Most Americans gave little thought to whether their drinking water was safe prior to this past spring. After all, it seemed only natural to rely on our country’s rigorous regulations to protect us from the dangers of unsafe drinking water. However, all of that changed with the Flint water crisis. But if you think that disaster was the exception not the rule, think again. Let’s take a closer look at the precarious state of the water infrastructure in this country, along with why communication is a critical part of safeguarding public health.
An Ailing Water Infrastructure System
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the country’s drinking water an overall grade of “D” (or “poor”) on its recent report card. Its dire conclusion? “At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA).”
And while disease outbreaks attributable to drinking water are largely unlikely in the here and now, aging pipes in desperate need of replacement suggest a more ominous outlook moving forward. Says former ASCE President Greg DiLoreto, “It comes down to the fact that we have to invest more in the system if we want to continue to have a safe, reliable drinking water system. If we don’t, we’re going to have a lot more Flint, Michigans.”
Why Communication Matters
Unlike many other catastrophes which befall towns and communities, the crisis in Flint was largely man-made. The decision to switch to the Flint River for the town’s water supply was followed by a series of inadequate responses to complaints from citizens. By the time lead testing was conducted and warnings were issued aimed at minimizing exposure, the damage had already been done.
However, the EPA has established three tiers of public notification regarding drinking water—each with its own delivery timeline and required methods of delivery depending on the situation and water system time aimed at avoiding communications shortfalls. For Tier 1 situations wherein there’s an immediate threat to human health, water suppliers have 24 hours to notify people at risk via a variety of media outlets. For lesser Tier 2 and Tier 3 situations, the obligation to inform is less time-sensitive, but remains.
Having guidelines in place to ensure that your organization fulfills these expectations is critical, but the process itself can be a time-consuming and challenging—particularly in today’s diverse, multichannel society. Automated notification providers like One Call Now offer a way to streamline the process while ensuring that critical messages are delivered via the most efficient and effective channels possible.
Furthermore, given what we know about the state of the national water infrastructure, more organizations can expect to see interruptions to water service as essential repairs are made. While communicating a timeline for these repairs may not be a matter of life or death, it is a matter of convenience—and one which can keep employees, tenants, and other members of your constituency both informed and happy. In this case, a mass notification system also has value—both in terms of reducing costs and labor while increasing customer satisfaction.
Ultimately, the overarching primary agenda for all is the same: to ensure safe drinking water. But with recent events making clear that the unthinkable can indeed happen, the right communication methods offer an invaluable secondary line of offense designed to help avert public relations nightmares, protect your organization’s reputation, and save lives.
To learn more about how mass communication is made easy with One Call Now, contact us for more information.