Keeping Drinking Water Safe

Birmingham Water Works

Every time we turn on the tap we take for granted the safety of our drinking water. But the 9/11 terrorist attacks made us rethink the way we look at our water supply and what needs to be done to protect an essential everyday resource.

Passed in 2002, the Bioterrorism Act requires community drinking water districts serving more than 3,300 people to conduct assessments of their vulnerability to possible terrorist or other intentional attacks.

Under the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the act requires drinking water facilities to conduct and submit a security assessment to the EPA. Based on that assessment they must prepare an emergency response plan and then implement it within six months. The largest districts, serving more than 100,000 people were the first to be required to comply.

The largest water district in Alabama, Birmingham Water Works, serves more than 600,000 customers and has implemented an extensive security plan to ensure the safety and continuity of its water supply. Read the article “Utility Security Challenges” in Security Technology Executive.

Terry Oden, security manager of Birmingham Water Works, worked very closely with the BWW board of directors to put together an effective plan that has continued to modernize and grow. When he first started in 2001, the security consisted of chain link fences and a few internal security cameras. After allocating $15 million to security, the district today has a first-rate security system.

Oden and his team use network-based video and access control and have more than 300 cameras monitoring the exterior and interior of the district’s 16 locations. They use both wired and wireless cameras and sophisticated electronic fences that integrate with pan-tilt-zoom cameras. One of the district’s biggest challenges is protecting facilities are spread over a large area. The camera system allows Oden and his team to monitor remote facilities without the added expense of guards.

To read more about the system go here.

–– PSW Staff