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Attention water utilities! - Future ISO guidelines for crisis management

by Bruno Tisserand, Jacobo Sack, Thomas Zenz & Yaron Ben-Ari on
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girl and water
While water is vital for life, in many countries there remains a lack of knowledge about the crisis management of drinking water and wastewater services. To address this issue, ISO is preparing globally applicable guidelines to ensure water utilities respond successfully to any crisis situation – the future ISO 11830 on the crisis management of water utilities.

In the short term, impairment of drinking water services can seriously compromise the quality of life for many people; and in the medium term, it can threaten their ability to survive. The continuous and orderly supply of clean and potable water is of paramount importance.

Also important is the removal and safe disposal of sanitary wastewater and drainage storm-water. This prevents epidemics and poisoning of the public by contamination and urban inundation. It also protects the environment.

Crisis management

Crisis management starts before the onset of a crisis and requires comprehensive preparation during routine operations.

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the different phases of a crisis management process.

The future ISO 11830 standard on crisis management will describe the fundamentals of a crisis management system. It will include recommendations for water utilities and examples of relevant national authorities’ experience in crisis management.

ISO 11830 will be the first of its kind: documents have been published on water safety before, but none deals with crisis management in water utilities. It will deal with situations in which the normal supply of potable water, or the removal and treatment of wastewater, are interrupted. It will also enumerate steps that should be taken in preparing the water utility for a crisis situation (pre-crisis phase).

ISO 11830 will provide a general guide on how a crisis should be dealt with (the crisis phase), on how to re-establish services (post-crisis phase) and on the best way to draw conclusions and revise procedures for future events. Figure 2 (below)  illustrates how recovery activities can commence during the crisis phase to begin restoring service to parts of the system. ISO 11830 will use the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach and will consider the following in its process :

  • Ensure water supply and the removal and treatment of wastewater
  • Cooperate with all the other authorities concerned
  • Consider the natural environment as well as the impact on the health and well-being of the population
  • Effectively communicate with the public to mitigate or prevent panic.

Figure 2

Attention water utilities

The future ISO 11830 will aim to meet water utilities’ needs for guidance on preparing and coping with possible crises. It will make it easier for national regulators to adopt a national policy for reducing risk and increasing resilience in the water industry, and prioritizing these in policy implementation. ISO 11830 will therefore contribute to the effective implementation of emergency management tools.

Water utilities management will be in charge of implementing the future ISO 11830 standard. Regulators, local authorities or water utilities directorates will be responsible for follow-up.

The necessary investments and resources for the implementation of the guidelines depend on :

  • The level of utilities development
  • The likelihood of a large-scale crisis scenario being considered.

Well-developed utilities usually have most of the equipment and facilities needed, and have established emergency processes for crisis situations in their daily operations (such as repairs to broken pipes). If this is the case, it is worthwhile to concentrate on organizational issues by establishing a crisis management team. Poorly equipped utilities will need to do much more though, and might need to invest 10 % or 20 % of their total budget.

Progress in implementation will be measured by the number of countries adopting the guidelines as mandatory or promoting the application as voluntary, and by the number of water utilities starting to implement the guideline recommendations in their management systems.

More than 35 countries are participants in working group WG 7, Crisis management of water utilities, and many others registered as observers. Formal publication as ISO guidelines is expected by the end of 2013.

Pioneering work

ISO technical committee ISO/TC 224, Service activities relating to drinking water supply systems and wastewater systems – Quality criteria of the service and performance indicators, was launched in 2001 to develop standards providing guidelines for service activities related to drinking water supply systems and wastewater sewerage systems. It has developed pioneering water- and wastewaterrelated standards such as :

  • ISO 24510:2007 for the improvement and assessment of the service to users
  • ISO 24511:2007 for the management of wastewater utilities and for the assessment of wastewater services
  • ISO 24512:2007 for the management of drinking water utilities and for the assessment of drinking water services.

These system standards were designed to be globally relevant for all water utilities. Since the standards are guidelines, they are not used for certification. Their main function is to describe good practice in the management of water and wastewater utilities.

The suite of ISO standards :

  • Are universally recognized as they are applied to developing and existing services (such as in Burkina Faso and Argentina, respectively)
  • Add value to the widely known management system standards ISO 9001 for quality management and ISO 14001 for environmental management
  • Support the objectives of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to meet the challenge of financing water and sanitation
  • Bring service stakeholders together to decide governance and the essential technical elements for efficient operations. Stakeholders can then discuss service objectives and evaluate performance.

Bruno Tisserand
Bruno Tisserand
Bruno Tisserand
Chair of ISO/TC 224, Services activities relating to drinking water supply systems and wastewater systems - Quality criteria of the service and performance indicators

Jacobo Sack
Jacobo Sack
Jacobo Sack
Coconvenor of ISO/TC 224/WG 7, Crisis management of water utilities

Thomas Zenz
Thomas Zenz
Thomas Zenz
Coconvenor of ISO/TC 224/WG 7, Crisis management of water utilities

Yaron Ben Ari
Yaron Ben-Ari
Yaron Ben-Ari
Secretary of ISO/TC 224/WG 7, Crisis management of water utilities