CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Before Jan. 9, I never worried about the drinking water supply. That's because I never imagined West Virginia American Water Co. did not have an alternative water source for its big treatment plant on the Elk River.
But should the lack of a backup source be surprising? Our society depends daily on equipment, systems and networks that have no redundancy.
• When the June 29, 2012, derecho hit West Virginia, it knocked power out to 85 percent of the state. A few of us had a backup power source but most did not. Many of us lived in a tropical environment for a week, cooking on outdoor grills.
• In Charleston, the derecho knocked out the Emergency Alert System, which was supposed to notify us of local issues like severe weather and chemical plant dangers and national emergencies like those declared by the president of the United States. In a related calamity, the National Weather Service's Charleston office lost its ability to communicate with the public.
• A December 2009 snowstorm forced the closure of the West Virginia Turnpike and left some motorists stranded for hours. In response, the state Parkways Authority subsequently developed a plan to detour traffic during emergencies.
• When a mudslide blocked Madison Creek Road in December, residents of about 40 homes along the road in Logan County couldn't get in or out for more than a week, until the state Department of Transportation built a temporary road over the debris.
• I've been told that all but a few Kanawha County students who lost instructional time because of the water emergency and snow days did not have home study packages or assignments - and still don't.
• In 2008, Yeager Airport's governing board voted to shut down the airport's 4,750-foot crosswind runway. The board wanted to make room for more general aviation hangars and to provide additional space for the Air National Guard. Yeager Airport now has one runway. If a plane gets stuck on it, the airport is closed.
That happened briefly in 2008 when then-Gov. Joe Manchin's private aircraft developed a flat tire. Flight operations also came to a halt twice in 2010: when a U.S. Airways plane aborted takeoff and rolled into the safety overrun; and two weeks later when a Delta Air Lines plane aborted takeoff, blew two tires and broke a landing-gear strut.