D.C. Water steps up emergency planning with contamination drill

Posted Jan 13, 2016

Thirty-one staffers from the District’s water utility and other city agencies had a problem: Residents had begun reporting that their water smelled of petroleum, signaling possible contamination in part of the city’s drinking water supply.

The scenario was purely theoretical, but the large conference room at D.C. Water’s Bryant Street Pumping Station in Northwest Washington began buzzing with questions.

“Where were the calls from?” one D.C. Water staffer asked. “What’s the current message out to the public?” asked another.

Jason Hughes, playing the role of incident commander, directed the group to come up with a detailed “incident action plan”: Determine how and where to collect water samples, get the samples tested, draft a message to the media and notify “critical” customers, such as hospitals and schools.

“The laboratories will need to be contacted,” interjected Jessica ­Edwards-Brandt, D.C. Water’s manager of water quality.

It was exactly what Jonathan Reeves, D.C. Water’s emergency management director, had in mind for the start of a three-day “functional exercise” — the most far-reaching emergency drill he said the utility has conducted to practice responding to a drinking water crisis in the nation’s capital.

“We protect the water for the center of the free world,” Reeves said as staffers clustered together at tables marked “Command,” “Operations” and “Planning.” “We are held to higher standards.”

Like many government agencies, D.C. Water has held smaller emergency planning events and “tabletop” discussions of “what if?” ­scenarios. This week’s “functional” exercise went a step further, for the first time enacting an emergency response plan by working with a half-dozen other agencies, collecting water samples at fire hydrants and businesses, and seeing how six area labs would provide results.


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