Experience helped city deal with citywide water outage

Published 12:47 am Sunday, May 21, 2017

question was asked of Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. earlier this week during a press conference, during which he was giving details of the citywide water outage.

After going through the dramatic points of how many customers were affected, the tactics being used to find the leak and the steps being taken to make repairs and take care of the public, a person asked, “was there a plan in place for this?”

In a business where we ask questions every day, being critical of any question asked is difficult, but this one gave us great pause.

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If Flaggs had decided to glance over, give a look and give a glib answer, we would have forgiven him. This question deserved such a response, but instead, he relented and gave a reply more fitting with his office.

“Was there a plan in place?”

In the moment, we understand such a question, but let us take stock of what was happening.

• Just hours earlier, the city learned that a leak — or rupture — had been discovered in the water main exiting the city’s water treatment facility.

• The water line is located in the city’s well field and is 6-to-8 feet below ground.

• The well field, along with much of the surrounding area, is under 10-to-12 feet of Mississippi River floodwater.

• The only way the leak was discovered was through noticing low pressure and seeing bubbles on top of the water.

“Was there a plan in place?”

In just those few hours, city leaders had coordinated contractors, had begun to design and layout where an earthen dam would be constructed, reached out to civil authorities about the need for water for residents and reached out to first responders, letting them know of the potential disaster.

A Code Red alert had been sent to thousands of residents notifying them of the problem, giving them time to rush to area stores; stores who were then in position to order extra shipments of water.

School leaders were quickly notified, who then decided to discharge students early. Keep in mind, you cannot operate a school without running water or the ability to flush toilets.

“Was there a plan in place?”

If you are looking for a specific answer to such a question, the answer is no. How do you prepare for such an event? Who would even have conceived such an event?

But, with a few days to reflect, the answer is an unqualified yes.

While the folder in the drawer might not be labeled “Reaction plan when underground water main breaks and is located 10 feet below floodwater,” Vicksburg does have experience and the people in place to meet such disasters head on.

Through calm, competent leadership, a dedicated public work force, backed up by compassionate civic organizations, Vicksburg has met this challenge head on.

More questions need to be asked, such as looking at plans for investment in infrastructure and secondary water lines, but for someone to ask if a reaction plan existed was the wrong question and the wrong time.