STATE HOUSE – Amid questions about the notification of thousands of Rhode Islanders affected by a boil order for the Kent County Water Authority this weekend, Sen. Paul W. Fogarty plans to introduce legislation next session to require water utilities to have access to automated phone alert systems.
“Water problems can be very serious emergencies that require immediate notification to customers,” said Senator Fogarty (D-Dist. 23, Glocester, Burrillville, North Smithfield). “The technology to make automated phone calls to all affected residents is easily available and isn’t expensive. All water authorities should have access to that technology and use it when there’s a need to alert their customers to an issue with their water.”
Senator Fogarty’s district includes the area in Pascoag that was affected in 2001 by contamination of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) from a leaking underground gas tank. At that time, the Pascoag Utility District used the media and went door-to-door to ensure that every affected resident knew about the ambien contamination.
Much has changed in the 12 years since. Besides having an active presence on the Internet and social media, the Pascoag Utility District now can make automated phone calls to alert residents to an emergency. Currently, the district has access to the “Code Red” phone alert system used by the Town of Burrillville to allow recorded phone calls to be made to the whole town or certain zip codes, but the district is in the process of updating its software to a program that will allow it to target just its own customers for emergency phone calls.
Senator Fogarty said Pascoag Utility District’s measures are exactly what he wants all Rhode Island water utilities, large and small, to have.
“Water utilities have a unique responsibility. When they have a problem, it is absolutely vital to public health that they have a way to get the word out to the people they serve right away. Automated phone messages are the fastest way to do that, and systems for them are now widely available. All water suppliers should be using them,” said Senator Fogarty.