Visit to the Emergency Operations Center at VT

My research pretty much has nothing to do with the on-the-ground practice of crisis preparedness and disaster resilience, or the work done in Emergency Operations Centers, like the one we visited at Virginia Tech. However, I really enjoyed the visit and was super interested in learning about how VT prepares for on the ground responses in potential emergency situations. The current research project I am working on is for a water utility that is concerned about why their corrosion control chemical (orthophosphate) is inexplicably disappearing in their system before it reaches some consumers pipes. The water company is really concerned because without this corrosion control there is the potential for lead to dissolve off of the pipes and into the consumer’s water, and expose people to drinking lead contaminated water. So essentially this project, and a lot of the projects that my research group works with, are attempts to prevent another Flint Crisis, or to understand water chemistry to deal with potential lead crisis’s in the making. So our research would be more comparable to the preparation stages that the EOC discussed, though our group did on the ground sampling with citizens in their neighborhoods to try to respond to the Flint crisis and get data to the public as fast as possible. In regard to similarities to EOC’s boots on the ground as fast as possible if not already pre-placed, my lab group’s response to sending people and supplies to Flint draws a parallel.

The Virginia Tech Research Team

I thought it was really cool how the EOC used data from previous events on campus to plan for future ones. The presenter discussed how every arrest, EMS response, parking issue, etc is recorded for every home football game, and how this data is used to station police, first responders, ambulances and direct pedestrian and vehicle traffic for future games. The presenter talked about the importance of Building a Culture of Preparedness at VT.  In this respect this planning for future events phase is similar to what my research group does with some of our projects. One of my friend’s project for a water utility tested what would happen to the water chemistry should a utility change its water source from the ground water with it’s specific conditions, to a surface water source with different conditions. As evidenced by the fateful switch from Detroit water to Flint water and the unintended consequences, it was really important that she conducted this study and the utility researched what would possible effects could happen to their pipes and system before deciding to switch. The fact that this other  utility across the country reached out to our lab group after the Flint crisis to so they could make an informed decision and understand the possible effects of switching water sources speaks to the idea that water utilities are trying to enter this culture of preparedness that is so important for emergency planning. The amount of data that the EOC has on event planning is amazing, it would be very cool for future versions of our class to work with them on studying pre-positioning supplies/ personnel to expand on Dr. Zobel’s work.

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