A water utility plant or system tour should have a goal or primary reason in mind. It can be to educate others about our industry. It may be to obtain support for a planned upgrade or could be because another industry is considering connecting to your utility, and they need to find out if your system could handle it. The point is to have a plan and goal in mind of what you desire to accomplish.
One of the first things you should do is obtain approval from the Utility Management/Authority. This could be verbal or require an official document as it may require certain condition be met in writing. Make sure you understand the approval, does it have a time frame, or there other restrictions to the approval.
Another consideration is to check with and obtain approval from the Utilities Insurance carrier as they may have restriction or requirements about general public being allowed into the water utility.
Other approvals that may need to be consider could be from the school/group that plans to take the tour as they may have requirements that need to be met.
If approval is not obtained by all then it is recommended to not give tours. However almost 99% of the time this is not a concern or problem, as a tour is welcomed by all involved.
Consider the audience or group that you will be providing the tour to. It is recommended in most cases not to consider elementary school age student as there could be issues of control of younger age students, and some plant/system may have hazards that would increase the risk for both students and the utility.
The preferred school age group to attract interest is shown to be from the 10th to 12th grade level. When considering other groups such as Civic or other adult groups you will need to consider their age and their abilities in order to maneuver around some areas of a plant or system.
Each group may require a slightly different approach and exposure on the tour depending on the objectives and goals you are trying to achieve.
- A high school class may have interest in the science or environmental issues of a utility as well as the career aspects of the utility industry.
- A Civic group may be interested in the utilities ability to handle a new proposed industry or what needs to be accomplished to accommodate the new industry.
- Another group may want to understand what needs to be done at the utility because of a proposed rate increase.
These are just a few reason a tour of the utility system may be a value to your utility or the industry.
Safety of the Tour Group
This is the most important aspect of your tour, and it needs strict guidelines. Establish a set of rules for the tour group and announce to all at the start that these rules must be followed for their safety.
- Think about your plant/system and where the hazards are and what could go wrong if someone would fall or knocked over something such as some type of chemical tank or lab bottle.
- Are there areas you do not want the tour group to get to close to such as chemical rooms, high voltage electrical areas, or unsafe areas of open water, wet floors, etc.
- Some areas of the system may need to have restricted access before the tour starts with some type of barricades or caution tape.
- You may need to require the use of safety glasses in some areas or other types of PPE. In a lab make sure lab chemicals are safely stored away.
- Do not let the tour group touch equipment as some equipment may start automatically and pull in fingers, hair, or clothes.
- Additional staff may be needed for control of the tour group as well as to provided additional guidance and information.
- Many time requesting the assistance from a utilities Engineering firm or an equipment supplier can provide additional support in many ways if you just ask.
- You may want to consider letting the local Ambulance or Fire Dept know about the utility tour and the approximate number of people, time, and location. In case an unexpected accident would occur, that way they have advance notice of the tour.
Each system will have its own unique set of hazards to be considered. However, the same rules should apply for all groups as the hazards are still the same regardless of age or group.
Pre-planning for the Tour
You should allow at least minimum 4 weeks prior to the tour to complete the tour plan.
How long will the tour take from start to finish will it be 1 or 2.5 hours.
A flow diagram of your system to show what things are, where they are, and how the water moves through the process can be a very helpful tool during a tour. Try to keep it to one to two pages, if possible, with pictures or drawings.
Most engineering companies that work with your utility may already have a flow diagram for your system.
If not, many will be happy to put one together if you explain what it is for and many times there will be
Prepare a general description of your system and process. This could include information such as the following, but not limited to these listed items.
- Type of treatment process and design. 1 MGD RO Water treatment, 1.5 MGD Activated Sludge
- Average pumpage or flow through plant and/or system.
- Number of customers served.
- Miles of pipe of collection or distribution system.
- Number of manholes, valves, Hydrants, and other items such as lift stations or size of tower or storage tanks.
Other items to consider are.
- Consider a pre-tour meeting with tour group leader before to go over pre tour details.
- A pre-tour visit of the site may be in order to give you and the group leader an idea of what the guest will be seeing may be useful.
- Sometimes a short video or power point presentation of the utility system process can be shown to a group at the start, and it can be a very helpful tool.
- Make sure there is ample parking and a receiving area to receive your guest and all of their vehicles. Remember you may have a large school bus or many cars for a large group to park and other support staff.
- Ensure all guests are appropriately dressed for the tour and they do not carry things that could get caught in equipment. No high heels
- If they are school age (under 18), are they approved for this tour/field trip. Parents’ permission.
- If you will be providing drinks, or food, make sure you are aware of any food allergies or other issues.
- Many times, a vendor may supply the food and/or drinks at no cost to the utility.
- Provided a suitable clean place to serve the food and drinks to your guest as well as have napkins, cups, trash disposal, etc.
Objective and Final Goals of Tour
You have obtained all approvals, know who your audience will be, and established the safety plan for your utility system. You done some pre-planning. We have already outlined some of the reasons for a tour under some of the other sections. Now let’s finalize it.
- What date have been selected for the tour and does it work with everyone’s schedule.
- Is there a rain date picked just in case of bad weather occurs.
- How many people are expected for the tour and do you have the staff to handle them.
- How long will the tour take. Different groups may require different amounts of time.
- Is all necessary PPE ready to be handed out at the receiving area if required.
- Are all handouts ready to be distributed to the group. Make sure you have enough.
- Prepare a welcome speech and give any introductions to those that will assist with the tour.
- Name tags can be helpful for the staff in case guest want to ask questions.
- Outline the goals of the tour and a brief description of the utility.
- Explain the safety rules that must be followed.
- If restrooms are available point those out.
- Explain any industry terms that may be used on the tour or provide a glossary of and definitions.
- Explain your utility works under a State or Federal Permit and some or all the staff that work there are certified operators and that requires education and passing State certification test.
- Display some manuals or show some of the types of lab test conducted.
- Allow plenty of time for questions either during the tour or at the end.
Providing a press release with photos and/or story about your tour to local news can be very beneficial. Send a thank you note and possible a certificate of appreciation to appropriate guest leader. Follow up with the group leader to see if the tour worked well for their group. Make notes about what you need or would change for next tour.
Be sure to thank the group for taking time to tour your utility and taking an interest in this very important industry that impacts their lives every day.
A utility plant/system tour can be a very positive thing to do for you as a professional and your utility. It promotes the professional aspects of the industry and as a career option. Once you have laid out the basic foundation of the tour and completed one the rest are easy and the first one is really not that hard to accomplish and can be very rewarding and beneficial.
This is just a guide, make the tour fit the goals of your utility that you need.