As difficult as last weekend has been for Indian Hills General Improvement District customers under a boil water order at least one thing appears to be true. Their water was never contaminated. Had it been, the boil water order would have come just in time for them to start getting sick.
The bad bacteriological water sample wasn't taken anywhere near when the district issued a boil-water order but 24 hours before on Wednesday night as part of routine monthly testing.
Since it takes 24 hours to grow a culture from the water, residents would have been drinking contaminated water for a day without anyone knowing it.
At 6 p.m. Thursday the state ordered Indian Hills to notify customers to boil their water. Some residents complained they didn't receive notification until two days later, but we can guarantee that the media were notified on Thursday night. Douglas County's emergency notification system sent out an alert to every subscriber at 6:50 p.m. The order appeared on Web sites across Northern Nevada on Thursday night, and on the front page of the Nevada Appeal on Friday morning and again on Saturday. It was the banner headline in Sunday's Record-Courier. Reverse 911 was used, but came to the game late.
All of which turns out to have been essentially an academic exercise.
The district, and the county, found out the hard way what those of us in the media already know. It's hard to get people's attention. One official said that during a previous notification, workers taped a notice to people's front doors, only to learn that there aren't that many people using their front door. That goes double for having a landline or looking at a newspaper or watching the TV news, much less checking a government or media web site.
In the end, despite all our technological advancement, the low tech - posting signs all over the neighborhoods or having someone with a bullhorn drive the streets - may end up being the best means of reducing the number of the uninformed in an emergency.