Security Directors News October 2009

When does technology get to be too much? Water provider figures a way to drink from the firehose By Leischen Stelter - 10.20.2009

BRYN MAWR, Pa.—Having technology in place to protect critical infrastructure is vital for adequate security, but what happens when technology gets to be too much? 

“One of our big issues was that we had an overwhelming amount of information coming in,” said Terry Lyons safety manager for Aqua America, a water and wastewater treatment provider serving three million people in 13 states. “We have 125 systems online and a lot of cameras and different systems and different technologies to cover all types of facilities, so we needed a system to pull that all together and make sure our operator monitoring system detected alarms in a timely manner.” 

The company has more than 800 cameras in addition to various technologies such as ground-based radar systems, and access control systems are used to protect water plants, dams, reservoirs and storage tanks over a large geographic area. 

In order to bring all these different sensors together in a manageable way, the company deployed situation management software from Orsus. But Aqua America’s dilemma of having too much information isn’t a unique scenario, said Jacob Fox, president, Americas, for Orsus. “Organizations with many technologies, after they implement different systems, all of a sudden they realize that they’re overwhelmed with information and have a jungle of systems to manage and they don’t know what’s happening,” he said. 

But bringing all these technologies together wasn’t a simple task. “Another challenge was based on the complexity of the site,” said Ian Francisco, CEO of Unlimited Technology, the integrator on the project. “There was not always communication interfaces, which were required, so we had to work with different technologies available–everything from commercial cable carriers to satellite links to cellular providers–they all interfaced into the operation of the system to gain connectivity.”

The benefit of integrating Orsus Situator was that it not only allowed Aqua America to manage information better, it also allowed the organization to customize operator procedures during an event, which was a critical feature. “Once the system is set up, the administrator can change the rules and edit policies and procedures and can add or delete or change the hierarchy of alarm events,” said Francisco. While each facility is self-managed and controls events and alarms locally, Aqua America programmed the system so that when designated alarms are triggered, such as a forced entry into a facility, executives at the Bryn Mawr headquarters will simultaneously be notified. 

“If a tank alarm goes off, all key cameras can look at it quickly and operators can make an assessment. That’s an issue in the water industry–to be able to quickly make informed decisions,” Lyons said.