Links: Boil water notices and emergency preparedness guidelines
Updated with City of Chelsea notice to residents.
The City of Chelsea issued a boil water notice last night after a water main break. Details of what to do in this circumstance are available on the City of Chelsea web site. (PDF)
If this is your first time through a boil water advisory, or if you are interested in adding details to your emergency preparedness checklist, here's more about what to do in case of a boil water advisory. These guidelines apply both to homes and to restaurants and other food service businesses.
Alert the media
The Michigan Department of Agriculture has a press release template for boil water advisories available on its web site. In ritual language, the news release spells out what is being done to address the problem.
[Agency name] food safety inspectors are monitoring efforts of impacted food establishments to ensure the safety of food sold in the area. The [System] is working to restore pressure. Water staff will take remedial actions such as flushing and collecting bacteriological samples from the system to determine when the water meets the state drinking water standards. It’s estimated that the problem will be resolved within [estimated time frame].
If you're informing the public, this type of press release goes a long way to show what kinds of information are routinely requested.
If a water main break of any size occurs, the first question that individuals and businesses in the affected area ask is whether they need to boil water. A news release noting a water main break is always welcome, even if the conclusion is that no boiling is necessary.
Prepare in advance: emergency procedures
Food service agencies, including food retailers, restaurants and commercial kitchens, are encouraged to prepare for emergencies with a flip chart of emergency procedures for retail food establishments. This document gives concise action plans for a range of disasters that can befall places that handle food, ranging from water main breaks to robberies and product contamination.
The most detailed reference for handling water main breaks that I can find from the state is Emergency Action Plans for Retail Food Establishments, a detailed 62 page set of contingency plans and procedures for dealing with routine and emergency events that pose a hazard to the food supply, including power outages, loss of water service, and possible water contamination associated with a water main break.
Municipal guidance for retail water customers
For reference, here are some good pages that describe more about what local water authorities are prepared to tell people in their service area during a boil water advisory. Surprisingly, several water authorities in the area, including the City of Chelsea and Ypsilanti's YCUA, have no detailed consumer advisories online and ready to go in the event of a water main break.
The City of Ann Arbor's water treatment FAQ answers common questions about the city water supply.
Bring water to a boil and keep at a rolling boil for at least one minute. Cool before using. This includes water used for brushing teeth, making ice, washing raw foods, and preparing drinks, as well as water for pets. Water used for bathing, laundry and lawn irrigation does not need to be boiled. Note: To improve the flat taste of boiled water, aerate it by pouring it back and forth from one container to another and allow it to stand for a few hours, or add a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of water boiled.
That page is somewhat out of date regarding media advisories, since it still refers to the Ann Arbor News, and to radio station 107.1 as "KOOL", a name it abandoned in 2004.
The Detroit Water and Sewerage District is the water provider to a large part of the Detroit metro area. Its Water Emergency Facts document is a brief consumer guide, including this tip about washing dishes in a home dishwasher:
Q. Can I use my dishwasher if a “Boil Water Alert” is in effect?
A. Most automatic home dishwashers don’t effectively sanitize dishes, glasses, and eating utensils. After running a machine load, it is best to rinse them with a pot of water that has been brought to a rolling boil for, at least, five minutes. Allow to air dry before use.
The Charleston, S.C. water system has a notably well written and comprehensive one page consumer guide to what to do during a boil water advisory. Charleston deals with hurricanes as their preferred natural disaster, and thus they are prepared for the case when water supplies are endangered by storms. It's a thorough list, and one that local water agencies might use as a model to create their own web pages to be prepared for outages.