Statistics related to the nation’s failing water infrastructure are staggering. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, ten million American households don’t have safe drinking water. Nearly 400,000 schools and childcare centers don’t have safe drinking water. Nearly six billion gallons of treated drinking water are lost by water systems every day.
Fortunately, there’s a plan to improve the water infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will provide more than $1 trillion to address the country’s aging water system. The law will authorize $550 million in new spending with water as a core priority.
As we work to improve the water infrastructure, we should improve technical solutions that secure water facilities, secure the water supply, keep the water and waste flowing, and keep water utility employees and the public safe.
Keeping the Water Safe
While there was a water break every two minutes in 2018, these structures aren’t the only parts of water utilities continuing to fail. The Ground Water Rule (GWR) of 2006 required water utilities to collect data to ensure all sites remain in compliance with EPA regulations.
Water utilities installed sensors, cellular routers, and remote terminal units to streamline data collection and reporting processes. Sixteen years later, these components are aging and failing, just like the water mains.
Funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would be well spent to replace and upgrade equipment that allows their Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems to function. These systems support the demanding requirements of water utilities’ operations in various applications. Replacing or installing flow regulators, pressure monitors, and other IO sensors could further enhance visibility, productivity, and safety across all daily operations systems. Upgrading cellular routers for SCADA, PLTE, and Wi-Fi communications could go a long way in connecting operations to remote assets.
Solutions to Improve Security Communications
Although pipes haven’t stood the test of time, the water facilities were well built. Almost too well built.
These facilities were built to be secure and last a long time, but their solid construction often impedes communication signals. This construction poses problems since water utilities, like all utilities, must meet several security regulations and have security needs that most organizations don’t have.
An industrial-grade Distributed Antenna System (iDAS) can help water utilities comply with FCC regulations and meet security communications needs by increasing signal penetration, strength, and coverage. With battery backups these systems can stay online even if the power goes out. Evenly distributed antennas help provide more reliable coverage inside the heavily fortified facilities. Two-way radios and satellite phones are two more solutions that can help workers communicate more effectively inside the building.
Improving Notifications During Emergencies
To better communicate with employees, upgrading Mass Notification Systems (MNS) in water utilities should also be considered when allocating money for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Operations at water utilities must be close to flawless, or the economy could be impacted. If any facility is closed, even for a short time, the disruption could bring about commerce, industry, and public health concerns.
Government watchdogs, the media, and the general public quickly criticize utility companies when there’s a service disruption. Flawless operations– keeping the water and waste flowing– is priority #1.
But many events could disrupt operations at water utility facilities, including:
- Accidents involving staff, chemical spills, or contaminants
- Equipment breakdowns and failures
- Inclement weather and weather developments
- Security breaches
- Unsafe conditions
Unfortunately, not all water facilities can issue immediate alerts to targeted groups of people when there is a service disruption. Some facilities may have systems like PA speakers, alerting beacons, indoor and outdoor emergency sirens, two-way radios, and digital message boards. But they’re often triggered manually and independently of one another.
Facility managers and safety supervisors need a more efficient way to communicate with their teams, government officials, and the public. Implementing Mass Notification Systems (MNS) at water facilities would be an excellent use of funding provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
An updated MNS can connect all of a facility’s alerting and notification devices to streamline its emergency responses. The MNS can trigger internal and external notification systems to issue tones, sirens, text messages, and clear, intelligible voice instructions for your water facility staff, government officials, and the public to follow.
An Opportunity to Upgrade Water Utilities’ Technology
Funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act should address leaky pipes and contaminated water. Also important is managing the technology needed to improve the country’s water infrastructure.