WhatsApp initiative drives international Covid-19 collaboration

A WhatsApp group intended for a handful of utilities to share learnings and experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic has quickly scaled to involve over 180 organisations. Isle founder and chairman Piers Clark started the social media chat group just over two weeks ago as the lockdown of populations meant utilities had to respond rapidly to multiple unprecedented challenges.  

Clark said, “Initially there were 10 utilities involved, but it seemed sensible to extend that out and after a few emails, within 72 hours, we had 80 utilities from around the world. Within 10 days we were at 140, with participants from every continent, and the number is continuing to rise each day.” 

To help curate the rich stream of information the group was sharing, two colleagues were tasked with monitoring the WhatsApp group and extracting the key points to share in a weekly webinar. The Covid-19 Update, hosted by Piers Clark, takes place twice on Thursday to accommodate global time differences – at 7.30 and 16.30 BST.

“Not many organisations could have done this,” Clark said. “We already had international outreach which we were able to mobilise quickly. With a global pandemic like Covid-19 it is incredibly important that we can quickly help people share best practice and learn from each other quickly. 

“Last week as part of the weekly webinars we interviewed representatives from two Italian utilities who’ve clearly been at forefront of the European challenge. They spoke about what they’d done and there were unexpected positives, for example, leak detection becomes easier when streets are quieter. On a more serious note, utilities and municipalities are finding out whether their water safety plans are robust.”

Clark said issues on the technical side have been around contamination and reuse of personal protective equipment, asset management and the impact of changes in demand on models for water network management. Companies are also learning a lot about smarter working and the benefits of letting employees work from home. 

“There has also been a lot of interest in some research recently completed in the Netherlands to monitor the virus in communities via wastewater samples,” Clark revealed. “More recently people are asking about modelling of the financial impacts on organisations and changes in the way rates are charged and collected. 

“Covid-19 is affecting everyone, it’s a global pandemic, and if ever there was a time for collaboration, this is it. The ability to communicate between colleagues within utilities has always been quite good, but what we are seeing now is that walls between utilities have crumbled.”

Over 350 people are already taking part in Isle’s weekly Covid-19 Update webinars, which are open to all.