Officials reflect on water outage

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Vicksburg and Warren County’s emergency systems responded correctly when the city’s water treatment plant went down, city and county officials said.

A tree falling on power lines to the city’s well fields on Haining Road and Long Lake Road Aug. 29 knocked out power to 10 city wells and to the water treatment plant on Haining Road, and later to the plant’s pumps, leaving the city without water for about 12 hours Aug. 30.

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The power outage caused city officials to issue a boil water notice lasting about four days. The outage also resulted in local residents complaining about an apparent lack of timely warnings about the plant’s situation and the boil water notice.

“We didn’t do anything different than we always did,” Warren County Emergency Management Director John Elfer said. “There were some complaints about people not being notified sooner, but we don’t want to put false information out.

“We don’t put out information until we verify the accuracy of it, and that was why there could have been a delay,” he said, “but it was nothing we could have prevented. We didn’t have the (correct) information; we didn’t know what to put out, so we were waiting to get accurate information. The worst thing you can do is put out a Code Red alert and have the wrong information on it.”

When the state Health Department tests showed the water was clear, he said, another Code Red alert was sent indicating the boil water notice was lifted.

Elfer said city and county officials met after the emergency to review the response.

“In this particular case, the city notified me when they were notified. Obviously, when they realized it was going to be severe, the mayor’s office called me and emergency management was involved right up front in the beginning,” he said.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said the response to the water emergency “ran like a clock.”

Flaggs, however, wants to find a way to issue emergency notifications quicker.

“I would love to see more interaction with the public in terms of being able to notify them on any emergency,” he said. “We can sharpen our communication with the public and make it more timely.”

He said a lot of people in the city are not getting alerts as quickly as others, adding some elderly do not have telephones, and people need to have their cell phones registered with Code Red.

“If an emergency is longer the 24 hours, we need to go door-to-door,” he said.

Flaggs said he is meeting with the city’s division heads Oct. 4 to discuss the use of the city’s smart phone app and Code Red.

“The city and county work well together,” Elfer said. “The mayor supports emergency management along with all our other emergency partners. Nobody could have predicted we would lose all the water. That was bad.”

“I think it (the response) went as well as expected,” Flaggs said. “The county and city worked together and there was no duplication; I was pleased with that.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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