Emergency and Disaster Management, Water Security

Emergency Management: Mutual Aid Mutual Benefit – Why Together is Better

We are starting a new series on Emergency Management featuring guest blogger Jared Serviss. Jared is a Senior Business Continuity and Emergency Management Planner from the City of Calgary. He is the Chair of the Alberta Water and Wastewater Agency Response Network (AbWARN), one of the only WARNs outside of the United States.  Due to his background in firefighting, where mutual aid agreements are very common and personnel and equipment often travel, sometimes great distances, to assist other departments you can take it from him, there is much the water sector can learn from the safety sector.

Mutual Aid Helpful Hints:

  • You can send help if you’re able and call it back if need be
  • You can reduce overhead of critical spare parts
  • Important to build relationships and communication ties
  • Working together is better
  • You have to get out there and make contact
  • Share!  Your experiences, action reports, lessons learned, exercises, share until it hurts!

Taking mutual aid to the next level

A key part of your overall emergency management strategy should be mutual aid.  The use of mutual aid agreements, formal or informal, amongst water utilities can have multiple and meaningful results. For starters you get to start or build upon the relationship you have with the other utilities.  This is very important as having a level of familiarity and trust with those you will be working with in an emergency is critical.

Mutual aid allows you a level of coverage or redundancy that you might otherwise not have.  If you know that you can call on a couple more crews, or have access to a larger critical parts inventory than what you would or could maintain on your own, then your performance in an emergency will be markedly better.

Training together to be ready for mutual aid will result in a closer working relationship between your personnel, as well as a far better training program; whenever possible outside agencies should be involved, even if only as observers, to comment on your training and provide constructive feedback.

Share until it hurts & share some more

The mutual aid agreement need not be formal, although this will definitely help to iron out any kinks that may come up between various managements and unions.  Some mutual aid agreements are signed on the spot, when needed, and then go on to become lasting relationships.

If your personnel are called in for a mutual aid request, you will get a chance for them to gain experience at someone else’s expense, while also helping out and building your good public relations bank.  All of these will help make your organization more robust.

Virtually no downside

There is virtually no downside to being in a mutual aid agreement.  Your costs are reimbursed by whoever calls you, your crews gain experience, you get good press and you are doing good.  It also shows good due diligence.

Mutual aid agreements can lead to more than just sending equipment, and may help facilitate information and best practice sharing between members.  The ability to tap into reading someone else’s exercise and lessons learned or after action reports is very valuable, and may save you much time and the possibility of repeating the mistakes of others.  Personnel and expertise may also be sent, allowing for tired crews or those operating in an operations centre to be relieved.  Also keep in mind that the mutual aid may be in the form of a teleconference, similar to one that my utility, Calgary Water, participated in with David Parsons of Sydney Water in Australia.  An exercise was being held and multiple water companies joined into a “virtual aid” teleconference to provide their take on the situation, and give thoughts or examples of what to do, or more importantly not due, based on their experience.  The result was a very good exercise with some good thinking outside the box, or at least outside the region!

A Key point to remember

A key point with mutual aid agreements is not to only make them with your neighbouring utilities.  While this is a good first step, you must expand your network, especially since an event that strikes you is more likely to also affect your close neighbours, making having a utility from another area upon which you can call for help essential.


I would just like to say that your planning will not be complete until you have given some thought to mutual aid.  The negatives will be far outweighed by the positives.  If there are any questions regarding my work with the WARN program, please do not hesitate to contact me.


About noahmorgenstern

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5 thoughts on “Emergency Management: Mutual Aid Mutual Benefit – Why Together is Better

  1. Jared you have offered some great points regarding the value of mutual aid and assistance. The model we have applied in the water sector has now been instituted in 48 states and the national capital region, and in Canada there is AbWARN and Ontario is soon to be. AWWA has worked diligently with our partners at EPA and other associations to facilitate this initiative and based on multiple deployments the value speaks for itself.

    More information and supporting resources can be found at http://www.NationalWARN.org. If your utility is not a WARN member become one…this is the back up plan that everyone can afford and should not be without. In fact the water sector is the model that other sectors strive to emulate…we are the leaders in mutual aid and assistance.

    Posted by Kevin Morley | January 18, 2012, 3:40 pm
    • Kevin, great information. I also encourage all to check out the WARN information, as you said regardless of whether you are in the water sector or not. The more we can share and learn from each other the better off we will all be.

      Posted by Jared Serviss | January 20, 2012, 7:05 pm
  2. This might be a bit of a technicality, but there are Mutual Aid and Mutual Assistance programs. Mutual Aid is not reimbursed, but Mutual Assistance is. As a private utility, we only work mutual assistance agreements as we need to know we will be reimbursed if we show up to help.

    Posted by Jim | January 18, 2012, 6:25 pm
    • Jim,

      We have not made that distinction. I have seen some agreements called Mutual Aid and Assistance Agreements. There are some utilities that provide free assistance up to a certain point, for example 1 to 3 weeks, after which the billing starts. I have not heard of someone not being reimbursed due to a distinction between mutual aid or mutual assistance. Thanks for commenting and getting some discussion going!

      Posted by Jared Serviss | January 20, 2012, 7:08 pm
  3. Jared,

    Are youi familiar with our national WARN system?



    Posted by Dan Quintanar | January 25, 2012, 6:03 pm

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