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New guidelines to ensure water supply during a crisis

by Maria Lazarte on
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When disaster strikes, water, the most basic resource crucial for our survival, may become compromised. To help water utilities be prepared and continue to operate in any event, ISO has just published ISO 24518. The new standard lists the steps utilities have to take in order to be ready for any crisis situation. ISO 24518 also looks at what to do during an emergency, and how to re-establish services and learn from the situation.

Lack of potable water can become a huge problem in an emergency. Similarly, safely removing and disposing of sanitary wastewater and drainage storm water is vital to prevent epidemics, general contamination of people and the environment, and urban flooding. ISO 24518 will help water utilities to ensure adequate quantity and quality of water supply, sanitation, operation of supply and sewage systems, and response and recovery in emergencies.

ISO 24518 outlines the fundamentals of a crisis management system using the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to prepare water utilities so they can:

• Cope with crisis situations to be able to ensure water supply and the removal and treatment of wastewater

• Cooperate with all the 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

Talking about what it would take for a water utility to apply this standard, Jacobo Sack, Convenor of the working group that developed ISO 24518, says, “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 concentrating on organizational issues by establishing a crisis management team. Poorly equipped utilities will need to do much more though, and might need to invest perhaps 10 % or 20 % of their total budget.”

ISO 24518 can be used by water authorities and departments at various levels, water corporations and other bodies dealing with water supply, crisis management organizations, water engineers and consultants. It has recommendations for water utilities and examples of relevant national authorities’ experience in crisis management.

“Regulators can rely on the standard when drafting and adopting a national policy to reduce risk and increase resilience in the water industry. ISO 24518 can contribute to the effective implementation of emergency management tools,” says Sack.

ISO 24518 is the first of its kind. Although water safety documents have been published, none deals with crisis management in water utilities.

The standard was developed by ISO technical committee ISO/TC 224 on service activities relating to drinking water supply systems and wastewater systems. The secretariat of the committee is held by AFNOR, the ISO member for France. ISO 24518 can be bought from your national ISO member or through the ISO Store.