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Tapping Community Resources for Safe Drinking Water

Faculty member Carl Osaki helps public health and emergency preparedness workers in Oregon strengthen collaborations to assure safe drinking water, wastewater management, and sanitation in the event of a tsunami.
Tapping Community Resources for Safe Drinking Water

Sign for a tsunami evacuation route in Seaside, Oregon.

Faculty member Carl Osaki helps public health and emergency preparedness workers in Oregon strengthen collaborations to assure safe drinking water, wastewater management, and sanitation in the event of a tsunami.

May 16, 2013

The 2011 catastrophic earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan were sobering events to witness. But for those living in coastal communities, these events were a reminder that living near the ocean may require unique emergency preparedness planning. In Oregon, public health and emergency preparedness workers in Clatsop and Tillamook Counties had been building response and recovery collaborations for a decade prior to the Tohoku Earthquake, but after observing the events in Japan, these public health professionals felt that they could be better prepared to manage drinking water issues if a similar event happened in their locality.

After two years of planning, 40 partners representing public health, public works, military, and nonprofit organizations met last month to review their emergency plans. The results were promising.

Margo Lalich, Director at Clatsop County Public Health, explains, “We had participated in previous planning sessions but had never exercised a multi-disciplinary response to water sanitation issues. This was a first for us, and it was a huge learning moment.”

The half-day tabletop exercise simulated a fictional earthquake and a tsunami off the north coast of Oregon. Participants were asked to examine each other’s agency plans and policies and discuss ways to coordinate resources through a series of probing questions.

NWCPHP faculty member Carl Osaki, RS, MSPH, developed and led the exercise and was pleased with the group’s progress. He explains, “Tabletops are a chance to identify gaps and that can be disconcerting. Most agencies don’t want to expose their vulnerabilities. This group was willing to lay out their plans and tackle complicated issues.”

It takes an enormous amount of resources to protect community water and waste systems. Throughout the day, agency representatives reviewed plans and policies to prioritize infrastructure repair, remove liquid waste, communicate with the public, set up mass shelters, track disease, and much more.

The broad range of subjects reminded participants that no agency can work alone. When “the big one” hits, it will require a community response. Everyone involved agreed that gathering a group of such diverse yet interrelated organizations together was challenging but essential for enhancing interagency cooperation.

At the end of the day, Maureen Sheffield-Taylor, Environmental Health Supervisor at Clatsop County Public Health, summed up another shared perspective. She noted, “This tabletop was a great start but it is just the beginning. Now we see how much more work we have to do.”

If your agency would like help developing a tabletop or other emergency preparedness-related training, please contact Luann D’Ambrosio.

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