Concern about intentional damage to water systems and their facilities is a top priority. After all, no resource is more important than a safe and reliable supply of drinking water.
The people responsible for our drinking water supplies are guarding them from threats including damage, cyberattack, and intentional contamination.
What are systems doing to protect their water and facilities?
Security is nothing new to water providers. They have always been on guard against those who would contaminate our water or damage facilities. But the terrorist attacks of 2001 brought more attention to the topic.
In addition to the many security measures already being taken, water providers will conduct new risk and resiliency assessments and revise their emergency response plans starting in 2020. These efforts are part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018. The new risk assessments will include a focus on cybersecurity.
Water providers are doing many things to protect our drinking water, such as:
- Making sure that all facilities are locked and secure
- Installing motion sensors and video cameras to watch for, detect, and record events
- Explaining their facilities and operations to local law enforcement officials
- Establishing procedures with local law enforcement for reporting and responding to threats
- Setting up systems for detection, response, and public notification
What are the threats?
Public water systems must guard against:
- Physical damage of treatment, storage, and distribution facilities
- Contamination of the water supply
- Cyberattacks of computer systems
Physical damage could interrupt water flow and cause a loss of pressure, meaning no water is available. This would create an inconvenience for customers, disrupt business operations, allow for possible contamination, and prevent firefighting efforts. Cyberattacks of computer systems could disrupt water supply operations in similar ways.
What are the chances of water systems being intentionally damaged?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes the threat of contamination through terrorist activities is small.
For a contaminant to be effective, it would have to be tasteless, odorless, and colorless. It would have to be used in large quantities, since it would quickly weaken in the water. It would be difficult to contaminate an entire water system due to the sheer size. Treatment processes already in place for many water supplies would remove many contaminants.
Even though the likelihood of such an event is small, even a minor incident of intentional damage will reduce public confidence in the safety of public water supplies. This confidence is critical and is one more reason that the superintendents and operators of public water systems must remain on guard at all times.
For more information, visit Drinking Water Safety in Emergencies.
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