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How Can Water Utilities Obtain Critical Assets to Support CBRN Decontamination Activities?

Credit: EPA

Following initial response to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) contamination incident, a utility may require critical assets to effectively complete decontamination of its water system.

Utilities would benefit from knowing the availability of critical assets during the
pre-incident planning process, which may include (but are not limited to:

  • Personal protective equipment
  • Sampling teams with up-to-date environmental technique training
  • Qualified analytical laboratory personnel
  • Fate and transport modeling and sampling-design experts
  • Data management and documentation specialists
  • Decontamination teams capable of verifying decontamination, treating contaminated water, and decontaminating sites or items
  • Chemicals for treatment

In addition to identifying these critical assets, utilities should be aware of the process for requesting aid at local, state and federal levels. By engaging in these efforts prior to an incident, utilities will be better equipped to complete decontamination activities in a safe, effective and timely manner.

To aid in the complex request for service during emergency response, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) provides an approach to guide all
levels of government and the private sector to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of any type of incident.

The NIMS approach can be used when requesting critical assets for natural disasters and CBRN contamination incidents alike. However, for a CBRN incident, the following considerations may apply:

  • If intentional contamination is suspected, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) involvement is necessary.
  • Decontamination following a CBRN incident may require unique critical assets.
  • The request for specialized federal resources may occur more quickly when responding to a CBRN contamination incident as critical assets to support decontamination may be limited at the utility, local and state levels.
  • Different organizations from the local, state and federal levels may be involved when responding to a CBRN contamination incident. For example, hazardous materials (hazmat) response teams may assume a large role for decontamination activities.
  • Different organizations from the federal level may take the lead for coordination of decontamination activities.

How Can Utilities Obtain Critical Assets at the Local Level?

In advance of an incident, Local Emergency Planning Committees can help utilities identify organizations that can provide critical assets for decontamination. When responding to a CBRN contamination incident and carrying out decontamination
activities, drinking water and wastewater utilities should first access support through local emergency management agencies and local responders (police, fire, public health personnel). Local emergency management agencies can help identify and obtain critical assets from other local groups.

Additional incident support can potentially be obtained through mutual aid networks such as a Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN), which allow utilities to access personnel, equipment and materials from other utilities within their state to aid decontamination efforts. Utilities should check with their WARN to see if other utilities have critical assets that could be useful during decontamination response and recovery.

When requesting critical assets to support decontamination activities, it is important to be as specific as possible about the capabilities of the assets being requested. To help utilities describe the types of critical assets needed for decontamination, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Resource Typing Manual organizes resources based on their capabilities. Resource teams are listed by the type of support they could potentially provide (e.g., Distribution System Repair Team).

How are Federal Resources Acquired?

In the event of a CBRN contamination incident, critical assets for decontamination activities may be limited at the utility, local and state levels. At this point, support from the federal level may be necessary.

If the severity of the incident escalates to a presidentially declared emergency or disaster under the Stafford Act, the State or federally-recognized Indian tribe can request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Under the Stafford Act, FEMA coordinates federal responses via the National Response Framework, which groups response activities into a set of Emergency Support Functions (ESF) such as Energy, Transportation and Public Works.

FEMA also works with the states to provide federal disaster grant assistance to utilities for emergency and permanent repair, replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged facilities. However, only publicly owned water and wastewater utilities or private nonprofit (e.g. cooperatives) utilities are eligible for these federal grants. In the event that a system is damaged from a CBRN event, these grants could be important in restoring the system to service.

Additional support may be available to utilities from EPA under the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP). The NCP requires that reportable quantities of oil and hazardous substance releases (which can include CBRN releases) be reported to the National Response Center. EPA then reviews such notifications to determine the need for federal response for releases in the inland zone, and the U.S. Coast Guard reviews notifications for releases in the coastal zone.

Under either a Stafford Act declaration or the NCP, EPA may provide a variety of services for CBRN contamination incidents impacting the water sector. EPA On-Scene Coordinators can help coordinate EPA’s overall response efforts, bringing in federal special teams with CBRN expertise when necessary. EPA can also conduct or provide technical assistance regarding sampling and monitoring to identify and determine the extent of contamination, decontamination strategies, cleanup and waste management.

One key asset is EPA’s CBRN Consequence Management Advisory Division which can provide support regarding the decontamination of buildings or other structures for these incidents.

Decontamination Tools and Resources

Containment and Disposal of Large Amounts of Contaminated Water

A guidance document for utilities detailing information on the containment, treatment, disposal, storage and transportation of contaminated water involving approximately 70 contaminants of concern.

Drinking Water Treatability Database

A searchable online database containing referenced information on control of contaminants in drinking water. Information on over 200 regulated and unregulated contaminants is available to utilities, responders, treatment process designers and
researchers and academics.

EPA’s Environmental Response Laboratory Network (ERLN)

A national network of laboratories available to assist with laboratory sampling and analysis of environmental media in response to chemical, biological and radiological threats during nationally significant incidents.

Water Contaminant Information Tool (WCIT)

The Water Contaminant Information Tool (WCIT) is a database with information on over 800 drinking water and wastewater contaminants, including pathogens, pesticides, and toxic industrial chemicals.

Create a Continuity of Operations Plan for Your Water Laboratory

Laboratories can use EPA’s Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) Template for Drinking Water and Wastewater Laboratories to help plan ahead for emergencies. Creating a COOP helps laboratories identify necessary resources and prepare for continued service during an emergency.

Drinking Water Response Guidelines

The Drinking Water Response Guidelines contain checklists and forms derived from the six modules of the Drinking Water Response Protocol Tool Box to help you organize and carry out your response to an ongoing contamination incident.

Sampling Guidance for Unknown Contaminants in Drinking Water

A comprehensive guidance document that integrates recommendations for pathogen, toxin, chemical and radiochemical sample collection, preservation and transport procedures to support multiple analytical approaches for the detection and identification of potential contaminants in drinking water.

Selected Analytical Methods for Environmental Remediation and Recovery (SAM)

EPA’s SAM identifies analytical methods to be used by laboratories that analyze chemical, radiochemical, pathogen and biotoxin contaminants of concern in environmental samples, and radiochemical contamination of building materials, following a contamination incident.

Wastewater Utility Response Protocol Toolbox Introduction

A “field guide” comprised of six modules to help wastewater utilities, laboratories, first responders and others when preparing for and responding to contamination threats or incidents.

Adapted from EPA 817-F-15-012 February 2015, links updated to current resources.

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