GERMANTOWN, Tenn. — The findings of an independent review were presented to Germantown city officials Monday, three months after residents were left without water after a generator at the city plant leaked diesel fuel into the water supply.
James Lewellen, retired town administrator of Collierville, addressed the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in Germantown Monday night, saying this past summer’s water crisis was unlike anything the city has dealt with before.
“This was what I characterize as a ‘black swan’ event. It’s something that had never happened,” he said. “Because of the way you have to test and end for results and then clean the system accordingly, it just takes time and it’s a very difficult process.”
During Monday’s presentation, the mayor and aldermen were told they handled the situation in the best they possibly could have with one exception.
In an independent review, Lewellen spent three months interviewing employees, community members, hospital staff, retail establishments, and restaurants to discover how a week without potable water impacted them.
“The community was going through a lot, and there were a lot of emotions involved, and they felt like they needed more information, but it was tough to analyze what else needed to be done,” Lewellen said.
He said he thinks the city handled everything the best way they could, but one thing he admits the city could have done better is improved communication by understanding how to communicate with a wide range of people with empathy and constant feedback, providing as much information as possible, and explaining what they knew and didn’t know and how they were working to find out.
But he also thinks the complexity of the facts got lost in translation.
“The information was difficult to absorb, and I think they were looking for someone to put it into perspective for them and someone to make it easier to understand,” Lewellen said.
As a result, he suggested the city hire more communication specialists to keep the public better informed.
Lewellen commended city employees for working around the clock to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
We asked to speak with the mayor to discuss the findings of the report and how they might impact future emergencies but were told he wasn’t available.