On Jan. 15, 2006, a power failure at a pump station in Manhattan Beach, Calif., resulted in massive flooding. Although a sophisticated SCADA system was in place to monitor and manage the wastewater collection system, an extraordinary and simultaneous combination of equipment and communication failures resulted in the largest wastewater spill to hit the county in a decade.
This evoked disappointment from residents and environmentalists alike and placed the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County in a negative spotlight. For an organization known for pioneering the use of technology for the sake of environmental protection, this image was unacceptable.
As a result, the Sanitation Districts quickly began looking for an alternative technology solution to provide an additional line of alarm defense and to prevent a similar occurrence from happening again.
Searching for Reliable Monitoring
The Sanitation Districts had experienced past success and reliability with RACO Manufacturing and Engineering’s  Verbatim and Guard-It monitoring products for other county uses. So, the districts immediately turned to RACO  to implement a cost-efficient backup solution for the existing SCADA system.
Before a technological solution could be determined, the area’s geography and terrain had to be carefully considered. The Sanitation Districts provide wastewater and solid waste management for about 5.3 million people spread out across 78 cities over the 4,084 sq miles of Los Angeles County. Some of these cities and unincorporated areas are separated from the main metro complex by mountains, which could limit technological options. RACO personnel visited 10 of the most critical pump station locations to fully understand the situation.
The Sanitation Districts’ current SCADA system used a landline platform, so in order to ensure reliable backup, the system would require either private radio or wireless technology. But with the mountainous terrain of Los Angeles County, private radio technology would require the building of many large radio towers. This would be a slow and costly process, made difficult by zoning regulations and angry beachfront real estate owners who would likely object to new radio towers blocking the view. After carefully weighing all of the options, RACO  determined that its wireless, Web-based alarm detection and notification system, AlarmAgent.com  , would be the perfect solution.
RACO personnel went to the Sanitation Districts’ offices and gave AlarmAgent.com demos to employees, explaining its operational features and fielding questions about its operation and reliability. RACO then worked on site with Sanitation Districts personnel, taking radio frequency surveys to ensure signal strength requirements were available for a wireless system and that complete system-wide coverage could be achieved. Multiple test units were then supplied to critical sites and installed to test operational usage. These units were successfully tested and retested to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
Meeting Monitoring Requirements
Today, all 53 pump stations in Los Angeles County have AlarmAgent.com installed and running as a backup solution. In addition to alarm notification, AlarmAgent.com offers performance monitoring for these pumps, measuring pump operational status, wet-well levels, facility intrusions and alarms with SCADA-like capabilities. If a pump malfunctions or if a predetermined wet-well level is reached, the monitoring system immediately begins a notification sequence through a chain of appropriate personnel until someone responds to the alarm.
An operations team mans a field office where all monitoring information is displayed. This team can monitor the website for alarms, acknowledge a response and coordinate response team assignments when necessary. The website also provides a history of the alarms and responses, along with pump performance statistics for review or later analysis. All of this information is available to any authorized personnel from any location that has Web access. With Los Angeles County’s personnel spread out over so many locations, this has been extremely helpful.
AlarmAgent.com monitoring has already come in handy. Just hours after AlarmAgent.com was installed at a pump station on Pacific Coast Highway #1, a utility transformer feeding this station blew out, cutting off power and disabling the SCADA system. But the monitoring system immediately alerted staff to the situation and provided critical status and alarm information until the power was restored.
Since then, there have been several other times when the Sanitation Districts’ main SCADA system has experienced system-wide downtime, both planned and unplanned. In each of these situations, the AlarmAgent.com system provided the necessary system-wide coverage. The continual site monitoring eliminated the need to have personnel drive to all of the sites and do a visual inspection during this downtime, and with the large coverage area and difficult terrain involved, this provided quite a savings in personnel time, gas and vehicle expenses. The Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County have been impressed with the results.
“We couldn’t be happier with what AlarmAgent.com has brought to the table,” said Jelmer Torres, supervising electrical engineer for the Sanitation Districts of L.A. County. “The units were easy to set up, cost-efficient and provide reliable working data for us. Most importantly, they gave us confidence in our system again.”