Course Review: MGT-342 Strategic Overview of Disaster Management for Water and Wastewater Utilities

I took the opportunity yesterday to attend the aforementioned class held at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, New York.  This half day (0800-1200) course was well attended by water and wastewater personnel from around central New York, a couple of emergency management types, and even a representative from a local brewery (no samples, sadly).  This DHS approved course is designed and instructed by personnel from the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center (NERRTC).

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Through my career in emergency management I have regularly worked, albeit tangentially, with water and wastewater professionals, which are generally regarded as a niche of public works.  In many small towns across the nation, water and wastewater systems are among the only critical infrastructure these small towns have.  In larger municipalities, water and wastewater systems are extensive and necessary for not only their residents, but for business and industry as well.  We often see impacts to water and wastewater systems from disasters ranging from earthquakes, to utility outages, floods, and other disasters, including criminal acts.  I’m always interested in an opportunity to learn more and this course was convenient in location and schedule.

This course is a condensed half-day version of a two-day course also taught by TEEX.  When instructors reviewed the morning’s agenda, I was skeptical, and rightfully so.  The participant manual, like most products developed by TEEX, is excellently done, with an abundance of reference material.  Even if the material was to be just reviewed, I knew that addressing most, if not all of it, would be a significant task for the instructors.  The lead instructor was very knowledgeable and experienced in the subject matter and very well spoken.  While he had a lot of value to provide to participants, he may have provided a bit too much relative to getting through the three units of the course as intended.

The course units are largely broken into three main topic areas: Threats, Preparedness, and Response; all obviously relative to water and wastewater systems.  The first unit, Threats, was covered thoroughly, taking nearly the full class time.  The information provided was excellent and realistic in scope.  Examples of actual impacts to water and wastewater systems around the world from a variety of threats and hazards were used to drive the point home about the vulnerability of these systems.  I was dismayed, though, that the second unit, Preparedness, was not covered at all.  Fortunately, there is a great amount of materials in the participant guide for after class reference.

The third unit, Response, also contains a great deal of information, especially for those who are not used to complex and multi-agency responses.  Unfortunately, we only had time to review a case study which was in the unit.  While the case study (the Charleston, WV spill from January 2014) was excellent and certainly time well spent, it would have been great to dig into the other response related materials in the course.  Again, at least we have these for post-course review.

This content of this course is quite valuable, relevant, and up to date.  It was expertly instructed, discounting some time management issues.  I do think, though, that the instructional design in more to blame, as the quantity of content contained in the course is simply too much to be adequately covered in a half day.  It certainly had me wanting to take the two day course, and definitely from the same instructor.  I provided similar comments on the course evaluation sheet, and I hope they do make some necessary changes to this class to maximize the amount of information provided.  Would I still recommend this course – yes, but just know going into it (at least in its present form) that you may not experience delivery of all the material.  If the quality of material and instruction is any indication of what to expect in the two day course, though, I would absolutely recommend it.

If you have any questions on the course, or experiences of your own, I’d love to hear them.

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