Love that Dirty Water

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“Oh, Boston, you’re my home.” The Boston area was reminded of this 1966 hit single by the Standells — and official theme song of the Boston Red Sox — these past few days. In the late morning of Saturday, May 1, a major pipe carrying water from the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts to Boston and surrounding communities burst somewhere in the town of Weston about eight miles from Boston. When it did, emergency water flow kicked in. However, the emergency supply wasn’t safe for drinking unless boiled, and a boil water order affecting approximately two million people was issued by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

The town of Brookline where Chestnut Hill Benevolent Association is located was affected by the boil water order. I was 1,500 miles away, and decisions were necessary on the ground at the BA. It’s sometimes said that one sign of solid operational management is how well the operation functions when top management is absent. Especially in an emergency. How clear are the communications? How adaptive is the organization when it comes to improvizing?

An annual Christian Science students’ association meeting was being held at the BA that day, and many of its attendees had stayed overnight in our Rest & Study guest rooms and suites. Additionally, Christian Science nursing patients and BA residents were affected by the water situation.

Upon hearing the news, communication went out immediately to Christian Science nursing supervisors in the nursing building, and all managers and employees onsite in the residential/administration building. Within minutes, every resident, guest and patient knew what had happened and where we stood. Since we staff a reception area at the main entrance to the largest building, this “front desk” became command central, a hub for all communications. Water was turned off to ice machines and ice was discarded. Large pots were pressed into service boiling water for drinking, food preparation, and food cleanup. Five gallon water bottles with dispensers, part of a much larger emergency inventory we keep on hand at all times, were strategically placed throughout the buildings for drinking water. Clean ice was obtained from Brookline Ice which had an ample supply on hand.

On Monday, the Board of Health visited to determine our emergency response, and left confident that we were in compliance with safe alternatives. On Tuesday morning, final repairs were made to the broken pipe in Weston and the water ban was lifted. Shortly afterwards, our facilities personnel began flushing water heating reservoirs and pipes in order to drain unsafe water and bring clean water back into the buildings.

The BA is just one of many hundreds of organizations and institutions in the greater Boston area, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of households affected by this water emergency. Within that broader context, it’s gratifying to know that our managers, employees, contractors, residents and guests worked so harmoniously together during those three days.

One Response to Love that Dirty Water

  1. Zak says:

    I love this perspective from the BA. It’s such a privilege.

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