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Emergency Response

Emergency Preparedness and Response

Emergency preparedness and response are essential for wastewater treatment facilities. Widescale flooding, heavy wind, power outages, fires and storm surge can damage vital equipment, overload the system and disrupt service. These impacts can further endanger public health and the environment. For this reason, DEP sponsored the creation of the Florida’s Water-Wastewater Agency Response Network (FlaWARN) - a formalized system of "utilities helping utilities" to address mutual aid during emergency situations such as hurricanes. FlaWARN has developed an Emergency Response and Preparedness manual to assist water and wastewater utilities in developing appropriate procedures to deal with such events.

WATER Tracker  was launched in 2020, providing a single location for Florida’s water and wastewater utilities to report their operational status, unmet needs and available resources following an emergency. This information is crucial to state response efforts and allows FlaWARN to efficiently mobilize resources and distribute aid.

Emergency Response Plans

Emergency response plans should assume there will be power outages following a storm. Wastewater treatment facilities should have enough generator capacity and fuel to maintain collection system pumping, treatment, and disposal or storage capability.

Plans should also address spill response, including cleanup, reporting and monitoring procedures. Even in an emergency, utilities must report wastewater incidents or spills to the State Watch Office and DEP. The general conditions in Section IX of the facility permit, describe what to report and where.

Before hurricane season (June 1 – November 30), facilities should:

  • Update response plans, mutual aid agreements and emergency contact information.
  • Ensure staff are familiar with emergency response procedures, including reporting requirements.
  • Conduct any necessary load testing and inventory of generators ahead of the storm. EPA has provided a quick guide for wastewater system generator preparedness.
  • Take precautions to protect electrical panels and equipment and any other non-submersible assets from flooding.
  • Conduct system maintenance and outreach to reduce potential inflow and infiltration.

If an emergency threatens, such as a severe weather event, facilities should: 

  • Have enough supplies and personnel pre-staged for regular operations and response activities. This includes chemicals, tools, equipment, fuel, vehicles, personnel, and management systems. Following an emergency, it may be several weeks before supply chains are restored.
  • Manage system storage. Even with inflow and infiltration preventative measures in place, heavy rains, widescale flooding and storm surge may introduce excess flow to the system.
  • Have a plan for storing, transferring or disposing of biosolids following a severe weather event. It may be days or weeks before conditions allow for land application. Facilities will need to contact the DEP district office as soon as possible if emergency approval is needed to transfer biosolids to another facility. 

Upset Provisions

It is important to understand the upset provisions in Section IX of the facility permit. An upset is an exceptional incident in which there is unintentional and temporary noncompliance with technology-based effluent limitations because of factors beyond the reasonable control of the permittee. An upset does not include noncompliance caused by operational error, improperly designed treatment facilities, inadequate treatment facilities, lack of preventive maintenance, careless or improper operation.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a utility access WATER Tracker?

An owner, operator, or authorized representative of a permitted wastewater facility may register or request login assistance by emailing or calling 1-866-742-0481. Please provide a name, email address, phone number and the associated permit number(s).

What if a utility is unable to connect to the internet after a storm event?

The utility can still report their facility’s status and request assistance by calling toll-free 1-866-742-0481. Please note that if multiple facilities are being reported, the permit number for each facility reported needs to be provided.

How can a utility request assistance during an emergency?

The utility may either contact their local county emergency operations center or request mutual aid through WATER Tracker. To avoid assistance delays, utilities are encouraged to keep a signed mutual aid agreement on file.

Do utilities still need to report an unauthorized discharge during an emergency?

Yes. An oral report is still required within 24 hours of discovery. Unless waived, a written report is still required within 5 days of discovery.

Last Modified:
February 26, 2024 - 10:37am

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