Overlooked Threats to the Neighborhood

Pig pee and poop. Where does it end up???

When we wrote our “Neighborhood Disaster Survival Series,” Part Three  was aimed at building a more capable neighborhood. After all, our neighbors are our true First Responders. They are right there next door or down the street when calamity hits. They know our neighborhood. And we trust that, like good neighbors everywhere, they will be the first to help in an emergency. It follows then, that . . .

The more the neighbors know about threats to the neighborhood, the safer we all will be!

That’s why, after covering personal preparedness and training in Parts One and Two in the series, Part Three of each book provides a step-by-step plan to strengthening the neighborhood. One of those steps is doing a more thorough job of identifying THREATS to your particular neighborhood.

As you might expect, we include a long list to choose from. (59 different threats, to be exact. Even though our list was first compiled in 2018, I’m happy to say it included “Pandemic.” Who would have guessed . . .?!)

Now in the past I’ve done research and written an Advisory on the dangers posed by dams. If you know you have a dam nearby, I urge you to review that Advisory. And follow up with some of its recommendations. Why? Dam safety gets a “D” rating from by the American Society of Engineers. That’s why dams are high on the list of infrastructure improvements for legislation being considered right now. But along with dams,

My attention has recently been drawn to another, water-related threat.

While maybe not so dramatic, it’s equally scary. Take another look at the pig in the image above. Note that puddle he’s lying in. It could well end up in a so-called “hog waste lagoon.” (I find this expression offensive, actually. Trying to make something distasteful and dangerous sound benign . . .) Open air ponds and lagoons, typically built with earthen walls and sometimes lined with clay or plastic fabric liners, store water and all sorts of liquid products. Their level rises with rain, goes down thru evaporation.

If ponds and lagoons leak or overtop, dangerous and toxic waste can flow into neighborhoods and contaminate local water supplies.

Here’s the current news story that prompted today’s Advisory. It’s taking place today in Piney Point, Florida. There, an industrial waste pond, pretty much abandoned since its original builder went bankrupt 20 years ago, has started leaking.

Governor DeSantis has declared an emergency. People have been evacuated for fear that a full-fledged collapse could lead to a wall of “mildly radioactive” liquid pouring through their community. Special teams have begun siphoning millions of gallons of water off the top of the pond, and diving into it to inspect the pond liner. Thermal imaging is being used to ascertain the rate of flow of the leak. Authorities are issuing daily reports.

This NPR report has all the details,

This year I discovered threats I had known nothing about!

Just a year ago our town put finishing touches on a new Emergency Plan. Now, we only have a couple of visible dams anywhere nearby, and no animal farms. So when I got a copy of the plan I was amazed to find that we are surrounded by eight dams and reservoirs!

The plan makes it clear that if any of the larger dams were to fail, releasing their maximum capacity of water, millions of dollars of infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of people would be impacted. As you might expect, more vulnerable households would be disproportionately affected.

What about your town and your neighborhood? What threats have you overlooked?

Do you actually know what kinds of reservoirs or other water storage might be tucked into the hills or lying overlooked in agricultural fields or industrial areas? Does your water utility have ponds? What kind?

Time to add a water storage threat assessment to your neighborhood plan!

Here are some ways to do that assessment.

  1. Find out if your city/town has an Emergency Plan that includes a Local Hazard Mitigation Plan. (That’s the chapter where I found out about those eight dams in our town.) It will probably list flood zones, dams, etc.
  2. Then, contact your local water utility to find out about their water treatment system. They may have “waste stabilization ponds” – typically open basins that hold run-off and domestic wastewater. Each basin uses specific techniques to treat water, like sunlight, temperature, plants, oxygen and bacterial action.  Your water utility may also manage reservoirs for drinking or recycled water. If you can, schedule a tour for your neighborhood group!
  3. You can also search for local dams and reservoirs on the following list, maintained by Wikipedia. (I found several of our local dams there!) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dams_and_reservoirs_in_the_United_States
  4. Certainly, if you find local dams that would be high-hazard dams, see if they are following FEMA requirements for an “Emergency Action Plan.” (Only about 80% have one on file.) You can get more info about what should be in that EAP here.
  5. Finally, if you feel you really need a better understanding of dams, reservoirs and other artificially-maintained bodies of water, it turns out that just this month FEMA has added three new courses on Erosion and Seepage.  

It seems strange to be writing this Advisory on floods and liquid seepage just as we head into the driest months of the year. But most everything we’ve talked about today may have been built 60 or 80 years ago – or longer ago than that. And things wear out.

Be sure you and your neighbors are thinking creatively about some of the hazards currently all around you, not just the storms or hurricanes that might be on their way.

Your Emergency Plan Guide team

P.S. Let me know what your investigation reveals. And if you don’t have your copy of the Neighborhood Disaster Survival Guide for YOUR neighborhood, here’s where you can pick the one that fits best.

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