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Emergency Water Supply Planning: Considerations Beyond Food Service

Emergency Water Supply Planning: Considerations Beyond Food Service

Whether they are affected by hurricanes, wildfires, or brutal winter storms, communities nationwide find themselves without clean water in the wake of disasters every year. One can live weeks without food, but only days without water, and this is just one of many reasons why water can be the crux of any good disaster plan.

Most public health, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and trade organizations recommend at least one gallon of potable water per person per day for drinking and food preparation. However, healthcare has additional considerations to meet facility management needs beyond just food service. Water is essential for not only consumption, but critical for hygiene, wound care, toilet flushing, HVAC systems, and much more.

There are several resources available to help healthcare communities meet water planning needs in a disaster. The California Hospital Association Hospital Emergency Food Supply Planning Guidance and Toolkit assists facilities in identifying difficult questions, such as who may arrive at a facility to seek shelter. While this tool was developed for hospitals, it can easily be adapted to meet the needs of any inpatient and outpatient community. The guide provides instructions and an Excel file to assist safety teams in evaluating patients and/or residents in a community, essential staff to meet the patients’ and or residents’ needs, and potential community surge that may seek shelter during a disaster.  

Once a campus has identified community needs, the revised Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Emergency Water Supply Planning Guide for Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities can assist in identify gaps and help a safety team develop a working plan. This handy guide is a collaborative effort between the CDC, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the American Water Works Association (AWWA). Recent updates include a condensed grab-and-go summary to aide safety teams’ preparations for water interruption on any scale. The guide also includes audit forms, a working checklist, educational infographics, and a four-step breakdown of community water analysis:

STEP 1: Assemble an Emergency Water Supply Plan (EWSP) team and gather documents.

Identify appropriate staff members who will be responsible for the development of the EWSP and assemble documents about the facility and its water usage. Gathering expertise from a range of individuals will ensure a comprehensive and robust plan.

STEP 2: Understand water usage with audits.

A Water Use Audit provides a series of steps/actions to help a facility determine its critical emergency water needs by quantifying the details of its water use and determining where it is essential and where it can be restricted.

STEP 3: Analyze emergency water supply alternatives.

Analyze other water supply options, such as bottled water and back up groundwater wells.

STEP 4: Develop and exercise your EWSP.

A great plan starts with considerations and communication from the community’s interdisciplinary team. Additional water considerations may be the effects of ambient temperature on storage location (extreme freezing or heat), effects of seasonal temperature on water needs, transport of water, effects of weight on storage location, plans to circulate, and training.  

Evaluating your emergency water supply is essential to any well-rounded emergency operations plan, and the aforementioned tools are great places to begin ensuring your disaster plan is not your next disaster. Meals for All’s Registered Dietitian consultants are also available to discuss emergency water options and how you can better prepare your facility during these uncertain times. Request a consultation today and be prepared!

By Jo Miller, MPH, RDN, Vice President of Nutrition at Meals for All, Inc.

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