Large water utilities have been tutored on how to assess and address possible terrorist threats to the nation's drinking water supply systems through methodology recently released by the Awwa Research Foundation.

Awwa Research Foundation, a leading international water research organization, initiated the Vulnerability Assessment Methodology project with Sandia National Laboratories back in June 2000. The methodology guides drinking water utilities through a security review and assists them in making more informed decisions regarding the protection of their systems.

Eight workshops have taken place across the country to train key personnel in the methodology. More than 125 water utilities from 39 states and other countries have participated in the Foundation's workshops, which are funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Utilities serving water to approximately 50 percent of the United States now have new tools to evaluate and improve their security and better prepare for intentional sabotage or other emergency events.

"The Foundation fast-tracked the completion of the project in response to the heightened state of alert following Sept. 11," according to James Manwaring, executive director of the Awwa Research Foundation. "The methodology and workshops allow utility managers to tailor the vulnerability assessment to their specific systems and invest their resources wisely."

In working with Awwa Research Foundation and its members, Sandia National Laboratories adapted existing performance-based security methodology from the nuclear weapons industry and other critical infrastructure systems and applied it to water utilities. The methodology covers a risk assessment process including:

  • Determining the utility's important assets to protect;

  • Determining consequences of losing key assets;

  • Defining types of threats and the likelihood of occurrence;

  • Defining safeguards to protect systems from sabotage;

  • Analyzing the system to determine constraints; and

  • Developing a plan to counter or minimize identified risks.

The approach also focuses on examining water utilities' interdependencies with other systems (i.e., electrical systems, transportation systems, energy systems, emergency systems). Screening of employees and a review of security policies and contingency plans are addressed. Ultimately, an effective vulnerability assessment uses a performance-based approach that continually evaluates how well safeguards are working.

In addition to the vulnerability assessment methodology, the Awwa Research Foundation has a number of other security-related efforts underway. The Foundation recently issued a report, "Design of Early Warning and Predictive Source Water Monitoring Systems," to its subscribers. For more information on these efforts, you can visit