERP) is a written document that outlines what to do in case of a water system emergency. An ERP is designed to provide a step-by-step response to an emergency.
Inventory all possible emergencies
Assess system vulnerabilities
Establish procedures to follow in the event of an emergency (“Be Prepared”)
The Importance of an ERP
While it is a legislative requirement (see Section 10 of the BC Drinking Water Protection Act) primarily, the ERP is created to have a planned response to an emergency event that threatens the safety of the system’s drinking water and puts consumers at risk of waterborne diseases and other drinking-water-related hazards. 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 and efficiently to an emergency.
An ERP can also help increase water system security and reduce potential damage to your system equipment/infrastructure by helping you to respond more quickly to emergency events. It also can minimize downtime due to maintenance.
Components of an ERP:
Create a Contact List that includes the names and contact information for those that need to be reached in case of an emergency. This includes those who will service the water system, assist in the emergency, and notify the public. The local Environmental Health Officer should be one of the first persons to be contacted in the event of a drinking water emergency.
Prepare a map that includes the locations of the critical infrastructure components of the water system, such as the water source(s), treatment buildings/stations, reservoirs, water lines, pump stations, valves, etc. This map doesn’t need to be prepared by an engineer or draftsman, it could just be a basic map that the operations staff can refer to when they need to locate critical system components.
Identify the types of emergencies that could occur with your water system and the general planned responses (specific responses can be incorporated into the Actions Taken). Preparing this inventory takes time but it will help you assess your readiness for both likely and unlikely events (know your risks). To help you inventory possible emergencies, your operations staff could have a brainstorming session; listing all the possible natural-, technological and human-caused emergencies.
Develop easy to follow step-by-step actions for each of the emergencies in your Inventory of Possible Emergencies.The action list should include specific persons and their roles and responsibilities in each particular situation. Each of these people should be listed in the Contact List.
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. This section must also include fillable templates of these four notices and these are available at your regional health authority’s drinking water website and under “Further Resources - Documents” at this web page (see below). Ensure that you understand each of the notices and the circumstances in which each notice would be issued.
Reviewing and updating your plan:
An ERP is a living document. Your water system changes over time, and the ERP should be updated to reflect those changes. Personnel will change, your water system may change (e.g. infrastructure, treatment, etc.), and the activities around your system may change (e.g. forestry, mining, agriculture, residential/commercial/industrial development, etc.). Ideally, you should update your ERP every year.
You may also want to update your plan following an emergency event, as it is also a good time to debrief. The water supplier, the operations staff and the water users should be included in the debriefing meeting to ensure the plan has input from each group. The debrief should discuss whether the plan was effective or not and what parts of the plan could be improved.
You must provide a copy of your ERP to your local Environmental Health Officer (or Drinking Water Officer). In addition, the ERP must be made public in accordance with the Drinking Water Protection Act and Drinking Water Protection Regulation. The public version can be a summary of the ERP but it must not include any information that may reasonably pose a risk to the water supply system. The public version can be posted on a website, bulletin board, etc.
You can use the following fillable worksheets to help you make your ERP:
Appendix A - Emergency Contact List Template (Fillable Word document)
Appendix B - Possible Emergencies with Planned Responses (Fillable Word document)
Appendix C – Additional Information Checklist (Fillable Word document)
Public Notification Templates (Fillable Word document)
Additionally, Interior Health has Public Notification Templates for Operators for notifying the public about water quality due to emergency events.
ERP PowerPoint Presentation by Interior Health - a solid introduction to ERPs
Checklist for Preparing an Emergency Response Plan - This checklist will help you complete an ERP
Emergency Response Plan for Drinking Water Systems in First Nations Communities by Indigenous Services Canada (2014) - a guide and template to assist First Nations administrators and water treatment plant operators.
Reasons for Water Advisories, Interior Health
"Drinking Water for Everyone" video about the different types of water sources and advisories.
Emergency Response and Contingency Planning for Small Water Systems - a step-by-step guide published by the BC Ministry of Health.