The Value of a Dress-Rehearsal: How a Mock Storm Drill Uncovered Gaps in Wastewater Plan

The Value of a Dress-Rehearsal: How a Mock Storm Drill Uncovered Gaps in Wastewater Plan

By their very nature, wastewater treatment plants that service coastal communities are often located at low elevations and are vulnerable to storm surge and flooding events. The Town of Hull, Massachusetts, located on a peninsula at the southern edge of Boston Harbor, is particularly at risk. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on two sides and with a front door elevation of 12 ft., the Hull Water Pollution Control Facility (WPCF) has been impacted by several major storms over the last 40 years, including major town-wide flooding events like the Blizzard of ‘78. In 2015, Woodard & Curran began a 10-year contract to operate Hull’s WPCF and developed a new high-flow management plan to address the facility’s response to future weather emergencies. Instead of waiting for a real storm event to evaluate the effectiveness of their new plan, we ran a mock storm drill to test the new procedures set in place. 

While there is already another mock storm drill in the works for Hull WPCF this summer, I wanted to take a moment to share some of the major lessons that we already learned and illuminate the impact this type of activity can have on the preparedness of a hazard mitigation plan. 

Advanced planning brings stakeholders together

Before the drill began, all the stakeholders were brought to the table (in the case of the mock drill – the table was virtual for some participants). Together, the stakeholders determined the key shared resources that were fundamental to the management plan and their relevant contacts. This exercise alone strengthened the mitigation plan because it allowed relevant parties to play an active role in implementing the plan before a crisis hit. Major stakeholders, including the town manager, the public works department, the municipal light department, the sewer department, and the wastewater treatment staff (i.e., Woodard & Curran staff) developed a master contact list, which included regional and state entities and on-call personnel. The Woodard & Curran wastewater treatment staff, along with other support staff from the region, met at the Hull WPCF and kicked off the mock drill.  Beyond getting everyone on board, having non-familiar staff take part in the drill led to better outcomes and better perspectives on obvious improvements.  During a real event, the other Town departments would be busy dealing with their own assets, such as public roads, public safety, municipal power, schools, Town Hall, DPW office, etc.

Make critical field elements easily identifiable

When implementing the drill, it became apparent that some of the critical assets that needed to be maintained and monitored during a storm event were not as identifiable as they should be in an emergency event. After the first drill, the Woodard & Curran WPCF staff made some simple changes to some of the assets. For example, they painted the electrical manholes red so that emergency staff could easily locate the electrical manholes throughout the plant grounds, as the electrical manholes need to be sand bagged before a storm/flood event.

Team-sized information delivery 

The original plan provided one master checklist for the pre, during, and post storm activities, but during the drill it became clear that this format was not helpful in the field. In practice, people on the ground wanted to divide and conquer the steps outlined in the plan and it was more effective to break up necessary tasks into smaller, team-sized procedures with photos and safety tags. Several of the storm response team members were not regular employees of the facility and they highlighted how the checklists and standard operating procedures (SOPs) must be written so that anyone helping the facility could confidently handle their assigned tasks. 

Small changes can make big impacts in an emergency event and by implementing the mock storm drill, the facility in Hull picked up on several process improvements and gaps in their initial plan. As I mentioned before, the team plans to run another storm drill this August to further improve their readiness and perfect their high-flow management plan. By practicing and perfecting their response, Hull’s WPCF will be prepared to keep its community and their WPCF safe under the most vulnerable conditions. If you have any questions about running a mock storm drill, or would like to learn more information about our program in Hull, please reach out to Kate Roosa at kroosa@woodardcurran.com.
 

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Senior Area Manager
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Kate Roosa
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