Immediate identification of unknown chemical, microbiological and to some extent radiological contaminants in the water sector is paramount to avoid breakout of a crisis or to get an emerging crisis under control. Deliberate contamination of water supply systems by terrorist attacks, accidents, natural disasters or technological failures are recognized scenarios which might lead to tragic public health consequences. AQUASEC-AUT was funded by the Austrian security research programme KIRAS and was led by the Environmental Agency Austria. The project was carried out between March 2010 and May 2012. Partners were the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), the Austrian Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management and the Ministry of Defence and Sports.
AQUASEC-AUT examined the degree of preparedness of a representative sample of Austrian water suppliers in terms of security plans, threat analysis or operating procedures and asked for experiences in crisis situations. Additionally, the laboratory resources for chemical, microbiological and radiological analysis were investigated. It was worked out which laboratories are able to offer special competences beyond routine analysis and which laboratories already have experience in crisis management. In order to establish a link between laboratory capacities and crisis management the structure of disaster management in Austria was compiled. As a synthesis of elaborated deficiencies and available capacities AQUASECAUT proposes to establish a network among four existing laboratories. These accredited laboratories cover the major expertise in chemical, microbiological and radiological analysis in Austria and have experience in disaster situations. Moreover, their structure as semi-public institution may allow them to easily interact with crisis management structures in Austria. All four laboratories work in the field of environment and health assessment and therefore are equipped with stateof-the-art instrumentation. Bundling the expertise and resources to a network seems to be the most cost efficient way to establish a competence centre for this purpose. The main objective of the proposed laboratory network is to assist the governmental crisis management by identifying and quantifying (unknown) chemical contaminants (industrial chemicals, warfare agents), pathogens and radiological threats shortly in order to facilitate assessing the risk and to take appropriate measures. Horizontal scanning and observation of scientific developments are necessary to keep the skills of the laboratory network at state-of-the-art. Participation in proficiency tests is mandatory for accredited laboratories. Additionally, it seems to be helpful to also integrate the laboratory network in field exercises in order to train for emergencies and to evaluate their performance.
AQUASEC-AUT identified aspects to increase the security in the water sector and addressed recommendations to relevant authorities. Policy makers are asked to balance obligations for information (e.g. INSPIRE) and security aspects in terms of publishing pipe network data. Guidelines for the implementation of security plans in water works are issued by the Austrian Association for Gas and Water. Water suppliers are asked to further implement existing guidelines and standardized approaches to increase their preparedness for crisis situations.
A major outcome of AQUASEC-AUT is that in Austria there is a need for establishing a crisis laboratory in order to quickly respond to an emerging crisis. This can be formed by a network of four existing laboratories. An inter-ministerial agreement, however, is needed to initiate its implementation.
Umweltbundesamt GmbH, 1090 Wien, Spittelauerlände 5
Österreichische Agentur für Gesundheit und Ernährungssicherheit (AGES), 1220 Wien, Spargelfeldgasse 191
Bundesministerium für Landesverteidigung und Sport, Zentraler Technischer Dienst, 1090 Wien, Roßauerlände 1
Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft, Sektion VII, 1012 Wien, Stubenring 1