Water is a precious natural resource that is essential to our livelihood. People and society cannot function without it. Water and wastewater treatment facilities are critically important for our communities, ensuring people thrive in good health and prosperity, and our economy operates efficiently. Protecting and monitoring such critical infrastructure is a job that requires an intelligent, flexible, reliable, and customizable solutions, while also considering population growth, foreseeing future repairs or retrofits and all external and internal threats. Fortunately, there is such a solution.

You are likely already familiar with security surveillance. What you may not know is that today’s advanced systems now incorporate IoT (Internet of Things) devices. IoT-based surveillance is a true game changer, as it uses the sensors built into your security equipment to give you “eyes on everything” or complete transparency. These devices can extract valuable data, which is then read and analyzed with a connected software platform, for the purpose of detecting patterns and anomalies, making recommendations and alerting users to potential situations before they happen. Through IoT analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) are what make specialized security applications possible, such as facial recognition, licence plate identification, virtual fences, unauthorized person and vehicle tracking, loitering, and “object left behind” flagging.

Network Surveillance 101
Network surveillance is essentially equipment that talks to each other in real time. A robust system can consist of IP-based thermal and visual cameras, radar, door stations and audio equipment, all connected on a converged network. This cost-effective technology is easily scalable and updatable and can also integrate with other IP-based systems, making it truly future-proof. It is end-to-end protection for your site, your employees and improves operational efficiency—especially since it allows users to manage multiple sites from a central location. Your facility’s surveillance solution would likely include a customized combination of the following:

1. Network cameras can protect your premises without constant staff presence, by using intelligent features to analyze monitored situations and then alert users as necessary with direct notifications. For example, an alarm can sound when an unauthorized intruder crosses a predefined boundary that you have outlined.

2. Thermal cameras and radar can detect people, objects, incidents and temperature fluctuations in complete darkness or other challenging conditions. Hardware variations include pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ), fixed-box, dome, modular and even purpose-built explosion-protected cameras for hazardous areas.

3. Related audio equipment can include two-way and horn speakers that are triggered in response to intruders. These systems can be used simultaneously with video surveillance as you can detect and deter perpetrators at the same time with live (or pre-recoded) call-outs. The same systems can also be used for scheduled announcements to different zones throughout the day.

Changing water into smart water
For water and wastewater treatment plants, IoT sensors can collect real-time data on water quality, temperature, flow and storage levels, air quality, equipment temperature, humidity, biogas distribution, and energy output. These intelligent sensors working with water meters can also provide crucial information like total dissolved solids (TDS), bacteria, chlorine, and electrical conductivity‑enabling water managers to pinpoint the problem areas quickly.

One of the biggest challenges in wastewater management is monitoring water quality and the flow of water through different channels. Strategically placed IoT sensors throughout the system can help with this-—by detecting temperature changes, water leakage, chemical leakage, and pressure levels—and send this information to the main server so service engineers can efficiently resolve the issue.

IoT sensors can also monitor water quality through each stage of disinfection treatment, such as chemical levels during chlorination or, when water is being treated with ultraviolet (UV) rays, using flow and UV transmittance data to help optimize output.

The same technology can even help conserve water. Predictive analytics can estimate the amount of water a given city is going to use within a given day, based on historical data, weather, and other factors. By knowing what level of consumption is expected, engineers can maintain levels in reservoirs and tanks throughout the day, pumping water into overhead tanks as required.

Bringing clean, safe water to Indigenous communities
Smart-water technology is already being used to provide safe and clean water to Indigenous communities in Canada—where boil water advisories have been the norm for decades. Our vendor discovered that water and wastewater overflow events in the community resulted in costly clean up and remediation efforts, taking critical water systems offline or causing boil-water events due to possible contamination. Applying IoT sensors and enabling improved levels of automation has shown to benefit water management, assuring cost reduction and removal of human error in the workflow. Advisories are projected to be zero by 2021.

Streamlining operations and protecting equipment
IoT sensors can improve efficiency, reduce operational costs and extend the life of a facility’s equipment. Thermal cameras, for example, can detect when equipment is overheating and requires repair, allowing staff to shut it off to avoid a breakdown or dangerous incident from occurring.

By combining collected data with machine learning technologies, an IoT platform can also help predict the maintenance needs of pumps, distribution networks, and storage cisterns. Another specific application in wastewater treatment plans is monitoring the flow rate of sludge in grit chambers, which can otherwise strain machinery elsewhere in the process and damage the pumps.

And again, multiple sites can be monitored from a central location.

Ensuring worker safety
Protecting a site from intrusion and possible contamination of water contributes to public safety, but internal safety is another area where IoT-based sensors can play a role. They can help ensure that certain processes and procedures are always followed, preventing workers from potentially contaminating the water. IoT can even help to decrease liability and the possibility of lawsuits from union workers and contractors. For example, new emerging analytic concept technologies are being designed so that a network camera can be positioned near an entrance and can detect if employees are wearing the proper safety gear and prevent them from entering if they are not. Sensors can also trigger alarms, such as a chlorine leak alarm, to thwart workers from encountering toxic substances. Security footage can also be used for teaching and training purposes.

Shaping the system one needs
When considering IoT-based ‘smart water’ technologies for a facility, it is important to consider local factors, including geographic location. Each plant will entail its own key assets, vulnerabilities, and threats, so each is a unique project. What is the likelihood of incident happening, what is the possible impact and what strategies should be used to mitigate the likelihood of an event to an acceptable risk level?

Insurance is another factor to consider, as underwriters will take everything into consideration when assessing a facility. If the likelihood of having to file a claim is lower, that can work in the plant’s favour, helping to potentially lower insurance costs.

As always, consulting engineers should get involved as early as possible, to provide input the owner may not otherwise consider and to ensure a plant’s specific systems will perform optimally. There is also the opportunity to consider interdependency. If lighting is not appropriately positioned, for example, some cameras may not work as effectively as they should. By getting involved at the beginning of a new build, engineers can help determine such interdependencies and make the process more cost-effective. When it comes to protecting something as valuable as our water, or any critical infrastructure, taking the time to explore every option is certainly worth it.

Paul Laughton is the architect and engineering manager at Axis Communications.


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