Waiting for disaster to happen
Easy access to safe drinking water is critical in the event of a natural disaster or catastrophic event. While last year's hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean focused increasing public attention on disaster planning, the reality is that many cities are not fully prepared to address the needs of their citizens during a large-scale emergency.
SPU's proactive approach to planning, and its emergency drinking water provision system, provide peace of mind for residents and serve as a model to be replicated elsewhere.
SPU's Emergency Drinking Water Provision System can deliver up to 2.3M litres of water a day to six strategic distribution sites around the city. Located in close proximity to Seattle's six largest community centres, the system provides an accessible, clean and sanitised source of water for citizens in need.
Featuring a large portable water storage container, a pump, and a versatile bag-in-box equipped with a tamper-evident puncture seal dispensing mechanism; the system is the result is a collaborative effort among local government, a number of companies and experts.
These development partners include Colder Products Company of St Paul, Minnesota, a leading provider of quick disconnect couplings and fluid management solutions; Parish Manufacturing, a manufacturer of flexible packaging products for liquid, food, and beverage products; and Ryan Herco, a distributor of industrial plastics.
In 2001, threats to public safety from terrorist attacks led the US government to pass the Public Health, Security, and Bioterrorism Preparedness Act. The act states that a community water system serving more than 100,000 citizens shall conduct an assessment of a system's vulnerability.
SPU evaluated its system and determined it needed to go beyond what the law required and create an emergency preparedness system. The plan provides water to Seattle's neighbourhoods quickly in the event that the regular water system were compromised.
"We've never had a grand-scale emergency, but we realised that there is no such thing as a completely secure water system," says Pat O'Brien, senior planner of the Seattle Public Utilities Community Service Division. "We felt that a hands-on approach was necessary, so we enlisted the assistance of partners from the private sector to help create the emergency water plan. We then put a city-wide community support system in place to ensure successful implementation."
Delivering water quickly is a lengthy process that starts with water collection and storage and ends with distribution to Seattle's citizens. In the event of an emergency, potable water distribution systems are dispatched to six designated sites around the city. Each system consists of a generator, a tent, a table, chairs, a 13,300-litre water storage unit called a blivet, and the dispensing equipment. In short, all the elements needed to collect, store, and dispense potable water to residents.
The blivets are connected to a Ryan Herco-developed pumping system that enables users to dispense water into individual 5.7 litre bags. The bags are provided by Parish Manufacturing and equipped with the Colder Puncture Seal bag closure fitment.
"Believe it or not, the process of getting water from the pump to the bag is a critical one. We have to make sure that we can rapidly fill the bags. In an emergency, people are stressed and anguished, and ensuring they get water quickly and easily is essential for maintaining a state of calm," says O'Brien.
A Colder quick disconnect coupling and sanitary, tamper evident puncture seal bag closure provide the final link between the pumping system and the individual bags.
The patented Colder Puncture Seal keeps each individual bag sterile until it is filled. As soon as the puncture seal coupling is connected to the closure on the bag, the puncture seal membrane is pierced. This allows water to fill the bag quickly via a hands-free operation.
When the filling process is complete, system operators press the thumb latch on the coupling body to disconnect it. The bag is then capped and sent home with residents.
"Anyone who has seen the bags fill has been absolutely in awe. We wanted bags that would fill in half a minute or less and this system does the trick in 25 seconds," says O'Brien. "Its simplicity makes it visually impressive. Plus, once the bag is filled, it does not leak at all.
We don't even have to disconnect the water connection between fillings."
By incorporating the puncture seal system into Seattle's emergency plan, SPU has also avoided a problem common in other cities, where residents reuse unhygienic containers that they bring to water-dispensing sites. Use of sanitised bags and the puncture seal ensures a cleaner, safer alternative. The Colder system provides the added benefits of being disposable and tamper evident.
"Colder's Puncture Seal system provides us with the convenience, ease-of-use, and cost-effective design that we needed," says O'Brien.
While the puncture seal was a critical component in the system, SPU also benefited greatly from contributions made by the other development partners.
"We're very pleased at what can be accomplished when organisations work together toward a common goal. In this instance, the completion of the system would not have been possible without the collaboration of our exemplary partners," says O'Brien.
Greg Garcia, northwest regional sales manager of Ryan Herco says, "Our involvement in the design of the water distribution system demonstrates our ability to package unique, functional finished goods. We are proud to have been part of efforts to improve Seattle's emergency preparedness." SPU's efforts also include a community response team of 36 SPU staff.
This community team is in place to address emergencies, including potable water distribution, which affect a much larger regional area. The key to the system, however, is that it isn't labour intensive. "A real strength of this system is the ability to distribute safe potable water to many individuals with limited manpower," says Garry Bledsoe, sales and marketing manager of Parish Manufacturing. "Water is easier to transport when it can be filled and packaged
At the moment, the Seattle Public Utilities is currently developing a "how to" training manual for municipal employees and community teams who will be involved in emergency water distribution. The system has been demonstrated at regional forums including the Emergency Preparedness Conference in Redmond, Washington. This type of awareness building will ensure residents take full advantage of the system in the event of an emergency, and O'Brien hopes other cities are taking notice.
"I am not aware of a system like ours anywhere in the United States," says O'Brien. "Our citizens can rest assured that we are prepared to deal with potential risks to the water system."