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Back You are here: Home Opinion Opinion Section Editorials Editorial: Boil Water Notices Should Be Fast, Targeted

Editorial: Boil Water Notices Should Be Fast, Targeted

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The Town of Carolina Beach issued a boil water notice on Monday February 11, following resolution of low water pressure throughout the Town's distribution system that occured over the weekend. (See report on page 1-A)
The first noticeable problem was Carolina Beach Elementary School. They were not notified immediatley after the notice was issued. One parent reported seeing bottled water being carried into the building after lunch time. That means kids drank the water and food was prepared using the water for which a boil notice had been issued.
This raises the question of who's in charge of communicating such notices to the public and why there isn't a higher sense of urgency.
Currently the Town issues notices to the media and posts them on the Town's website. Many people won't see the local television news until 5, 6 or 11PM.
The Town says they will notify the school in the future in a more expedient manner.
But this raises other questions about how a municipal water service notifies the public when there are, or in this case could have been, health risks realized by consuming tap water.
There are systems available that will allow the Town to poll call telephone numbers within their limits. Such systems have existed for many years and are often employed by local governments. For example, UNCW utilizes an alert system that calls students and sends out text messages when there is an emergency situation on campus.
Realizing cell and cable-telephones have become increasing popular options eliminating traditional land-line phones, there are other options.
Many schools have automated call and email systems to inform parents of events.
The Town could send notices within monthly utility bills asking customers to submit their phone number and email address for an alert system.
Those who are interested in that notification system can sign up. That could be an option permanently listed on monthly utility bills.
This isn't required by law, yet customers expected those in charge of such a health-oreiented service to do everything they can to inform customers when there are potential hazards.
As for the issue of "water pressure" being "low", its has been my experience on a regular basis to enjoy regular pressure at times and then other times, even during off-peak hours, the water pressure drops for a period of time.
This has been happening for at least a year. And last weekend was no different than other times over the last 12 months.
To the best of my knowledge there have been two or three such notices issued, including  this one, over the last 12 months.
Granted, water in Carolina Beach has been an issue for a number of years. Many people often complain about the quality. This issue is not as much about the quality and more about putting protocols in place to better notify the public when inevitable problems occur.
One complaint from Tori Holt on Tuesday summed it up, "I just wonder why the residents have not been more well informed. I had to tell my inlaws about it this morning so they were drinking the possibly contaminated water all day yesterday."
Many people echoed Holt's point saying they found out only when they signed onto Facebook and read comments on the Island Gazette page and from other friends Facebook posts.
Not everyone in our community signs on to Facebook all day long and many people don't utilize the Internet on a daily basis. A smaller group  don't use it at all.
We are a small community.
It's not out of the question to implement a well planned routine in such situations that exhaust as many avenues of communication as possible.
The staff at the Carolina Beach Elementary School had to carry in 10 water coolers and 25 bottles of water for the kids. And that was only after they learned of the boil water notice from other sources. Not the Town.
According to the Town, testing showed there was no bacteria in the water and everything was fine.
What if there had been a problem?
The City of Annapolis Maryland has a system called Code Red. You have to supply a phone number or you can opt for email or text messages.
The City of Columbia Missouri has a similar system and targets notices based on the affected areas. In some cases they go door to door placing notices on doorknobs.
It's a two way street in those cases. People have to sign up for the alerts and they are informed of that option.
Perhaps this is something the Town of Carolina Beach should consider. Such a system could also serve the public prior to hurricane evacuations.