Ward E Councilman James Solomon is proposing that Jersey City improve its emergency alert system in the wake of two “boil water advisories” that went out over the last six months. The first, on April 28th, was due to a water main break and the second on August 14th, was due to a positive test for E. coli in the city’s drinking water supply.
The August 14 incident was the subject of a report by northjersey.com which found that Jersey City officials waited 12 hours after learning of the E. coli contamination to issue a boil water advisory. According to the report, on the night of August 13, the Municipal Utilities Authority, the agency that manages the city’s water and sewer system, sent an email to Mayor Fulop, his chief of staff, the Jersey City health director and the director of the city’s emergency management office advising them of a positive E. coli test. The city’s warning, which went out via text messages and on social media the following morning, did not mention E. coli contamination. That information came out eight hours later in a statement by Suez, the private firm that runs Jersey City’s water system.
When asked about the incident, the mayor’s spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione, said the city acted “immediately.” For its part, Suez said state regulations did not permit it to reveal the positive tests right away.
Solomon has issued a report which he says points to slow decision-making in city government. According to Solomon “many residents, particularly seniors and other vulnerable populations, didn’t learn of [the boil water advisories] until hours or days later.”
Said Solomon, “These boil water advisories revealed deficiencies in our city’s ability to quickly and comprehensively alert the public to an urgent public health threat. These rigorously researched recommendations, if implemented, will make people’s lives better.”
To improve how Jersey City communicates time-sensitive emergencies to the public, Solomon is proposing a five point solution:
1. Jersey City should issue boil water advisories immediately following a confirmed positive test for e-coli or other total coliform contaminants in the drinking water supply.
2. Public health messaging from public officials needs to clearly and accurately describe the nature and severity of the threat.
3. Jersey City should send out a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA), which reaches all cell phones in a geographic area, for similar public health emergencies. To do so, it must complete the process of signing up for the the federal government’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.
4. Jersey City should dedicate resources to increasing sign-ups for its two existing emergency alert systems, as currently only a small percentage of residents are signed up.
5. Suez and/or MUA should establish a formal process for the timely dissemination of emergency updates to the City Council so they can share accurate information with the public.