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Drinking Water System Security
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One consequence of the events of September 11th (9/11) is a heightened concern among citizens in the United States over the security of their drinking water supply. For the past few years, the drinking water industry, in cooperation with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been working on projects to enhance security and protection. Many of these projects were underway prior to the attacks of September 11th and, subsequently, are already completed or near completion. Through these efforts, water utilities have already taken many straightforward, common sense actions to increase security and reduce threats from terrorism. Many of these actions are recommended by the American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and other leading professional organizations. These recommendations include:

Guarding Against Unplanned Physical Intrusion

  • Lock all doors and set alarms at your office, drinking water well houses, treatment plants and vaults and make it a rule that doors are locked and alarms are set.
  • Limit access to facilities and control access to water supply reservoirs giving close scrutiny to visitors and contractors.
  • Post guards at treatment plants and post "Employee Only" signs in restricted areas.
  • Control access to water supply reservoirs.
  • Secure hatches, meter boxes, hydrants, manholes and other access points to the water distribution system.
  • Increase lighting in parking lots, treatment bays and other areas with limited staffing.
  • Control access to computer networks and control systems and change the passwords frequently.
  • Do not leave keys in equipment or vehicles at any time.

Making Security a Priority for Employees

  • Conduct background security checks on employees at hiring and periodically thereafter.
  • Develop a security program with written plans and train employees frequently.
  • Ensure all employees are aware of communications protocols with relevant law enforcement, public health, environmental protection and emergency response organizations.
  • Ensure that employees are fully aware of the importance of vigilance and the seriousness of breaches in security and make note of unaccompanied strangers on site and immediately notify designated security officers or local law enforcement agencies.
  • Consider varying the timing of operational procedures if possible so if someone is watching the pattern changes.
  • Provide customer service staff with training and checklists of how to handle a threat if it is called in.

Coordinating Actions for Effective Emergency Response

  • Review existing emergency response plans and ensure they are current and relevant.
  • Develop clear protocols and chain-of-command for reporting and responding to threats along with relevant emergency management, law enforcement, environmental, public health officials, consumers and the media. Practice the emergency protocols regularly.
  • Ensure key utility personnel (both on and off duty) have access to crucial telephone numbers and contact information at all times. Keep this call list up-to-date.
  • Develop close relationships with local law enforcement agencies and make sure they know where critical assets are located. Request they add your facilities to their routine rounds.
  • Report to county or state health officials any illness among the utility's customers that might be associated with water supplies.
  • Report criminal threats, suspicious behavior or attacks on water utilities immediately to law enforcement officials and the relevant field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Investing in Security and Infrastructure Improvements

  • Assess the vulnerability of source water protection areas, drinking water treatment plants, distribution networks and other key infrastructure areas.
  • Move as quickly as possible with the most obvious and cost-effective physical improvements such as tamper-proof manhole covers, fire hydrants and valve boxes.
  • Improve computer system and remote operational security.
  • Seek financial assistance for more expensive and comprehensive system improvements.
Note: Not all recommendations listed above are pertinent to all National Park Service drinking water systems. The park Facility Manager should evaluate these recommendations and adopt those that are feasible and cost-effective for the individual drinking water system.
While water utilities are the key to improving security of our drinking water supplies, EPA, other federal agencies and both industry and managerial trade associations also provide help and support. EPA is working AWWA and other groups to develop training courses and "train-the-trainer" materials for water utilities and state personnel on assessing vulnerabilities and improving security which will begin soon. EPA is working collaboratively with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and other groups to develop an Information Sharing and Analysis Center to bolster coordinated notification and response to threats and vulnerabilities. A number of technical projects are underway to assess the fate and transport of potential agents in water, increase security of critical water data and other issues.
  For more information
National Rural Water Association
EPA Security Resources
EPA Counterterrorism
EPA Alert on Chemical Accident and Site Security
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies
American Water Works Association
National League of Cities


1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, October 2001



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