As I sit down to write this column, I am fresh off attending the first major industry event since the pandemic began — WEFTEC in Chicago, Ill. Though smaller than in previous years, the energy felt the same last month as when, in 2019, (the last year the show was held in an in-person format) the halls of McCormick Place were stuffed to the gills. This year, the exhibit hall was confined to one hall only, and all attendees were required to show proof of vaccination or the results of a negative covid test; received within 48 hours of the event. Masks were always worn indoors, and though the pandemic affected overall attendance levels; it did not affect the energy of the event.
I must admit, however, that my return to in-person work was not without its hiccups. While it was great to finally connect with colleagues and friends again, navigating the new norms of interacting with each other in a shared space was awkward. It was hard not to hug people after not seeing them for over a year, and even handshakes seemed to be completely out of date as far as greetings go. By the last day, my arms were tired from so much waving from a distance, a default from too many zoom sign-offs in the last year.
Even go-to conference items like business cards were hard to find at the event, and I heard from a few people that they had forgotten them at home after non-use in the past year and a half. Luckily, navigating this awkwardness created ice breakers and even some jokes among colleagues. And through our masks, you could see the smiles and delight on faces that we were face-to-face after so long.
Finally, WEF took great care to make every attendee feel safe. Participants were unable to pick up their badge until on-site staff confirmed all the health and safety protocols were in place. Mask wearing was mandatory during all WEF-sponsored events, and the city of Chicago’s mask mandate was well enforced in all areas I traveled to. None of these measures distracted at all from the event, it was just our new reality. Though they’ve changed, events post-pandemic are — dare I say it — better than before.
In our cover story this month, we look at ways the pandemic has impacted cybersecurity for the water industry. On page 8, read about how the rapid move to remote work left gaps in IT security coverage, allowing hackers to infiltrate water treatment systems — and what utilities can do to bolster their security posture, post-pandemic.
Finally, as we move into the fall/winter holiday season, this means less business travel and more personal time spent with family. I hope that this is enjoyable to you, and that you can take some much-needed time to reflect on the changes the pandemic has brought to our lives and the way we interact with each other.
I’ve begun to focus on the silver lining in some of the changes the pandemic brought to the way I lived and worked in 2020. Though a year of virtual kindergarten was not easy, I am thankful that I was able to be present for this very pivotal time in my son’s life. I am even more thankful that first grade is not happening in my living room, and that we are back to a regular in-person school schedule here in California.
This month, as you sit down to your Thanksgiving table, I challenge you to find your own silver lining for which to be thankful for, given all that this pandemic has changed.
Happy Thanksgiving — thanks for reading! WW
Published in WaterWorld magazine, November 2021.