Preparing for Emergencies
Emergency preparedness and response planning are an indispensable part of any drinking water protection program. It is important for a public water system to develop and practice emergency response procedures that address its unique risk profile, as assessed through an all-hazards risk assessment. This will enable water system staff to take action to reduce the consequences of an incident and restore service to customers. Incidents can range from small main breaks or localized flooding to large scale natural disasters and contamination of source or finished water. Emergency planning efforts should be coordinated with local and state partners, such as public health, law enforcement, and hazmat response. Examples of emergency preparedness and response measures can include:
- Conducting a risk assessment to identify and prioritize hazards that could affect the water system, such as wildfire, flooding, or contamination (for more information, visit the EPA Risk Assessment and Reduction for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities webpage);
- Coordinating with local emergency responders and local organizations responsible for community preparedness, such as Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs);
- Establishing emergency response procedures that provide specific instructions for water system personnel and emergency responders, in the event of an emergency situation (for more information, visit the EPA Emergency Response for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities webpage);
- Developing detection systems and notification protocols that provide early warning of malevolent acts, natural hazards, or contaminant spills (for more information, visit the EPA Water Quality Surveillance and Response webpage);
- Notifying managers of upstream facilities with potential for accidental releases that they are located within a source water area; and
- And implementing other measures to reduce risks.
Recent revisions to the Emergency planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) under the America's Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) require that community water systems have access to EPCRA Tier II information (i.e., hazardous chemical inventory data) and receive notification of specified hazardous substance releases.
America's Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) amendments to the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA)
AWIA, Section 2018 revised the EPCRA, requiring that community water systems:
- Receive prompt notification of any reportable release of an EPCRA extremely hazardous substance (EHS) or a Comprehensive Environmental response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) hazardous substance (HS) that potentially affects their source water, and,
- Have access to EPCRA Tier II information (i.e., hazardous chemical inventory data) reported by facilities within a water system’s source water area, when requested.
Community water systems can proactively plan for potential releases if they have access to hazardous chemical inventory data in their source water area. EPCRA Tier II information (i.e., hazardous chemical inventory data), combined with other relevant information, allows a water system to characterize the risk of source water contamination threats and prioritize source water protection and emergency planning activities.
Because a release of a hazardous substance into a source of drinking water or to land in a source water area could compromise the ability of a community water system to deliver safe drinking water to its customers, it is critical that a system receive prompt notification in event of a hazardous substance spill so that it can either take actions to prevent contaminated water from entering its system or otherwise minimize the consequences of the release.
More information (i.e., fact sheet and FAQs) about these important amendments to EPCRA is available via the EPA AWIA Section 2018 webpage.
America's Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) Section 2013 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act
AWIA Section 2013 requires community water systems serving populations greater than 3,300 to develop or update a Risk and Resilience Assessment and Emergency Response Plan (ERP). The ERP update must incorporate the findings of the Risk and Resilience Assessment.
Information generated from a Risk and Resilience Assessments and related Emergency Response Plans can be used to update source water assessments and to inform selection and implementation of source water protection measures.
To learn more about risk and resilience assessments and emergency response plans, visit the EPA AWIA Section 2013 webpage.
EPA’s Drinking Water and Wastewater Resilience webpage provides a variety of tools and guidance to support drinking water utility emergency preparedness and response, developing detection systems, and conducting resilience assessments.