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Dr. William M. Turner

610 Gold Avenue, SW Suite 111
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102


WaterBank®[1] provides solutions to water problems throughout the United States and its personnel have experience worldwide in emergency relief work.

Following the Hurricane Season of 2004, several large property management firms in Florida and the Gulf Coast called for emergency water supplies for their buildings.  This year, WaterBank has already received calls from property management firms, schools, and hospitals for standby emergency water supplies.  This article deals with stand-by water supplies for public and commercial buildings including hospitals, schools, and high rise buildings.


In the design of public and commercial buildings, engineering firms commonly approach the problem as build it and plug it in to power, water, and natural gas and flip the switch.  As long as water, gas, and electricity are available this works.  In the event of a natural disaster this may not work.  The sad tale of euthanasia in New Orleans hospitals during Katrina is a story of failed design and contingency planning.



Backup water supplies include ground-water from on-site wells or water that is trucked to the site.  In either case, on-site storage and water treatment are a necessity.  During the reign of Idi Amin in Uganda, Mulago Hospital (the largest teaching hospital in East Africa) was supplied by two on-site wells during emergencies.  Emergency water storage was in the form of a very large steel tank on the roof of the hospital.  Its elevated position provided gravity flow through the hospital.

Ground water must be tested to ensure that it meets the Safe Drinking Water Act standards and care must be exercised in the analysis.  In the Mulago Hospital case cited above, national health authorities would not let the hospital use the water for potable water because it tested for lead. We suspected the laboratory was using the diphenylthiocarbazone chelating agent in colorometric analysis.  The method is susceptible to degradation of the standards in heat and sunlight.  When the laboratory was visited the standards were sitting on the window sills in the laboratory.

An alternative to well water is water from an external approved drinking water source.  The source will be located outside of the emergency theater.  For example, in 2006, WaterBank was asked to locate potable water sources for 13 hospitals in the Gulf Coast Region of Texas.  Those sources were located in Bryan, San Antonio, and Laredo, Texas.  The water was scheduled to be hauled using stainless steel tanker trucks shuttling back and forth between the hospitals and fire hydrants or top-loading dumps.


We mentioned above storage tanks on the roofs of buildings that gravity feed into the hospital.  This is a particularly sensible option because during emergencies electric power for pumps may not be available.  Further pumps necessary to pump water to the top floors of a multistory building may not be available.

Alternatively storage may be at ground level and may take the form of water bags or water buffalo.  Water buffalo come in nearly any size and are fitted with a wide range of fittings and couplings.  They are set at ground level or on elevated berms to provide head.  They may also be connected to pumps to move the water through buildings and fixtures.  The water buffalo can be connected to headers or manifolds that have been equipped with spigots for distribution to small water containers or hoses.  The water buffalo alternative can be considered as either permanent or temporary.  The bags can be rolled up and stored when not needed.

Another option is a permanent on-site steel storage tank that is filled from water trucks or municipal water as long as it is flowing.

Water Treatment

All of the sources of water and alternative storage options can possibly provide pathways of contamination.  If water is not used it may stagnate in storage tanks.  Therefore, continuous treatment is needed in which water within the storage tanks or water buffalos circulates continuously and water is treated to a stable residual chlorine level.  There are a number of systems that can perform this function.  WaterBank has evolved systems that it prefers and which are trouble free.

Design and Water Sources

When WaterBank was asked to provide emergency water for tall buildings in the Miami area in 2004, we pointed out that no one design fits all situations.  Each building is unique in its height, water needs, and plumbing system.  Consequently each building needs to be uniquely engineered and this takes time.  In some cases, a one size fits all configuration can be worked out if water buffalos are used.  These are move-in move-out systems.  They are modular systems to meet the needs of a particular situation.

Water sources must be identified ahead of time and arrangements developed for equipping fire hydrants with water meters.  All municipalities charge for installation and removal of meters, weekly or monthly meter rental, deposits, and actual water charges.


It is important for property managers, building owners, hospitals, schools and others to plan ahead for their emergency water needs in terms of the hardware and the source of water.

[1] WaterBank deals in water rights, water supply, bottled water and emergency ice and water supply.  See http://www.waterbank.com

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