Guest Editorial: Assessing Threats and Mitigating Risks to Water Infrastructure: The Role of WaterISAC

WaterISAC helps member water agencies identify risks, prepare for emergencies and secure water systems


John Sullivan BWSC Chief Engineer, WaterISAC Chairman

WaterISAC (Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center) is a non-profit membership organization comprised of personnel from water and wastewater systems; government professionals with a responsibility for protecting infrastructure, public health and the environment; and city or county emergency response officials.  WaterISAC is the water and wastewater sector’s designated conduit for infrastructure protection information and is overseen by a board of representatives appointed by the major U.S. water and wastewater associations.

As Chairman of the WaterISAC Board, I have witnessed the Center’s growth in value and evolution to encompass all hazards.  The Boston Water and Sewer Commission, one of the WaterISAC’s founding members, relies on its depth of information, rapid notifications and training opportunities for knowledge and preparedness.

Launched in 2002, WaterISAC’s original mission after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was to help utilities protect against acts of terrorism. Since then, WaterISAC’s mission has evolved and become more comprehensive, offering a wider array of services and benefits to help members protect against and recover from all types of hazards, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, industrial accidents and similar risks, in addition to terrorism. With WaterISAC’s case studies, guides and exercise tools, members are better prepared for natural disasters, as well as man-made crises.

WaterISAC knows that water and wastewater infrastructure protection involves in large part evaluating risk and making decisions about where to put resources to reduce those risks. As the water sector’s communications and information-sharing mechanism, WaterISAC offers members the tools and information resources they need to make risk-based decisions. WaterISAC is the only centralized, real-time source for security and emergency information for utilities.

So that members have the latest and most accurate information about threats, WaterISAC works closely with federal, state, and local government departments and agencies involved in counter-terrorism, homeland security, and emergency management. WaterISAC also maintains relationships with state and urban area fusion centers; the ISACs for other industry sectors, including telecommunications, energy, transportation, information technology and emergency response; and state Water Agency Response Networks (WARNs) primarily for sharing information about disaster response and recovery.

To support members, WaterISAC produces physical, cyber and contamination threat analyses and disseminates threat alerts.  In addition, WaterISAC’s electronic library contains thousands of documents and other resources.  For instance, a member wishing to improve employee emergency preparedness and conduct response training under tight budget constraints could browse the WaterISAC Pro library to find self-directed training programs and courses hosted by water industry associations, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

WaterISAC also provides seamless access from its secure portal to a number of water contaminant databases, including proprietary databases from U.K. Water Industry Research and U.S. EPA’s contaminant database. These resources contain descriptive information and information on lethality, dose levels and water treatment – vital information in the event of a water contamination event.

To illustrate the value of this information access, consider a 2:00 a.m. call to a water utility manager from a mayor who has just learned the police received a threat of water contamination from ricin. The manager can log in to the WaterISAC portal, take advantage of the seamless connection to the U.K. WIR database to look up ricin’s characteristics, dose-response levels and treatment options, and report back within 15 minutes. This puts the utility manager and the mayor in front of the issue before it goes public.

WaterISAC houses software tools, programs and applications produced by a number of government and private organizations, which are free to download and install as part of the WaterISAC Pro membership. Some of these tools and applications include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Blast Vulnerability Assessment Tool, the Chlorine Gas Decision Tool, and U.S. EPA’s Tabletop Exercise Tool for Water Utilities.

WaterISAC hosts free webcasts and online training exclusively for Pro members. In some cases, we have “U.S. Eyes Only” webcasts for presentations of sensitive information, such as those by the FBI and federal cyber security analysts.

As the water sector’s only organization that provides comprehensive information resources on security threats and all-hazards emergency management, WaterISAC offers members the tools and information resources they need to make risk-based decisions.  No utility manager should be without a backup plan and the WaterISAC ensures that you have one.

More information on WaterISAC can be found online at or by contacting Michael Arceneaux at 202-331- 0479.

John Sullivan is Chief Engineer of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission and Chairman of the WaterISAC Board of Managers

cc photo: D.R.Davis Flickr