Preparing Municipal Infrastructure and Communities for the Aftermath of a Storm
DURATION 3 minute read
Municipal infrastructure is essential for Texas communities and needs to remain operational – even during a tropical storm or hurricane. As Texans, we know how destructive tropical weather can be. We’ve had a quiet hurricane season so far, but as seen in years past, storms can develop later in the season. In fact, August and September is the peak of hurricane season in Texas. That said, there is still time to prepare infrastructure and communities for the aftermath of tropical weather.
A lot of focus is placed on how to prepare for hurricane season, but it’s difficult to plan for what should happen once a storm impacts a community because it’s hard to predict exactly what infrastructure will be affected. Preventing water-borne diseases is always the primary goal, but other items need attention to ensure your community continues to have access to essential resources.
Every municipality is unique. With that in mind, we developed a broad post-hurricane preparedness plan that has helped our clients in the past. The action items are divided into four time periods: immediately after a storm, 48 hours after the storm, one week after the storm, two weeks after the storm.
Immediately After the Storm
The steps you take immediately following a hurricane or tropical storm are critical to ensure your community continues to have access to essential resources. By this time, the hurricane or tropical storm has moved out of the area or weakened. Winds should have started to slow down but rain may continue to fall steadily and flooding may have occurred or just begun.
Some of the steps our team suggests taking immediately following a storm event include:
- Contact the board of directors to establish lines of communication, check on families, and determine a damage report.
- The engineer should contact the operator to establish communication and verify the system’s integrity.
- Verify operation of the entire system. Look for alarm conditions, failures or broken equipment, leaking pipes, or bent valves.
- Post boil water notice if necessary.
- Verify security for all plants, including checking for downed fences or broken equipment. Be cautious of downed power lines or any structural damage to facilities that would make access unsafe.
- Check storm sewer inlets and drainage channels for blockages that could restrict proper drainage.
- Check lift stations and wastewater treatment plant levels and alarms to confirm proper operations.
- Minimize fuel consumption by:
- Lowering system pressure to conserve water
- Resting booster pumps and well motors during prolonged power outage situations by alternating.
- Allowing only one water plant generator to run at any single time – except natural gas generators – so long as the system pressure is above 35 psi.
- Monitor news outlets and disseminate information to directors, operators, attorneys, and your local Office of Emergency Management.
- Coordinate refueling of diesel tanks to maintain water system pressure.
48 Hours After the Storm
By this time, strong winds and heavy rain should have slowed or stopped, and flooding has also likely reached its peak depending on how consistent and the rainfall has been. Many of the steps taken during this time involve evaluating facilities for damage and communicating with key personnel and operators, including:
- The operator should thoroughly assess damage to facilities, take pictures of visible damage, and log damages and repair efforts. It is important to document damages for potential insurance claims or possible future financial assistance. Pass this information to the district engineer and attorney.
- Make all repairs requiring immediate attention or on equipment crucial to the integrity of the system.
- Check all motors for damage and begin repairs/replacement.
- Check disinfection residuals in the plants and the water. Use uni-directional flushing if necessary.
- Sample water system to determine water quality and if residual contamination is present.
- Post boil water notice if necessary.
- Verify fuel storage and coordinating with local fuel providers to resupply if necessary.
- If available, utilize your portable generator to temporarily run lift stations if power is down.
- Coordinate plant clean-up efforts with local officials.
One Week After the Storm
The community should have started returning home if they evacuated. The power may still be out depending on the strength of the storm and gas may be difficult to come by. The steps that are taken one week after a tropical storm or hurricane center around how to continue operations during power outages, addressing gas shortages, and coordinating with clean-up and repair crews.
Some of the steps our team suggests include:
- Securing plant sites where fences were damaged or knocked over. We recommend using orange temporary fencing with rebar to prevent plant access until a contractor can make repairs.
- Contacting the county and/or garbage collection companies to discuss and schedule clean-up efforts. Be sure to obtain prices and dates to discuss with board members and inform the community.
- Start arrangements and insurance claims for damage caused by the storm.
- Replenish and top off all fuel storage tanks in preparation for the next storm.
- Begin addressing less critical problems as more significant issues are resolved.
Two Weeks After the Storm
The community should be getting back to normal about two weeks after the storm. Water consumption should have rebounded back to typical levels and wastewater treatment and vehicle traffic have increased. During this time, it’s important to focus on repairing and cleaning the facilities to ensure they continue to meet the community’s needs. Some of the action items our team recommends include:
- Contact local officials for clean-up dates ordered by the city/county or FEMA.
- Stay in contact with the garbage collection service to verify no delays in regular or special trash collection dates.
- Restock the command center with the appropriate items for the next storm.
Do not wait until a tropical system is at your doorstep to start thinking about an emergency preparedness plan (EPP). An EPP is a great first step towards ensuring district facilities are prepared for tropical weather. The steps we mentioned are only a few baseline tips but are a great first step in helping ensure your district has a plan to address damage caused by a tropical storm or hurricane.
You can contact our team to learn more about emergency preparedness planning. We will work with you to help create a comprehensive EPP that addresses the risk specific to your facilities. You can also check out our previous insight articles that discuss what’s included in a general hurricane preparedness plan and steps you should take when a storm has entered the Gulf of Mexico.