More than three months after Killeen issued a citywide boil-water notice, which lasted 10 days, residents now have access to a 12-page after-action report on the problem and what the city says it will do to make sure Killeen’s drinking water doesn’t turn sour again.
On Oct. 19, the city of Killeen announced a citywide boil-water notice after quarterly testing found six testing sites to be well under state-accepted chlorine residual levels, leaving most of the city’s 155,000 residents without drinkable tap water. The boil-water notice was lifted citywide on Oct. 29, and a deep-cycling of the city’s water system was completed in November.
Since then, the city has worked to conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis. The city’s after-action report, released last week, was created with the assistance of Peter Perez, Killeen’s emergency management coordinator, as well as Derek Marchio, a senior emergency management specialist.
The report broke down the city’s response using four core capabilities as criteria:
- Infrastructure systems and operational coordination.
- Situational assessment.
- Public information and warning
- Operational coordination
The report states that, although the city was able to meet its objectives, it did so in a manner that, with hindsight, could be more efficacious.
The report notes that the city has a strong daily testing system to ensure compliance with local, state and federal requirements, showing that the city is consistently aware of the water system quality. Additionally, the report lauds Killeen’s rapid response in flushing its system after Bell County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 — which treats water from lakes Belton and Stillhouse Hollow and sells it to Killeen — began a free chlorine conversion process.
In the future, Killeen wants to adopt free chlorine conversion as part of its annual or biannual operations schedule for preventative maintenance and to complete the restoration and replacement of chlorine booster sites.
Staffing and treatment infrastructure was another point of concern. By March, Killeen plans to utilize up to six chlorine boosters, and engage in hiring or training additional staff to secure subject matter experts.
The report notes that it was a lack of “on-board subject matter experts” that “created a bottle-neck of information.”
Communication was listed as a point of strength, including at last Tuesday’s City Council Workshop when the report was presented.
However, the report stated that the city’s communications efforts were limited. A small staff and slower than desired interdepartmental response times were listed as contributing factors to a less than perfect response. Messaging was strong, but not consistent and timely across all platforms and between all departments. One example provided by Executive Director of Public Works Jeff Reynolds is that residents were not made immediately aware that they could safely shower with the water — something the city could have addressed through its community outreach efforts.
The city hopes that, by revisiting its social media policies and establishing situational assessment meetings during incidents with “all key stakeholders,” it can ensure parity with news releases and engage with a wider slice of Killeen’s population by using multi-lingual and Americans with Disabilities Act messaging.
Some of these goals, such a desire to hold “stakeholder meetings” during incidents, have already been implemented into city policy; other goals like drafting graphics and directions ahead of time for similar incidents will be completed by March.
Importantly, the majority of these goals encourage a stronger connection between the city’s communications department and the city’s office of homeland security and emergency services..
Finally, the city indicated a need to identify suppliers and create proper loading docks in the event of future incidents that may leave residents without drinkable water.
Transparency was key in the Killeen City Council’s response as it by-and-large lauded Public Works Director Jeffery Reynolds for his initiative and proactivity during the 10-day period in late October. Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King said that the report showed “ownership.”
“Just saying ‘Hey, we could have done better,’ that showed ownership,” Nash-King said. “It’s important we know what happened. It should never happen again.”
Reynolds added that transparency was an important part of the incident.
“We tried to be very transparent throughout the process from day one,” Reynolds said. “We did daily updates to council, we did videos, we did a lot to make sure we were being transparent through the process.”
Reynolds concluded the discussion by showing the City Council a copy of a letter from the TCEQ which showed that Killeen is still recognized as a “superior” water system because of its proactive response and willingness to cooperate with the TCEQ.
“Superior” is the highest rating a municipal water system can receive, and is the rating that Killeen has maintained since February of 2019.
A full copy of the report, as well as daily testing reports for the October 2021 and quarterly testing results can be found online at: https://www.killeentexas.gov/294/Public-Works.