City of Houston

Houston boil water aftermath: Council members say city must improve communication during emergencies

Some on the council reiterated concerns about not being alerted about the notice and that it took hours before it was sent out to residents.


Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media

Houston City Council members said Wednesday the city needs to improve its communication to residents after the city’s boil water notice this week.

Councilor Tiffany Thomas said she found out about the boil water notice on Twitter.

“We didn’t receive the initial communication, I believe we received it the day after, before [Mayor Sylvester Turner’s] press conference,” Thomas said. “The communication improved after the press conference when communication was going out, but we were trending because people were saying, ‘If it had not been for social media I would not have known.'”

Thomas suggested that the city also let councilmembers know when such notices are going out so they can alert their districts.

Councilor Amy Peck also suggested the city take another look at AlertHouston, a city emergency alert service that calls, texts and emails. Residents must sign up for alerts through the service.

“Anything we can do to put a process in place for that because a lot of people didn’t know about the boil water notice until that text message went out that night at around 10:30,” Peck said. “Unless you were signed up for AlertHouston you didn’t know either. Something like this to send through wireless, the alert system or put a process in place so that people know.”

Turner said homeland security have already made those changes, but it is important that people sign up for AlertHouston.

Other councilors suggested that the city work with other Harris County municipalities in cases of similar events like the boil water notice.

Turner emphasized multiple times throughout the discussion that the purification plants pressure was low for only a small amount of time.

“You have 21 sensors, five of them never went below 20 psi, and 14 sensors that were below the 20 psi were for less than two minutes, and two sensors were below the psi for 30 minutes,” he said.

He also noted that 29 water samples were pulled and none of them showed bacteria or contaminants.

“When you put in a boil water notice it is very disruptive, hospitals, businesses are affected,” he said. “…If we’re instructed to do a boil water notice, we do a boil water notice.”

Turner also explained that there was an overload on the plant’s system, and whatever caused the overload, also resulted in its backup generators to fail.

“We’ll have to do a review on everything, not just the transformers, but the process as well, and when to put a boil water notice in place because it can be much more disruptive as we’ve seen,” he said.

“I want to say stuff does happen even in the worst of times, but I do appreciate the workers for working around the clock because they worked around the clock to get the power up, they worked around the clock to get the samples,” he said.