How to Prepare Your Utility for Severe Winter Storms

How to Prepare Your Utility for Severe Winter Storms

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Now that winter has taken hold, it’s a good time to review some of the actions sewer and water utilities can take to prepare for extreme cold weather events.

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall during severe winter storms offer an assortment of potential problems for utilities, including pipe breaks, power loss, employee absences, limited access due to snowy roads or ice storm damage, source water quality issues related to road salt, flooding, frozen equipment and more.

But thanks to the mysterious and clairvoyant abilities of meteorologists, we often know winter storms are coming in advance, and that’s the perfect time to start reviewing your utility’s emergency response plan.

First, make sure you have up-to-date contact information for all the agencies, groups and individuals you’d need during a crisis. Talk to your staff and brush up on training to make sure everyone is ready to go in the event of an emergency.

Some of the planning actions recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency include the following:

  • Map the locations of priority water customers like hospitals and make sure you have their contact information;
  • Develop an emergency drinking water supply plan;
  • Take inventory of your supplies and equipment, and make sure it’s tuned up to function in the cold;
  • Make sure your essential personnel are trained to perform critical tasks even if communication is lost;
  • Document the power requirements of your facility and note the generator connection type, capacity load and fuel consumption;
  • Fill your vehicles’ fuel tanks and make sure you have a backup fueling plan if your regular contractors aren’t available;
  • Review historical records to get a handle on how strong storms from your region’s past have been; and
  • Complete pre-disaster activities to help expedite applying for federal disaster funding.

The EPA also recommends coordinating with your state’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN) or mutual-aid group to get assistance. This is also a good time to identify some staging areas in your city for mutual-aid crews.

Also get in touch with your local emergency management agency and sign up for their mobile and email alerts. 

Public awareness

Communication with the public is essential in the event of severe winter weather. It’s a good idea to draft water advisory messages ahead of time to ensure they follow public information protocols and have appropriate distribution channels.

It’s also beneficial to tell customers how to prevent pipe breaks and keep water flowing as the cold weather rolls in by reminding them to insulate key areas and drip water from an indoor faucet to keep their lines from freezing completely.

These are just a few highlights of things a utility crew can do with the threat of severe weather looming over their city. To print out and run through a complete and detailed checklist for winter weather preparations, response and recovery, download the EPA’s Extreme Cold and Winter Storms Incident Action Checklist


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