Out of all of the utilities residents use on a daily basis, clean, running water is in the spotlight as public health officials encourage people to frequently wash their hands.
The Rome water and sewer division is doing its part to make sure its operations continue as the spread of the COVID-19 virus continues to disrupt daily life.
Division Director Mike Hackett said they are taking precautions to keep employees safe while keeping their facilities in full operation during this time.
“As soon as this came on the world scene, we were already working on thinking in terms of what further planning we might have to do — so we could make sure to protect our employees and keep our facilities up and running in case anyone in our division was sick or had to be quarantined,” Hackett said.
Employees in all departments have switched to split shifts, which Hackett said means “roughly two weeks on and two weeks off.”
While it cuts in half the number of employees per shift, the ones working are able to stay separate from each other. That still maintains the minimum number of people needed to keep the facilities running.
“Really it becomes a challenge of leveling out how many employees you have on a shift — and how many you have in reserves — to make sure we can deal with people who may get sick and have to be quarantined. I think we’ve done a good job at that,” Hackett said.
He said they also screen employees before they enter facilities for work and have already closed off the water billing department to the public at least through Sunday in an effort to keep their employees healthy.
“We know, in order to go with this system, there are things that will be a little different. We hope people understand we’re doing all we can to make this as comfortable as possible for our customers,” Hackett said. “But I can assure everyone that during this time all facilities are in good working condition.”
The Bruce Hamler Water Treatment Facility on Blossom Hill has 12 full-time employees, while the division has 113 in total. All Rome water treatment operations and laboratory staff are certified by the Georgia Secretary of State, something that Hackett said other water treatment facilities can’t always claim.
Another part of the initial planning done by the division was to make sure they had full stock of the necessary chemicals needed to treat the water — including aluminum sulfate, calcium hydroxide, and chlorine.
Hackett said there has not been an issue with having the proper supply of chemicals so far, and he feels they will continue to receive the proper amounts shipped to them as a result of President Donald Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act last week.
The Defense Production Act gives the president broad authority to shape the domestic industrial base so that it is capable of providing essential materials and goods needed in a national security crisis.
Hackett said industry publications he has read point to the Act ensuring chlorine manufacturers continue to provide chemicals to public water treatment facilities like Rome’s and Floyd County’s.