Contact: Sandra Fallon, National Environmental Services Center
Phone: (304) 293-4191 x5582; E-mail:

Article/References Word Count: 1,254
Article Release Date: August 2010


Utilities Help Each Other During Emergencies
Have your water and wastewater systems signed up?

By Sandra Fallon, Training Specialist, National Environmental Services Center

If a natural disaster or other incident strikes your town, local water and wastewater utilities must rely on their own resources immediately following the crisis. It can take 72 hours or longer for assistance to arrive from the state or federal government after a state of emergency is declared. Because first responders, local businesses, community and health services, and the public continue to rely on water services during and after an emergency, and because water service disruptions can make recovery efforts even more difficult, it’s prudent to plan ahead so that assistance is in place for rapid, effective response and recovery.

Public and private water and wastewater utilities, both large and small, can now participate in the Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN), a utilities-helping-utilities program that uses mutual aid and assistance agreements, which are established and signed prior to an emergency, to help affected utilities quickly obtain resources such as personnel, equipment, materials, and related services from utility signatories to the WARN agreement. In an emergency, WARN support kicks in when local resources are overwhelmed or unable to provide what's needed. WARN can be activated by any impacted signatory utility in response to an emergency, and aid can arrive quickly, saving critical response time. "Simply put, WARN helps ensure continuity of operations" says Kevin Morley, manager of the Security and Preparedness Program with the American Water Works Association (AWWA). "If a system is impaired or impacted, WARN provides an option to recover as fast as possible."

Now is the time to encourage your local water and wastewater systems to join WARN, before disaster strikes.  WARN programs are underway in almost all 50 states, and those without a WARN are working on it.  You can find your state WARN contact information on the National Warn Web site at

Partnerships, Planning, and Mutual Aid
The network is formed through partnerships among public and private water and wastewater utilities and key representatives from professional associations, state water and wastewater regulatory and emergency management agencies, and the regional Environmental Protection Agency. This collaboration helps facilitate pre-disaster planning and training, and encourages sharing information and lessons learned from other disasters. Ongoing communication among WARN leaders and members is essential to keep the network up-to-date and ready to handle an emergency.

The heart of WARN is the mutual aid and assistance agreement, which addresses members' responsibilities, procedures and protocols for providing aid, legal and liability concerns, and issues related to crossing jurisdictional boundaries to provide emergency aid. These agreements are designed to meet National Incident Management System (NIMS) and federal requirements for homeland security grants, and such agreements must be in place prior to an incident for federal disaster assistance reimbursement. According to Morley, all communities are required to become NIMS compliant (, and becoming a WARN signatory helps a community achieve this goal.

WARN members in each state use the same pre-established mutual aid and assistance agreement developed by that state's initial WARN leadership team. This agreement takes into account state laws and regulations, establishes a cost recovery process for utilities, and addresses expectations for reimbursement. The agreement also addresses how workers’ compensation, insurance, or damaged equipment on loan will be handled. The WARN agreements address hazards ranging from small incidents like power outages and major line breaks to large, catastrophic disasters, and facilitate assistance from across state lines if necessary.

Benefits of Joining WARN
WARN offers a practical and affordable approach with multiple benefits for the utility and community. "WARN functions like a no-cost insurance policy," says Morley. There is no cost to join the network, and in an emergency each utility decides whether it can respond on a case-by-case basis; there is no obligation. The utility may incur some planning and coordination costs such as staff time to attend meetings, conducting legal reviews, or communication efforts. Overall, the costs are small and well worth the benefits.

AWWA conducted a survey to determine the economic benefits of WARN and found that WARN participation improves a utility's ability to respond to emergencies and reduces their costs to respond. Cost savings include reduced costs to purchase and maintain back-up power capabilities, such as portable generators, and to borrow rather than purchase and store other emergency supplies and equipment. Utilities also indicate reduced loss of water and wastewater revenues due to expedited recovery of services. WARN membership can be a positive factor in risk assessments for insurance purposes, resulting in reduced insurance costs.

Encourage Local Utilities to Join WARN
No community or utility is immune to disaster, and past experience suggests that outside help can be a long time coming. WARN helps the water and wastewater sector become more self-reliant and offers rapid, specialized assistance for emergency response and recovery. Securing this help requires a utility to join its WARN program before disaster occurs. Trying to figure out who can help when your treatment plant is flooded is not good business. According to AWWA's Morley, "WARN participation should be a key part of every utility's business continuity and risk management plans. The costs are small and the benefits to the utility and the community it serves are large." By making sure that your local utilities join your state WARN, you'll be taking a positive step to protect your community, its water services, and the water utility's ability to return to normal operations as soon as possible.

References and Resources
"Being Prepared Before the Next Disaster Strikes: Water and Wastewater Agency Response Networks Provide a Good Foundation." 2009. Natalie Eddy, National Environmental Services Center. In Small Flows, v. 9, No. 3. Provides brief history, overview, and benefits of WARN.

Economic Benefits of Forming and Participating in a Water/Wastewater Agency
Response Network (WARN). September 2008. American Water Works Association.
Discusses economic benefits of WARN participation, provides case studies, and identifies resources for developing a business case for WARN participation.

National WARN Web site. Web site operated by the American Water Works Association offering WARN resources and contact information for state WARN representatives. The site provides information only, it is not designed to respond or assist with emergencies.

Small Water Systems: A Vital Component of WARN. November 2009. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. EPA 817-F-09-009. Factsheet highlighting the importance and relevance of small water and wastewater systems’ participation in WARN.

Tribal Water Systems: A Vital Component of WARN. November 2009. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. EPA 817-F-09-010. Factsheet highlighting the importance and relevance of tribal water and wastewater systems’ participation in WARN.

Utilities Helping Utilities: An Action Plan for Mutual Aid and Assistance Networks for Water and Wastewater Utilities. March 2006. Kevin Morley, American Water Works Association and Ray Riordan, California Utilities Emergency Association. Provides guidance for creating and implementing a mutual aid and assistance program for water and wastewater utilities, and includes a sample mutual aid and assistance agreement.
A Spanish version of this plan is available at

Utilities Helping Utilities: Joint Policy Statement on Mutual Aid & Assistance Networks. February 15, 2006. Joint statement signed by key water sector agencies supporting WARN.

Utilities Helping Utilities Workshop Fact Sheet. April 2007. American Water Works Association. Answers frequently asked questions about Water/Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARN).

Wastewater Systems: A Vital Component of WARN. February 2010. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water. EPA 817-F-10-003. Factsheet highlighting the importance and relevance of wastewater systems’ participation in WARN.

About the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC).  RCAP ( and its programs across the country offer water and wastewater training and assistance to small and rural communities, tribes, and water utilities. NESC (; (304) 293-4191) offers information, technical assistance via telephone, educational resources, and magazines and newsletters addressing water and wastewater issues for these same audiences.

Author Bio:  Sandra Fallon is a training specialist with the National Environmental Services Center and has developed many educational resources addressing water issues for small community officials.