DENVER - With water and wastewater services critical in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 90 percent of water utilities have business continuity plans in place or have plans to develop them, according to a survey from the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
The survey, conducted March 10-16, included responses from employees at 286 utilities and 160 non-utilities (consultants, manufacturers, service providers and others). Distributed by email, the rapid-assessment survey provides a snapshot of how water sector organizations are managing risks at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Business continuity plans are constructed to help organizations maintain solid operations--financially, managerially, and functionally, throughout any incident.
The survey indicated that 55 percent of utility respondents have business continuity plans, 27 percent have plans currently in development and 10 percent are planning to develop them. Ninety-three percent of utility respondents stated there are enough resources available to develop business continuity plans.
AWWA is encouraging utilities that need assistance to take advantage of the Business Continuity Planning for Water Utilities: Guidance Document (AWWA, Water Research Foundation, U.S. EPA, 2013).
“Water utilities throughout the United States and Canada are prepared to protect public health in normal conditions and in emergencies, and they are committed to keeping safe water flowing, 24/7,” said AWWA CEO David LaFrance. “During times like these, safe and reliable water service is essential for drinking and food preparation, hand-washing and carrying away waste.”
Absenteeism and continuity of operations are major areas of expected challenges from COVID-19 for water utilities, with 75 percent of respondents expressing concern in these areas. Other concerns include impacts on field operations like meter reading and repairs (46 percent) and interruptions of treatment chemical supply chains (44 percent).
Eighty-eight percent of utilities either have a plan or are working on a plan to ensure the continuation of field operations that require on-site employees. Additional resources associated with pandemic planning will continue to be posted at awwa.org/coronavirus.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health authorities are urging people to wash their hands often with soap and water, making access to safe tap water central to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Many water utilities throughout North America have announced that they are stopping water shutoffs for nonpayment during the pandemic to ensure all people have access to safe, reliable water.
AWWA will be conducting a second survey to gauge COVID-19 response actions and challenges. Results from that survey will also be shared as they become available.
AWWA will present a free webinar on Friday, March 20, from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. MT on actions water utilities can take to sustain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. While this webinar is free, registration is required.