TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – When Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane and the most powerful storm to hit the continental United States in 14 years, emergency responders from the Florida Rural Water Association and Georgia Rural Water Association had already staged personnel and equipment to restore water service after landfall.
Both the Florida and Georgia Rural Water Associations are extensively-trained in rapid response and recovery operations, including recent hands-on training with emergency equipment hosted in Georgia last year. Both state associations are also leaders in their state Water/Wastewater Agency Response Networks, FlaWARN and GAWARN, mutual support networks that allow water and wastewater utilities to share resources during emergencies.
“FRWA and GRWA equipment is being staged near the predicted impact zone,” Gary Williams, FRWA executive director said on Wednesday before landfall.
Staged equipment included more than 20 large generators, 10 small generators, two 6-inch bypass pumps, three four-inch trash pumps, and trailers equipped with tools, radio and satellite communications. All the rural water equipment is equipped with GPS locators to improve management and prevent theft.
“We worked the phones yesterday contacting systems in regard to generator need and reminding system operations specialists to secure their chemicals,” said Jimmy Matthews, GRWA executive director.
Rural Water staff began contacting utilities in the storm’s projected path, alerting them to the potential danger, advising on preparations, and informing them of the emergency response services available after the storm. These preliminary contacts also allowed Rural Water to update contact information and catalog critical utility information like electricity demand, storage capacity and the size of pumps – information that allows Rural Water to quickly deliver necessary equipment where it is most needed.
Once it is safe to move into the impacted areas, Rural Water personnel will make daily assessments of impacted water systems.
Power is the primary concern, and Rural Water maintains a full inventory of generators to supply emergency power.
“Fuel could become a concern if power remains off for a couple of days,” Williams said.
The high wind and water can also damage infrastructure and wash out water lines.
“These wind projections give us concerns about water towers and cell towers,” Matthews said. “Maintaining water pressure at nursing homes and hospitals will be a major priority.”
These are problems that Rural Water has faced with past emergencies.
“The water industry has demonstrated great resiliency, preparedness and response,” Williams said.