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Westmoreland water authority plans internal review of crisis management

| Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The board of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County will let its private management firm investigate its own performance during last month's boil-water advisory.

Board Chairman Randy Roadman said on Thursday that no outside agency will be used to review how Resource Development and Management Inc. — a Forest Hills firm that makes $1 million a year to run the authority — handled alerts issued to the public after a filter malfunctioned.

As a precaution, the state Department of Environmental Protection wanted about 50,000 customers to boil water before drinking it or using it to cook or clean dishes and cooking equipment.

“We've directed the management staff to do a review. It's an ongoing review. They are taking their time to do a review of it. We are guiding them,” Roadman said after the board met on Thursday.

It was the board's first meeting since the filter failed during a routine test by the state on Oct. 23 at a treatment plant in Bell Township. Although no dangerous bacteria was detected in the water, the system's lines needed to be flushed and tests had to be performed before the four-day advisory was lifted.

Board members Keith Staso, Anthony Bompiani, Bruce Robinson and Jerry DeFabo declined to comment when asked about the authority's public response.

“The management team and everyone here did everything by the book,” Roadman said.

Authority manager Chris Kerr, who is one of the owners of Resource Development and Management, told the board there will be improvements in how the authority communicates with the public.

“We did an outstanding job, operationally. I know there are areas where we can improve in our communications,” Kerr said.

In a prepared statement, Kerr outlined a number of proposed improvements, including:

• Upgrading the authority website, which crashed shortly after the advisory was issued.

• Meeting with local emergency management coordinators.

• Setting up a system to issue alerts through text messages and email.

• Creating specific maps to show affected area.

• Meeting with lawmakers to lobby for access to 911 databases in an effort to contact more customers in an emergency.

Kerr said the authority wants to create a social media plan to be used in the event of an emergency. Officials failed to capitalize on sites such as Facebook and Twitter last month.

“As inconvenient as it was to our customers, the confusion was a result of us trying to minimize the affected area,” Kerr said.

Officials said part of the service area near the Route 30 corridor receives water from two sources, causing some confusion about which areas were affected.

There was no discussion about the authority's public relations specialist, Gina Cerilli, who makes $61,500 a year. Cerilli did not attend the meeting, although her activities during the past several months were detailed in a manager's report prepared for the board.

Cerilli gave presentations about the water system at 13 schools and eight senior citizen centers this fall, it said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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