Taking a Break for the Big Game

Santa Clara’s new super-secure SCADA system is in a class all its own.

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When Santa Clara Water and Sewer Utilities in California finally got tired of trying to find parts for its old SCADA system on eBay, it designed and implemented a new system that will serve its supervisory control and data needs for the next 25 years. Plus, it’s one of the most secure systems in the clean-water industry.

“Our old SCADA was simply outdated,” says Chris de Groot, water and sewer utilities director. “We had difficulty finding parts or replacements, and it only allowed us to monitor the various installations around our water and sewer system. We couldn’t control our sewer pump stations or easily modify operating parameters.”

Security was another issue, de Groot says. The new system is state of the art and rock solid against potential cyberattacks.

“We don’t want any outside party gaining control of the system,” he says. “In fact, there is no remote access. It’s remote monitoring only. The only control points are the control room and the city’s emergency response center.

“We put security above functionality, and we’ve been told the new system is as secure as those found in nuclear facilities.”

Thinking big
With these requirements in mind, the utility went to work designing a new system, making sure its operators were involved.

“We brought the operators into the room with our engineers and system designers,” de Groot explains. “We urged them to think big, to dream big.

“As director, I just sign the checks,” he adds. “The operators are the guys that have to run the system. They have the operational expertise. We wanted their buy-in as well as their insight.”

For example, de Groot says, when operators suggested that 24-inch monitors might be adequate in the new system, they were challenged: “Wait, we said, why not at least 50-inch so we can see everything?”

As result, the new system has a pair of 60-inch screens that show the entire city and all the water and wastewater control and data points.

Ditto on the control room, which is 30 feet by 30 feet. “That’s based on our operators’ input,” says de Groot. “We have multiple work stations in there, and there’s room for half a dozen people in case of emergencies. It’s more expensive, but it’s more functional.”

Unique process
De Groot says the project was unique right from the start.

The utility first worked with the engineering services firm GHD to brainstorm and develop parameters for the new system. Next, Santa Clara issued a Request for Qualifications to select the most qualified firms, and then issued an RFP only to those qualified firms to limit the exposure of project documents.

Through this secure and competitive process, Trimark Associates Inc., of Folsom, California, was ultimately awarded the contract. “For security reasons, we recalled all bid documents following the selection process,” says de Groot. “The documents were paper only; we did not release any electronic files.”

The project encompasses extensive telecommunications improvements, a wireless network, and computer and software improvements including control logic, system configuration and interface screens. When complete, the SCADA improvements will be deployed at 27 potable water well sites, seven sewer pump stations, four booster pump stations, one turnout, three operational control centers, and a kiosk at city hall to display data in real time.

De Groot explains the system has a great degree of redundancy, with dual backup generators and dual HVAC systems. “In addition, we have Level 4 reliability — all of our servers are located in the control room. We have the same capability as you’d find on a data or server farm.”

Not cheap
Such a robust system comes with a price tag. De Groot says the design process ran about $850,000, with the total system cost expected to be about $10 million.

He sees the expense as a long-term investment. “If you’re going to upgrade your SCADA system,” he says, “you’re not looking short term. You don’t want to replace it every five years.

“It’s not like pipes that you can install and forget until they fail. You should be proactive and build a system that you can modify and improve — one that will take you through the next decade.”

Work on the new system began in summer 2015, and is expected to be complete by January 2017. De Groot says even with the aggressive schedule, work was suspended this month as the city hosts Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium.

“The Super Bowl piece will be in place, but we’ll pause for the big game.”

"49ers & Levi Stadium" by Travis Wise is licensed under CC BY 2.0


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