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Unlike other essential utilities, water supply is often overlooked by UK business continuity managers because it is frequently viewed as a supplier responsibility. Many organizations are not aware that non-household customers should arrange and maintain their own contingency plans especially when they are considered a ‘sensitive’ or ‘water critical’ site.

In this article, Sven Parris, senior sales & marketing manager at Water Direct, talks about water contingency planning for UK businesses and organizations and the importance of improving resilience and raising the profile of water as a critical business continuity theme.

In April 2017, the water market changed, meaning non-household customers can now choose their water provider, creating an open market for new water retailers. Water wholesalers still manage the infrastructure: supply, pipes and sewage works, while the newly established retailers manage the customer service, billing and value-added services. This has introduced new opportunities for competitive pricing, collated billing for multi-site businesses and new value-added services designed to differentiate the suppliers. The change in the market has also brought to the surface the importance of these business customers having their own contingency plans for water supply.

Even more than a year on, the market still lacks clearly defined responsibility around alternative or interim supply to customers during a supply interruption or contamination. At Water Direct we’re working with wholesalers and retailers to encourage clear parameters to be outlined, so that all businesses can be prepared for a water supply interruption.

As it stands, priority to receive an alternative supply lies with residential customers and sites that have been agreed as ‘sensitive’ between the wholesaler and retailer. These ‘sensitive’ or ‘water critical’ sites can include hospitals, prisons, farms with livestock, and premises with national, civil or security importance.

Of course, a wholesaler may still, as part of an agreement with a sensitive site, assist on a best endeavours basis, but even for these sites, there may not be any guarantees around scale or speed of response to provide an alternative water supply. Certainly, if the issue lies within the business boundary then the customer may be entirely responsible for arranging their own contingency provision.

Water Direct worked in anticipation of the 2017 changes, forming partnerships with 90 percent of the newly founded water retailers, to address concerns and deliver collaborative resilience. These strategic partnerships allow water retailers to provide a valuable additional service to their customers, either as a white-labelled or referral based contracted service. This gives large companies including supermarkets, NHS trusts and the like, access to a much-needed contingency planning service via a source they already hold a relationship with.

What does an interruption in water supply mean to your business?

Every industry sector is different but even a typical office environment could grind to a halt quickly without water. From an office filled with admin workers to a large manufacturing plant, water is essential to running any business. Whether it is to meet basic welfare needs or because water is essential to a manufacturing process, an interruption to supply rapidly affects every organization in some way.

Between April 2016 and March 2017 alone, there were 52,547 mains pipe bursts in England and Wales, which highlights just how frequently water supply interruptions occur. Add to that incidents of contamination, the effects of severe weather and miscellaneous causes of interruption to supply and you will get a better picture of how necessary it is that you think about how you would deal with such an incident.

Many businesses are still unaware, and it is of paramount importance that non-household customers consider water supply contingency in their business continuity plans.

What Water Direct is doing already

Our working partnerships with the UK’s water retailers provide a gateway to dedicated water supply contingency planning. We have been working with the retailers to educate and raise awareness around best practice for their key customers.

We provide training and information around business continuity planning to water retailer key account managers to ensure they are having the right conversations and asking the right questions from the first point of contact with their customers. Our aim is that these partnerships will create sustainable processes and improve resilience in regard to water supply, within Britain’s leading organizations, from large corporations to NHS Trusts and local authorities.

This is in addition to working for over 20 years with most of the national water wholesalers to provide emergency water supply as part of their regulatory (SEMD) obligations.

But we’re not a large corporation! What happens to us?

There are 5.7 million SMEs in the UK, all with one thing in common; they
use an average of 50 litres of water for each employee, every day. Every company, whatever size, should have contingency plans. They may not warrant a dedicated business continuity manager and may need to outsource the task in order to have the relevant expertise, but they should have disaster recovery plans in place to get their business back on track as soon as possible following a water supply interruption.

This is why we developed our WaterTight product. The service includes a site visit, thorough risk assessment, mitigation advice as well as clearly defined solutions should the worst happen.

When it all comes together

The extreme weather in early 2018, caused by the Beast from the East and Storm Emma is a good example of the importance of water supply contingency planning. The rapid thaw caused a significant number of water pipes to burst due to expansion and contraction resulting in unprecedented levels of interruptions to water supplies across the country.

This led to many thousands of businesses being without water or affected by reduced pressure. As a result, the water companies worked around the clock to repair the network and Water Direct was called upon by almost all its contracted customers simultaneously across the country to provide emergency alternative supplies.

We provided around four million litres of emergency bottled water via designated water collection points and mobilised over 200 truckloads of drinking water, pumping more than seven million litres of water directly into the mains and reservoirs to help restore supply. In addition, we arranged doorstep deliveries to vulnerable customers, delivered vital water for people with medical requirements such as dialysis and pressurised mains so that leaks could be found and repaired. We provided support across eight counties to five national water retailers and eight regional water utility wholesalers.

Where to start?

Water supply contingency planning needs to be tailored to your company’s individual needs, so I would suggest starting with an onsite risk assessment. Make sure you seek professional advice to ensure you don’t miss anything important. Source an alternative supplier who can guarantee that they can cope with the pressures of a widescale incident and can evidence a smooth transition to that alternative supply. Check the response times and make sure they meet your needs. I would recommend your contingency plans are reviewed annually or more often if procedural or organizational changes warrant it.

For more information about Water Direct visit and for a free consultation email

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Business continuity can be defined as 'the processes, procedures, decisions and activities to ensure that an organization can continue to function through an operational interruption'. Read more about the basics of business continuity here.

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