I have said it time and time again – it does not matter if you are an electric or gas utility, or even a wastewater treatment plant. In the utility industry, proper employee training is the key to emergency preparedness. And in the worst-case scenario, not only can poor training put a damper on preparedness, it can also create the emergency in the first place!
Such is the situation the largest wastewater treatment plant in the Pacific Northwest finds itself in. Poor training, and a higher-than-average level of employee turnover, have conspired against the West Port Treatment Plant’s efforts to operate smoothly. And these factors directly led to a flood in Feb. 2017 that released a 12-15-foot-deep wall of wastewater and raw sewage that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. Approximately 235 million gallons of wastewater was released, causing a whopping $57 million in damage to the plant.
Lessons Learned from the West Port Wastewater Treatment Plant Debacle
A recent report from King County-hired consulting firm AECOM indicated that the plant had a shortage of experienced workers, and several of the employees lacked the training to deal with emergencies like the Feb. 2017 disaster. The company did not conduct emergency exercises or drills for over 3 years. And the plant lost more employees due to turnover than any other wastewater treatment plant in the region, yet it failed to adequately replace the defecting talent.
The bottom line: West Port, like any company – utility or otherwise – should work to optimize its training plan, schedule at least one drill or exercise per year, and review its employee succession plan on a regular basis.