Improved alarm notifications can boost resilience

July 25, 2023
In South Carolina, ReWa looks to its remote alarm notification software to improve efficiency and avert problems.

Greenville County, South Carolina, encompasses an area approximately 795 square miles with a population of more than 500,000 people. The water and wastewater infrastructure servicing the county is intricate and robust. It includes more than 350 miles of pipes, connecting the community and providing for future growth and development.

The company managing the county’s water and wastewater infrastructure recently upgraded its alarm notification system, improving operations and monitoring.

The old alert process

For almost 100 years, Renewable Water Resources (ReWa) has been responsible for the Greenville County water and wastewater infrastructure. The organization manages eight water resource recovery facilities (WRRF). This oversight includes purifying more than 40 million gallons of water per day from homes, businesses and industries. ReWa also operates 83 pump stations and nine water treatment facilities. Each facility contains a self-sufficient water treatment process with onsite power generation and sometimes thousands of gauges, flow meters and storage tanks depending on the facility size.

Since 2002, ReWa has relied on AVEVA’s System Platform supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, integrated with remote alarm notification software, to monitor and alert the team about any abnormal operating conditions. This involved a complicated process of the SCADA system calling a mobile phone; operators would then stop work, answer the call, input a unique identification number and then enter an acknowledgement.

This process could take up to one minute. While this does not seem very long, it is critical time lost during possible emergencies. Additionally, since these alarm notifications were transmitted via cell phones, if the operator was in a part of the facility without good cellular service, the call might break up and the entire identification input process would have to be repeated.

Upgrading technology

In 2020, ReWa, the software company, and MR Systems, the systems integrator with whom ReWa partners to implement technology, identified opportunities to improve the WRRF alarming systems by deploying a WIN-911 mobile solution.

Tony Jones, ReWa business analyst, reached out to Edward Noyes, application engineer with MR Systems. Jones worked closely with Noyes, who listened to Jones’ concerns and designed a system that met ReWa’s security requirements, improved the ease and efficiency with which operators can monitor and take action based on SCADA alarms, and deployed a proactive monitoring system to notify ReWa technology personnel in the event of a system issue.

The remote alarm notification software’s mobile app enables efficient plant operations by giving operators the ability to monitor and act on SCADA alarms via mobile devices with redundant voice and text call outs as needed. Additionally, it complements ReWa’s mission of supporting wastewater treatment through the use of innovative solutions, promoting operational efficiency and reinforcing the core value of safety and unity.

“While we’ve only been using the mobile app for six months, the team has quickly adapted to working with the more efficient and robust system,” Jones said. “They no longer waste time punching in identification codes or depending on intermittent cell service to acknowledge an alarm.”

The remote alarm notification software provides the teams with faster response times, which is critical since many alarms involve lost power. In these situations, every minute counts to get an alarm message to the team, which could mean the difference between restarting the generator or experiencing an overflow.

Secure monitoring

The types of alarms monitored include critical functions — pumps, ultraviolet disinfecting systems, generators and the utility power — that can stop a process and result in a sewer overflow or discharged of untreated water.

To ensure the systems’ integrities are not compromised, it is critical to use the most secure architecture possible. To that end, Noyes and the MR Systems team implemented the highest security levels offered in the form of inter-component encryption in conjunction with a custom-built proactive monitoring system. The proactive monitoring system detects if the remote alarm notification software and AVEVA are communicating, and notifies designated personnel of any issues. Additionally, the software’s integration with the SCADA system offers ReWa another layer of security.

“WIN-911 gives ReWa the confidence that they can trust the systems,” Noyes said.

Making a difference

This proactive and perpetual monitoring routinely averts problems. However, in the event that any of the equipment is not operating properly, the remote alarm notification software alerts the ReWa team via the mobile app, phone call, email, or text. One such instance occurred when the team received an alarm related to a power outage at one of the WRRFs.

A newly installed generator did not automatically start during a power failure. WIN-911 alerted the technology staff, who then began a dialogue with the operations team via the mobile app’s chat feature. Because of this early and real-time intervention, ReWa assessed the problem and determined that the generator was not properly wired, avoiding additional problems that an extended power loss would have caused.

“Prior to this upgrade, ReWa functioned in a reactive mode and waited until the software notified the operations team there was an issue,” Jones said. “Now, we have completely changed this mindset and become more efficient. The IT team knows there is a system problem long before the operations team.”

The future

Named a Utility of the Future by the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, ReWa is committed to enhancing the area’s quality of life through the quality of its waterways. Using advanced technology like the AVEVA System Platform and the software’s mobile app helps the team keep that commitment.

“This is a journey and, as a forward-thinking early adopter, ReWa continues to explore technology like remote alarm notification software that allows us to improve infrastructure and operating efficiencies,” Jones said. 

About the Author

Cody Bann

Cody P. Bann is director of engineering at Austin, Texas-based WIN-911 and may be reached at [email protected]. The company helps deliver critical machine alarms via smartphone or tablet app, voice (VoIP and analog), text, email, and in-plant announcer.