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UC study into Sydney water utility

UC study into Sydney water utility finds robust level of water security for a disaster

February 27, 2013

A University of Canterbury (UC) study into Sydney’s water utility has found the Australian city has a resilient water infrastructure including a high volume desalinisation plant to provide a robust level of water security in the face of any major disaster.

The study was headed by Dr John Vargo, co-leader of UC’s Resilient Organisations research programme. Sydney Water was instrumental in facilitating Australian support of Christchurch water infrastructure recovery during the response to the earthquakes.

Dr Vargo said as an organisation Sydney Water had a strong focus on resilience and understood its position as a critical lifeline provider. Sydney Water commissioned UC to conduct the study.

``They have worked closely with their community to increase water service resilience including water conservation, community reporting of water main breaks by social media and maintaining continuity of service in the face of extreme events.

``Potable water is crucial to human life and a community can only survive without it for a few days as well as managing sanitation needs from a public health perspective. It becomes even more crucial in the face of bush fires and a range of other natural hazards where water is necessary for controlling fires, cleaning up spills, all without contaminating the water supply.

``Water also plays a critical role in many industries and, thus, is important in the recovery of a community and economy.

``The greatest hazards selected by Sydney study participants were loss of critical services such as power, gas and telecommunication, as well as bush fires, contamination or severe weather.

``Sydney Water’s greatest strengths were their leadership and culture, including innovation. They were strong in dealing with emergencies, having a culture of `one-in-all-in’ and pulling together as an organisation.

``Unfortunately this unity of purpose was less evident in the business-as-usual setting with bureaucratic processes reinforcing a strongly siloed organisation.’’

Dr Vargo said there was a need for Sydney Water to develop an effective strategy for dealing with an ageing workforce. Recommended strategies included an integrated programme of strategically - designed cross-skilling, phased retirement, mentoring and effective graduate recruitment and retention schemes.

His recommendations included building the strong "one-in-all-in" emergency culture into the business-as-usual setting, He also suggested Sydney Water develop a strategic capability to find the silver lining in a crisis.

Other recommendations were to assign two roles to all staff: a business-as-usual role and an emergency role; create a more robust and agile staffing through cross skilling and cross-division job rotation; and develop a strong capability in "over the horizon" scanning for future opportunities and risks.

``Living through the Canterbury earthquakes highlighted the impact of water infrastructure on a community. When you have lived with weeks of boiled water notices, backyard loos and water disruption you appreciate the importance of the critical infrastructure,’’ Dr Vargo said.


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