“Supporting neighbors until water service returns.”
There have been several requests for a timeline regarding when I received information about the recent water outage. I first learned of requests for water conservation on Monday, Dec. 26th and of water outages on Tuesday, Dec. 27th, both via email from advance copy of press releases that were published by staff shortly afterwards. I also received a text from the Mayor to the full Council on the 27th, which is the same day I began hearing from customers experiencing outages.
Because I value transparency and accountability, and with understanding that there is a backlog of open records requests, I’m listing the questions I’ve asked during the crisis in an email thread started and maintained from Tuesday, Dec 27th until Thursday, January 5th with the email subject title, “Supporting neighbors until water service returns.”
This list of questions is only part of the story from my office. It does not include staff responses, the conversation scheduled in my/other Council check ins, phone conversations, or in-person conversations. Some of these questions have been answered, while I await responses to others.
- Tuesday, Dec. 27th, 6:43pm – “Supporting neighbors until water service returns”
Debra, Rachel, Brad, and Esther,
Can you please let Council know if volunteers are needed to distribute drinkable water and/or what similar response is possible? I’m watching and circulating CoA alerts on social media.
- Wednesday, Dec. 28th, 12:55am
Questions to add to a surely long list:
1. Can we get a map of outages?
2. Is the boil advisory still system-wide? Will the boil advisory be updated as improvements come online?
3. Where can customers without drinkable water pick up emergency drinking water?
My phone is on 24-7 if assistance is needed,
- Wednesday, Dec. 28th, 9:43am
Follow up question:
4. When the next press release comes out, will the alert recording for people calling in also be updated? Perhaps something clarifying which customers are under boil advisory?
5. What is happening to ensure commercial and residential renters who aren’t the primary contact for water bill have information? I’m currently pointing people to City’s website, WLOS interview, and the sign up for text alerts.
6. Are we to expect new text alerts system-wide with press release?
A. Can we get information on what happened in an after-action report?
B. This water emergency happened while electricity was on and there wasn’t inclement weather. What can be done to improve response time in getting drinkable water to customers during an emergency?
- Wednesday, Dec. 28th, 1:13pm
7. Getting reports that people calling 211 are being referred to AFD, which then refers back to 211 in a loop. Have we tested 211 operations? Will any customer who calls be serviced? What is the response for customers outside of service disruption area?
- Wednesday, Dec. 28th, 1:50pm
8. How can members of the community who are deaf access resources?
- Thursday, Dec. 29th, 6:49am
9. I received a message from last night this morning from a resident of Gerber Park: “We need help at Gerber Park. Many have therapeutic machines that keep them breathing. They require water. These are people who are unable to shop for it.” Do we have a contact for Gerber Park when doing outreach? I’m waiting for a response from the resident.
10. A resident who is hearing impaired noted that we may have residents without TTY equipment who use text and email. Can we confirm that NC has 711 relay for texting? It is not clear from my reading the FCC guidelines that 711 is able to fill the gap. ADA gap concerns are being raised, and an email outreach option has been suggested to cover the gap.
- Thursday, Dec. 29th, 1:05pm
11. As customers regain water service, do we have a graphic or video to share about flushing lines? Proactive reminders might help keep sediment out of appliances. Example: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3D_rtLrkLMA
- Thursday, Dec. 29th, 1:56pm
Regarding #11, which should be addressed soon: what does it look like to coordinate flushing message/info for consistency with 211? My understanding is that their staff are permitted to walk through problem solving with callers once emergency is activated, so I think we should make sure we’re all on the same page.
- Friday, Dec. 30th, 2:56pm
12: Switch to [boil water advisory] BWA mapping? While I appreciate the intention of the current, interactive map, after talking with the Mayor and staff, it is more accurately a tool to show general service areas, a visual of system progress underground, but will not show real-time if a specific address has enough pressure for water to come out of the tap. Even if it did work real-time per customer like the power company meter data mapping, that same information is mostly available by turning on a faucet. What has been suggested by community members is a Boil Water Advisory map that could go out with every press release. This would be helpful for employers/employees, people moving between multiple households/locations, etc, and would convey health-related information that would be useful to customers that are having water restored. If we’re going to keep using the interactive map, perhaps messaging could clarify that it’s a visual of general service area progress?
- Friday, Dec. 30th, 6:56pm
13: What is our plan for AFD if fire needs to be addressed in an area with Low/no water pressure? This may be for future/after-action response, but it’s coming up in conversation now.
- Saturday, Dec. 31st, 9:34am
14: Water distribution locations/tanks for sanitation purposes. I’m hearing we may be in the process of coordinating with the County, if not, I think we must be. There are volunteers in South Asheville and Buncombe helping neighbors who can’t carry large amounts of water, and while I appreciate the grassroots efforts, the demand is too great not to back them up. I know many are willing to help volunteer. Please let Council know what next steps look like.
- Saturday, Dec. 31st, 8:04pm
15: Can we add information about Buncombe’s water pickup on Sunday to our webpage about the outage since that’s a main info source point? Three locations, 8a-5p. Here’s their webpage: https://www.buncombecounty.org/countycenter/news-detail.aspx?id=20438
- Monday, Jan 2nd, 9:41am
16. Boil water advisory.
A. This is when a map would be helpful to go out with updates as a visual tool to support text. Can we make that happen?
B. I’m hearing examples of low pressure and discolored water in areas while the BWA is lifted, and I’m also hearing that does not build trust in our lifting the BWA. Should we have customers send information to the water department contact email that’s also for leaks? A different point of contact?
C. Buncombe has a post up about how to flush lines: https://www.buncombecounty.org/countycenter/news-detail.aspx?id=20437
D. I saw messaging to not flush lines yet, and understand from Rachel’s email on this that the reason is the pressure we’re trying to build [pressure] in the system. Do we have an ETA on when we might be able to push the flush info?
E. What might it look like for Council to look at data on the water testing? I think it will help if all of Council has access to the same information. Can we call a special meeting, and if necessary, a closed session meeting?
Regarding #15: It seems we missed an opportunity to amplify Buncombe’s water pick up on Sunday. If they do it again, I think we should partner in getting the word out.
- Tuesday, Jan. 3rd, 10:37pm:
17. Confirming info for South Asheville/Buncombe. I’m seeing some concern on social media about some Fairview residents potentially still being out of water. I realize the boil advisory was lifted, but am concerned if there are still residents/customers who still don’t have water restored.
A) Can staff point Council to regulations around boils advisory so we’re all working from the same info?
B) Are there known/confirmed outages still in the South region? Are there questionable areas or areas of concern?
- Wednesday, Jan. 4th, 10:19am:
18. after action item: multilingual outreach. On location with residents, I was able to communicate basic information in Spanish and used Google translate with those speaking Ukrainian/Russian.
When I searched for City of Asheville info on social, there was some info in Spanish. I know translation of critical health and human service information takes extra time. I wondered what capacity building might be possible for future alerts, perhaps contracting out for a local partnership if necessary during an emergency.
I will add that when text of images is available, it makes documents more accessible for low-no vision readers and translation. I was able to copy text and put in the translation app I have with some success.
No questions at this time, no reply expected. I’m just adding this to my/our emergency response documentation.
- Thursday, January 5th, 2:01pm – New questions post check-ins:
19: Response requested: We need a timeline of what happened from 12/21-present, even if just an outline, from staff to Council. I understood from today’s 9am check in that staff has documented everything, but that we’re not sharing to prevent getting ahead of the yet-appointed committee’s work. I also understand there are HS/FEMA regulations/guidelines for security. If it is legal to schedule a closed session on this matter, I think we should because of the legal protections and guardrails that are missing from the check-ins format. Otherwise, a more detailed set of information is sorely needed, because I don’t see how we don’t have some basic information for Council on the operational decisions and chain of command around this issue. The vagueness and/or withholding of a timeline/chain of command/staffing levels information lacks not only the necessary information for accountability but simultaneously lacks the foundation for trust-building and support that I imagine staff would like to see from Council. What is the soonest opportunity to get answers on 1) if a closed session meeting is possible and 2) what a timeline can be available to Council?
20. For future consideration: The issue of differential water rates is understandably surfacing again. This conversation is typically cycled through Finance and part of the budget work-session conversation. I expect it could be useful to give examples of similar-sized systems and the revenue/economic impact of changing the rates.
21. For soon/future communications as we are at the beginning of this Winter season: What can we do to partner/facilitate in educating residential and commercial customers on how to insulate their water lines to safeguard against cold weather?
22. For after-action: Sanitation and Public Health. While the urgent and life-threatening need for drinkable/potable water was highest priority, it sounds like and seemed from my personal experience as though we missed opportunities to address public health and sanitation through partnerships. For example, some of the elder and disabled people I personally assisted were not able to carry large containers of water and were not able to flush toilets for a week. Many grassroots groups were meeting sanitation and carrying needs in our community, and while a systemic problem required a systemic response, I’m disappointed that we didn’t actively and sooner pursue stations like the County eventually staffed for non-potable water to meet sanitation needs. An evaluation on how and when we might have ramped up that response sooner is necessary, and any request to cease/discourage those meeting the need must be accounted for. The message today was that the County went around us, and I’d like to know more about that conversation. With that said, the YMCA stepping in for showers is an example of partnership much appreciated, and I hope that kind of response request is on a protocol list after this.
I know everyone’s at capacity right now, but a response to #19 above is appreciated.
Awaiting answers to some questions, no new questions added to this thread after Jan. 5th email. Council will be appointing an independent review committee during our meeting at 5pm on Tuesday, January 24th.
Compiled by Kim Roney on Jan. 23rd, 2023