Ask the Expert

This month's expert discusses options for protecting a city's water supply

With tens of thousands of public and private water systems operating in the United States, there are many opportunities for foreign or domestic terrorists to contaminate or disrupt the distribution of arguably our most valuable natural resource. Shortly after Sept 11, 2001, federal legislation was passed requiring utilities to assess their potential vulnerabilities to both terrorist attacks and natural disasters and create a plan to handle such emergencies.

ISSUE: What role can electronic security technologies play in protecting reservoirs, treatment facilities, pump stations and pipelines?

SOLUTION: That depends on many factors. For example, one city, Richfield, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb, has created a sophisticated security system using access control, surveillance cameras, wireless communications and other measures to protect the water supply for its 34,000 residents.

Richfield first looked at the entry to its treatment facility. There, stand-alone access control keypads at two exterior doors were replaced with proximity card readers. Readers were added to other areas, such as the loading dock.

Interior doors and hatches were addressed next. Card readers were added to doors to the filtering, pump, fluoride, and other rooms and offices. Roof and well house doors and hatches had position switches installed so they could be monitored via the access control system.

An IP-based camera solution was designed and implemented in the next phase. Exterior pan-tilt-zoom cameras were installed to provide coverage of the well houses, clearwater tanks and dewater building and general coverage of the water treatment buildings and 3-acre grounds. Six IP cameras were added to the 12 analog cameras already in place.

Another dozen IP cameras are planned as the budget permits. The cameras and access system have been integrated with the facility’s Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition management system that monitors the function and performance of critical operations.

ISSUE: How does such a system prevent terrorist attempts?

SOLUTION: One benefit of the system is that the wireless network allows employees to be notified of SCADA alarms and then view the cameras monitoring the gauges while moving about the grounds carrying tablet PCs.

The final phase of the initial project included new fencing and a gate to prevent unauthorized access to the grounds. Card access interface, gate monitoring and communication devices were added to allow staff and vendors to be granted remote access through the gate. Drivers deliver chemicals and other supplies on a regular basis. However, since the drivers change from time to time, it is important to verify who is behind the wheel.

The new system allows a guard in the security control room to see and talk with the driver, while cameras provide a perimeter view of the truck. That way, the guard can feel confident about who he or she allows onto the site while staying a safe distance away.

Access control and surveillance cameras for remote well houses—up to 1/4-mile from the treatment facility— and sharing of access control alarms and video with the city police department are planned for future phases. Police officers already have key fobs that allow them entry to the treatment facility at any time.

Any attack on the water supply could result in many deaths or illnesses, as well as potentially severe economic disruption. Officials in Richfield—and many others across the country—are taking steps to significantly reduce the risk. But it is a critical job that will require cooperation between water and law enforcement officials and the talents of an experienced security system integrator.

READER QUESTION: I am about to oversee a significant expansion and upgrade of the security system for our three-building company. Previously, we have worked with a system integrator that has done a fine job for us. But a law enforcement friend has recommended we begin with a security consultant. Do you think the extra expense is worthwhile?

SOLUTION: Some integrators may be more inclined to choose one product manufacturer over another and may base their opinion on past experiences of reliability and functionality.

A security consultant should have no particular allegiance to a manufacturer and may give a less biased opinion; however, they may lack the experience in dealing with installations to understand which brands produce the best quality equipment.

If the integrator you previously used does not have trained and certified technicians, then it may be wise to invest in a consultant who can give an unbiased, expert opinion on the matter.

However, if you have had experience with an integrator who did a great job and if that installation is working fine and required no additional costs, then a consultant may be unnecessary. Your integrator will be able to identify what system and products will work with your existing system and ensure that there is a seamless transmission when adding buildings to your existing setup.

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

Tom Asp is president and chief operating officer of VTI Security.

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