How can water utilities in the Pacific use the pandemic to become more resilient?
Protecting and managing the water supply, even in the face of threats and challenges, is a key responsibility for utility companies and governments across the Pacific region.
For many people in the Pacific, COVID-19 presents yet another challenge in a region familiar with natural hazards and the accompanying disruptions to everyday life. There are some parallels with natural disasters, but these usually hit for a couple of days and then the cleanup can begin.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, water utilities in the Pacific region have faced additional challenges such as workforce infection, a drop in revenue, supply chain disruption, and the threat of community disease transmission. The current COVID-19 crisis is prolonged, with continued uncertainty. Even when things get back to “normal”, there is a strong possibility of flare ups and waves of infection if herd immunity is not achieved.
The pandemic has provided some water utilities in the Pacific with the opportunity to review and upgrade business continuity planning across their organizations and, by doing so, become more resilient to other risks. Learning from these examples, here are four steps utilities can use to transform their internal business processes.
Understand the problem. For business processes to change, the change needs to be developed and owned by all functional managers. Senior managers should be asked to question and challenge what they know about key businesses processes – critical assets, procurement, operations, and the key role of information technology. Staff should then reflect, and demonstrate how these business processes are interlinked, what the weaknesses in processes are, and what may be potential responses when a crisis disrupts normal processes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, water utilities in the Pacific region have faced additional challenges.
Capture knowledge. Knowledge in the organization might be rich but it is not always shared. We are all familiar with the “go to” people in an organization who have a depth of knowledge built over many years. They are a great resource, but it is also important to document this knowledge for others to share. This can be done by capturing deep organizational knowledge in “e-libraries” and e-folders accessible throughout the organization.
Scenario testing. Make business continuity planning practical and adaptable. Business continuity planning is best done using scenarios to test assumptions and adapt to different events and threats. Scenario planning is “learning by doing” and helps an organization build practical tools and processes to drive continuity planning.
Communicate and build ownership. Business continuity planning is a shared organizational responsibility. While the initial process of planning starts with senior management, it must be owned across the organization to make real change. Creating organizational change involves training and knowledge-sharing workshops to share the purpose, goals, and processes with all staff. It also includes opportunities for staff to question and test the organization’s response to key scenarios and build awareness of individual responsibility to create resilience.
A secure, reliable water supply is a precious resource for everyone and, according to the World Health Organization, is essential for protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including COVID-19.
To protect and manage water supply and minimize disruptions to water supply services, even in the face of threats and challenges, is a key responsibility for water utilities across the Pacific region.