Branch Bill, Chaney, John A.
ALEXANDRIA – As hurricane season begins, the leaders in the Louisiana Water/Waste Water Response Network are traveling the state urging utilities to form partnerships that could help avert service outages.
Known as LaWARN, for short, the network is helping waterworks across Louisiana develop cooperative agreements and build relationships with other utilities so they could better serve customers and restore service in a timely manner following any type of disaster or outage.
"Leaders in the Louisiana Rural Water Association identified the need to streamline the process of helping water companies restore services after they saw what happened following hurricanes Katrina and Rita," said LSU AgCenter water specialist Dr. Bill Branch, who assists leaders of the water systems and provides educational support as needed. "They are encouraging utilities to join LaWARN and utility managers and government agencies to adopt mutual aid agreements."
More than 60 people attended a May 16 meeting in Central Louisiana to discuss the importance of water organizations developing relationships to help each other restore water and waste water systems following a hurricane, freeze or tornado.
"The LaWARN agreement helps us develop a database of personnel, resources and equipment to help water organizations needing assistance," said Pat Credeur, executive director of the Louisiana Rural Water Association and co-chairman of this effort. "In times of a disaster, it helps to know the qualifications of volunteers available to help restore water systems."
The proposed mutual aid agreement the Rural Water Association is encouraging systems to adopt also helps organizations that aid other systems in a crisis to be compensated for their support from FEMA following the event, Credeur said. It also encourages cooperation among utility companies and reduces the time to restore service.
So far, 140 water systems have joined LaWARN, and 10 of those have signed the mutual aid agreement, Credeur said, adding that the push for agreements has just begun.
"Water is very important following a crisis," Credeur said. "For example, following Hurricane Rita, people waited for water to be restored so they could return home. When water was turned on, they returned home with generators and started cleaning."
In most instances, water was restored before electricity and gas after the hurricanes in 2005, according to Credeur, explaining water systems were operated by using portable generators at first. The Louisiana Rural Water Association helped 780 water systems following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he said.
"Volunteers from water systems all over the country were helping repair the damaged utilities," said Credeur, "And they were happy to do so with no or little thought of being compensated for their efforts."
Likewise, utility personnel from cities volunteered to help other cities in need like New Orleans and Lake Charles, said Don Broussard, water operations manager with the Lafayette Utility System and the co-chairman of the LaWARN effort.
"Some of our people in Lafayette went to help New Orleans," Broussard said, adding, "We need more government agencies to adopt the mutual service agreement. It is like a free insurance policy in times of a disaster."
The agreement encourages utilities to build relationships with potential partners and emergency management agencies before they are needed to help in a crisis.
Broussard explained the agreements will help streamline and enhance any recovery effort, and Marcus Conella with the Alexandria Utility Department said the City of Alexandria already had adopted the mutual aid agreement.
Another successful mutual aid system has been operating for years in Avoyelles Parish. Under that system, water systems in the parish trade out parts, such as pumps, to restore service quickly – until replacements can be ordered.
Members attending the May meeting had a variety of suggestions on improving communication, obtaining supplies, sharing equipment and being able to enter restricted areas to help repair utilities.
"This is a win-win situation," said Branch. "The agreements encourage utility systems to help systems that are damaged after a disaster."
Bill Branch at (225) 578-2917 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Don Broussard at (337) 291-5901 or email@example.com
Marcus Conella at (318) 449-5008 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Credeur at (800) 256-2591 or LaRWA@centurytel.net
John Chaney at (318) 473-6589 or email@example.com