Friday, July 24, 2015

The email pipe is still clogged

One evening in late November  2010 the city suffered a loss of water pressure at 10:30 pm. Within 45 minutes, S&WB knew they would have to issue a boil water advisory. But, due to communications problems, it took several hours for that to happen. 
Within 45 minutes of the breakdown, which occurred just before 10:30 on a Friday night, water board officials knew they likely would have to issue a boil-water advisory urging residents not to use tap water for drinking, eating, cooking or bathing.

But it wasn't until almost 2 a.m. Saturday that the advisory went out to local news outlets. Even then, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's communications director didn't get the word for another hour, despite her repeated requests to the water board for information.

Ultimately, it took until after 8 a.m. -- long after many people had used tap water to shower, brush their teeth and make their morning coffee -- for City Hall to spread the news, which affected some 300,000 residents and tourists, via its e-mail and text alert system.
The controversy that ensued resulted in everyone vowing to get it right next time even if it meant sending the police to the mayor's house in the middle of the night.
St. Martin and Sneed said on Friday that they have changed their emergency protocols as a result. In the future, they said, they will call senior city officials at their home and cell phones -- or dispatch police to rouse them, if necessary -- when major problems occur at night.
They never quite got that system worked out although they've ample occasion to practice. The next boil advisory was issued in 2012 after a 5 hour delay
New Orleanians went about their usual morning routines Monday, showering, brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, unaware that a short, sudden drop in water pressure might have compromised the city's water supply. The Sewerage & Water Board, which manages the city's potable water system, knew about the glitch a little after 8:30 a.m., but didn't tell east bank residents until 1 p.m. that they should boil their water to guard against harmful bacteria.
This time we were told the problem was.. something something something.. Bobby Jindal, probably.
Officials said Monday's incident had little in common with what happened in November 2010. The lengthy consultation with state officials, not faulty after-hours policies, led to the latest delay in alerting the public, St. Martin said.
The next year the problem was a water main break.  The advisory lag was still about the same, though.
Six hours after a water main break in the Carrollton neighborhood flooded several streets Tuesday morning, the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board advised residents and businesses in a large swath of Uptown to boil tap water before drinking, bathing or rinsing food with it.
Today's advisory didn't happen until 10:00 am. That's about seven hours after S&WB lost water pressure. Although today, unlike in 2010 when they knew within an hour, they're telling us that's just how long it takes to determine anything
So why did it take more than seven hours -- after most of the city went through its breakfast and pre-work routines -- for officials to alert the public? The answer, officials said, involves the time needed to determine whether the water supply was at risk.

After Sewerage and Water Board responded to the interruption in power and switched to a backup source, it began a comprehensive assessment of water pressure readings around the city, spokesman Robert Jackson said. Once a determination was made that enough pressure readings dropped below the safe 15-pounds-per-square-inch threshold, the boil order was issued.
But that's not what they've said in the past.  Have they just given up trying to get this right?

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