August 2008, Vol. 20, No.8

Operations Forum Editor’s Note

Operations Forum Editor’s Note

0perations Forum Editor’s Note

Steve Spicer, editor

How far did the shirt you’re wearing travel before you put it on? Chances are it was assembled an ocean away with materials produced in some other far-flung place. An entire industry operates largely unnoticed to keep you clothed.

“So what?” you ask. “Why do I care about where my shirt came from? It’s here for me to use and when I need a new one, I go to the store and get it.”

You care because how you feel about that shirt is how the average person feels about the wastewater that they make each day.

“Someone else handles that,” the average citizen says. “My sinks and toilets drain very well. Everything works great.”

But just because your customers are content with their service does not mean they aren’t keen to learn more. It does mean that they need effective guides to introduce them to how wastewater treatment works and affects their lives.

Throw Open the Doors” gives tips and advice on how to become that guide. Effective tours and open houses can provide answers to questions that people didn’t even know they had. (Personally, I’m wondering why my shirt was made in Jamaica. I should probably go there to find out.)

You might say, “The first order of business is to protect public health and the environment; anything extra is a burden we can’t bear.”

On the first point, you’re right. On the second, you might be missing an opportunity. In some cases, public outreach can help you accomplish your job. For example, an aggressive fats, oils, and grease prevention program could reduce the number of sanitary sewer overflows and emergency calls to clear blockages. And painting “River Drainage” notices on curb intakes can curtail the amounts of trash that need to be removed from storm drains. In the article “Wipe Out”, a Maine utility details how it has used public outreach as part of a plan to reduce pump station clogs and raise awareness of collection system challenges. Their campaign seeks to educate customers that flushing disposable cleaning and personal hygiene wipes leads to frequent pump station blockages and could cause a backup into customers’ homes. After 7 months of outreach, a poll showed that 36% of customers were aware of the campaign.

When used properly, public outreach can be an effective tool. Even though it is often considered a soft topic, effective programs can help solve hard problems.

Steve Spicer, editor