911, What Is Your Emergency?

Commissioner Parrish sent out the following message on the morning of 13 August 2020:

“If a citizens contacts you about a issue that with the Police or Fire 
please advised that citizen to call 911. Even if is a non emergency 
they need to contact 911. 911 enters a call and that is how calls are 
tracked for further reference. Call directly to the Office or Cell 
phone and having them to run a call is sometimes not logged into the 
system. Please also remember that the cell phones for town police and 
fire are not to be given to the general public. Every call logged into 
911 counts especially when applying for grants.”

Comm. J.C. Parrish

I’ve heard these instructions ever since I moved to Ramseur almost six years ago, and it has always bothered me.

According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 911 was first conceived in 1968, when I was two years old. Most Americans my age or younger have been taught, for our entire lives, that we should NEVER call 911 unless there is an actual emergency like a car accident, a house on fire, someone being assaulted, or a robbery in progress.

To give a more concrete example, when my neighbors were riding their loud, foul-smelling ATVs across the street ten hours every day, making it impossible to hear my television less than ten feet across the room; that wasn’t really an emergency, so I was more than a little reluctant to dial 911 to ask the police to come to do something about it. On the other hand, if my neighbor comes across the street and threatens to harm me when I complain about that noise, then we have an emergency because the potential exists for someone to be severely injured.

I have a friend from high school who has worked as a 911 operator for more than 33 years and is now a shift supervisor at a 911 call center in another state. I asked them about this situation and they said, “Once 911 became more widely used, to get people to use it many cities used PSAs (public service announcements) that urged citizens to use it as a quick way to reach responders. It backfired terribly, but no one will come out and tell people to only use it for emergencies. Even in cities where governments have asked people not to, they do it anyway. It would take a massive publicity campaign to undo the damage at this point.”

It sounds like using the 911 system to field all calls to local law enforcement isn’t such a great idea after all. I’m not suggesting that we should refuse to use the system as Commissioner Parrish has instructed, but asking people to behave in ways that contradict such deeply embedded training is much harder than it sounds, and, to my mind, counterproductive. Using the 911 system for non-emergencies undermines the entire point of an emergency call system. What happens when the system is flooded with calls one day and operators are overwhelmed?

Shouldn’t there be a way to forward the telephone number at our local police department to a non-emergency number at the county 911 center in Asheboro? For that matter, why can’t we simply forward those calls to the highest-ranking officer on duty?  That would at least begin to justify the expense of supplying all our full-time police officers and firefighters with smartphones because last I checked calls from the 911 center are dispatched by radio.

The 911 system should not be used for non-emergency calls. It runs counter to everything most of us have been taught since childhood, but until a better solution is implemented that’s the system we’ve got.

Now you know.

Problems at Water Plant Go Back Years

The following email was received at our town office last week. It details a long list of serious issues at our water treatment plant going back at least three years or more in some instances. It’s my understanding that there has been money in the water and sewer operating funds to fix most if not all of these issues over the last several years, but until now no one seems to have bothered to address them.

On 2020-07-30 12:18, Fox, Daniel S wrote:

Ms. Caudle,

Good afternoon.  Eric Hudson and I met with Mark Grose, the contracted
operator in responsible charge (ORC), on July 28, 2020 and inspected
the Town of Ramseur water treatment plant.  I appreciate Mr. Grose’s
time and cooperation for the inspection.  Comments requiring follow-up
are as follows:

1.       Since 2017, yearly inspections performed by Public Water
Supply Section personnel have identified several chemical leaks that
are present in the chemical feed room and the bulk chemical storage
room.  The chemicals appear to be leaking at most of the glued joints
and at the transfer pumps in both of these locations.  These areas
have noticeable dried white crystallization indicative of active
leaks, which over time may dissolve the glue at these joints and
fittings, possibly causing a catastrophic release.  It is imperative
that these leaks be repaired immediately as they pose a possibly
health risk to the operators and to the environment.  Also, the
accumulated water and sludge in the two caustic day tank secondary
containment structures must be drained and cleaned.

2.       There is a lack of “sufficient standby chemical feed pumps”
in the chemical feed rooms.  At present, there are no backups for the
four “new” peristaltic pumps except for the older pulsatron pumps they
replaced.  We strongly encourage that funds be made available to
provide redundancy for these critical pumps.  In addition, several
power strips were improperly connected (daisy chained) together that
were used to power some of the chemical feed pumps.  Actions should be
taken to rectify this issue immediately.

3.       The trac-vac for sedimentation basin #1 was not operational
during the inspection.  This equipment should be repaired as soon as
possible.  In the meantime, it is highly recommended that basin #1 be
manually drained and cleaned to eliminate accumulated sediment in the
basin.  It should be noted that this issue has been cited before, as
outlined in Water Plant Inspection Follow-up letters dated February
22, 2017 and July 19, 2017.

4.       At the time of inspection, the sink drain at the sampling
station in the onsite laboratory was stopped up, resulting in water
overflowing onto the floor causing a slip hazard.  This drain should
be repaired immediately.

5.       The raw water turbidity meter was not functioning properly
during our inspection.  Mr. Grose indicated that he collects grab
samples every two hours to monitor for raw water turbidity using the
benchtop analyzers, but it is recommended to have this meter placed
back in service in order to continuously monitor source water
turbidity.  Furthermore, all turbidity meters are reportedly
calibrated by Carolina Technical Services (CTS) on a quarterly basis.
We have requested the last calibration results (performed on 7/27/20)
to be submitted to this office for review.  Mr. Grose indicated the
benchtop meter was not calibrated during the last calibration event.
This is a critical meter and must be calibrated immediately.

It is recommended staff record and document the results of
turbidimeter verifications when staff compare the turbidity from
continuous meters against the benchtop meter.  The attached Turbidity
Data Validation Worksheet is an example for your reference.

6.       Any testable backflow prevention assemblies located
throughout the water plant, including those on chemical feeds pumps,
should be tested and maintained according to the manufacturer’s

7.       According to Mr. Grose, the Stout Street elevated tank is
currently inactive and not in use at this time, and is only used when
the Weatherly Street elevated tank is out of service.  He indicated
that both tanks are visually inspected yearly and are “washed out”
every two years by Utility Services.  The stagnant water in the Stout
Street tank must be drained and a bacteriological sample should be
collected from this tank prior to placing it back in service.

8.       During the file review process, it was discovered that two
outstanding projects had not received final approval status from the
Plan Review Section.  As discussed during our meeting, these projects
received Authorizations to Construct (ATC), but have not received
final approval status, although both projects are complete.  Please
submit the appropriate engineer and/or applicant certifications to
obtain final approval for these projects.  Mr. Grose was provided the
attached spreadsheet which contains pertinent information regarding
these projects.  It should be noted that placing a project in service
prior to obtaining final approval is a violation of the _Rules
Governing Public Water Systems_, and is subject to administrative
penalties.  For your convenience, I have attached a blank Engineer
Certification form and Applicant Certification form for your use.

9.       In order to achieve a better representation of the
bacteriological (BACTI) conditions throughout the entire distribution
system, and per the Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR), the three
monthly BACTI samples should be _rotated_ amongst the twelve (12)
locations listed on the attached bacteriological sampling sites table
that we have on file for the Town of Ramseur.  Since approximately
2018, only two of these locations have been sampled each month (C01 –
Shop and 123 – Town Hall).  Please begin rotating the monthly BACTI
sample locations so that all sites listed in the Sampling Plan are
sampled.  Furthermore, per the bacteriological audit that was
performed by Rodney Darr on August 14, 2018, please provide a RTCR
site sampling map which includes, at a minimum, the layout of the
distribution system piping, all source water entry points, treatment
facility and storage tanks, dead-end mains, maximum residence time
(MRT) sites, and the locations of the routine bacteriological sampling
sites.  Please provide this office a copy of this map as soon as

10.   According to the revised rule 15A NCAC 18C .0406 – Distribution
Systems, Section (b)(6), records are required to be maintained,
beginning January 1, 2020, related to backflow prevention devices and
inventorying high risk sites (see attached rule).  These records will
be reviewed by our staff during the next inspection.  Please contact
us if you have questions related to the requirements of this rule.

11.   The current project to add a new, post-clearwell chlorine
injection point, is nearing completion.  It should be noted that the
Engineering Plans and Specifications Approval – Chemical Feed letter,
dated July 26, 2018, a stipulates that “once the second gaseous
feeding system is in place, a CT tracer study must be completed at the
WTP, and the study must be submitted to our Winston-Salem Regional
Office, with a PE seal and signature.”

** Please reply to this email and provide notification when the above
tasks have been completed.

Since there is no emergency interconnect (emergency source of water)
for the Town of Ramseur, it is imperative for the Town to budget for
long term solutions to provide the necessary equipment for the daily
operation and maintenance at this water plant.  You are encouraged to
periodically visit the water treatment plant and observe the on-going
operations.  If there are any questions regarding these inspections,
please do not hesitate to contact me.  Thank you again for your

D. Shawn Fox, E.I.
Environmental Engineer
Public Water Supply Section
NC Department of Environmental Quality

Today we have someone competent and well versed in how a water treatment and distribution system should be maintained and operated overseeing our water/sewer operation, Jim McIntosh. It’s a huge mess, but why has Suez allowed these issues to pile up.

Suez has been operating our water treatment plant for years, and since water treatment and distribution is one of their core services, shouldn’t they have made some effort over the years to notify our board of commissioners and push them to take action? The previous board bears ultimate responsibility for the negligence that occurred on its watch, but Suez bears a responsibility for not pushing the issues at each monthly meeting until they were resolved.