Tampa Bay Water Takes Extra Precautions to Keep Employees Safe, Provide Continuous Service During Hurricanes - Tampa Bay Water Blog

Tampa Bay Water Takes Extra Precautions to Keep Employees Safe, Provide Continuous Service During Hurricanes

Access to clean, safe water is essential before, during and after hurricane emergencies. Hurricane season is June 1 through November 30 and for Tampa Bay Water and other utilities across the state, planning for hurricane season starts months in advance. This year, our annual storm preparations were complicated by COVID-19, but Tampa Bay Water’s early preparations enable the utility to quickly adjust.

Tampa Bay Water’s hurricane plan requires essential employees to be on site in the agency’s Cypress Creek Regional Operations Facility (our emergency command center) to quickly respond to disruptions during a storm.

“Our goal [after a hurricane] is to return to normal operations as quickly as possible, providing our member governments and their customers clean, safe water,” said Tampa Bay Water’s Chief Operating Officer, Chuck Carden. “We can’t do that without our incredible employees staying safe through COVID-19 or any emergency.”

Annual Hurricane Planning

In the first half of the year leading up to hurricane season, staff conducts an annual review of our hurricane plan and pre-storm checklists, incorporating lessons learned from previous seasons. We coordinate with our member governments, sharing emergency contact lists, generator plans and locations, and our operating scenarios in case of disruptions.

The goal is to avoid service interruptions to the extent possible, and to quickly restore service, if lost. This proper planning paid off during Hurricane Irma—water delivery continued uninterrupted throughout this storm emergency.

Also, during this planning, we perform assessments with our employees to determine who will serve as primary responders during a storm. These essential employees will shelter in place at the Cypress Creek command center, built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Outer offices are used as sleeping quarters, and hurricane supplies are stocked in the facility.

Clean, safe water is essential before, during and after a hurricane. When preparing for an approaching storm, remember there is plenty of tap water available for storing. Here are some ways you can store tap water ahead of a storm.

“Our employees and their safety are critical to our success,” said Tampa Bay Water Safety Services Manager Dawn McMahon, COSS, COSM. “This year, with the novel coronavirus, we’ve made adjustments to our shelter-on-site plans to protect essential workers.”

The agency stocks extra face masks and hand sanitizer, individually packaged food, and prepares sleeping and eating quarters that accommodate social distancing for our primary responders to keep them safe during the pandemic.

During and After a Storm

When a hurricane is approaching the area, Tampa Bay Water goes into full emergency operations mode. Employees are first given the opportunity to secure their homes and families, beginning with primary responders. Then, staff is placed into teams and shifts for work before, during and after a storm. We switch our facilities over to generators before a storm to help keep drinking water flowing in the event commercial power is lost.

We establish our Emergency Operation Center and follow an Incident Command System (ICS) that provides clearly defined roles and responsibilities for employees responding to emergencies. Our command system is similar to and communicates with other unified command centers within Florida.  This chain of command, along with comprehensive checklists, helps all employees to know what to do in virtually every foreseeable instance. Our checklists outline activities that we perform 72, 48 and 24 hours before landfall and well into the recovery phase.

After a storm passes, primary responders go home, and remaining employees return to work to assess any damage the storm may have caused, complete water testing and coordinate our recovery efforts with our member governments, other utilities and communities needing assistance.

These preparations ensure our members, and the more than 2.5 million customers they serve, can count on Tampa Bay Water.