San Juan, Puerto Rico

VA Caribbean Healthcare System Wastewater Vulnerability Assessment

Wastewater Vulnerability Assessment for VA Caribbean Health Care System

With global warming and climate change making critical infrastructure and facilities more vulnerable to the loss of service or access following a weather-related or other disaster, many forward-looking organizations are assessing where their systems are most vulnerable and planning on how they might respond in the case of an emergency.

First Environment was contracted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Caribbean Healthcare System to perform a vulnerability assessment for the facility’s wastewater system, which would be part of a larger overall vulnerability assessment for all critical operations and facilities at the hospital. Based on the assessment, First Environment wrote a contingency plan for addressing the vulnerabilities identified in case of various natural, technological, hazardous materials, and human-related threats the surrounding environment. By evaluating the various vulnerabilities to their system, VACHS is better prepared in case of an emergency that threatens their system. In the contingency plan, First Environment created a set of alternative procedures that can be implemented (and resources that can be called upon) in the case of an emergency to help protect assets and allow the hospital to continue to function and serve the veteran community with minimal disruption.

Both the vulnerability assessment and contingency plan will become part of VACHS’s overall Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP). The purpose of the CEMP is to provide a programmatic framework to reduce hazards at all levels of VACHS in accordance with VHA Directive 0320. The plan includes processes that are designed to evaluate risks that may adversely affect the life or health of patients, staff, and visitors. Detailed emergency management plans describe the process for disaster readiness and emergency management activities occurring across four phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Although almost always overlooked by the patients and visitors at a facility, the wastewater management system is a critical asset when you consider what would happen if that system were lost or damaged. Without a way to remove washwater and wastewater from a facility, water use would almost have to cease. Wastewater systems are also the conduit by which non-contact cooling water and other industrial water discharges (boiler blowdown, non-contact cooling water) are removed from a site and led to a facility with the ability to treat waste flow and recover the water. In the Caribbean climate, running cooling systems all year long becomes an important building system in maintaining the hospital’s ability to function. In addition, failure to hygienically remove and treat domestic wastewater has the potential of becoming a source of public health problems—such as cholera and Cryptosporidium—as well as environmental contamination. As a hospital, it is imperative that the physical plant operations are minimally impacted and disruptions of utilities are quickly mitigated to restore and continue to provide uninterrupted medical services.