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Laredo's Water Department Uses RFID to Maintain Law and Order

Thanks to active RFID tags embedded in seals, combined with motion detectors and video cameras, the Texas city can respond quickly to any threat to its water-treatment plant.
By Beth Bacheldor
In addition to the interrogator, the HS3 includes four motion-detection video cameras mounted on a chassis. The Jefferson Plant has two of these chassis—one affixed to the plant's electrical building that houses all of the control systems for the potable water as it leaves for to the distribution facility, the other mounted on a similar building by the Rio Grande to monitor two sets of raw water pumps. The video cameras, which also monitor each clear well, record in continuous loop and store video for up to two days. The interrogator inside the HS3 can read the seals up to 100 feet away, Shadevich says.

The HS3, in addition to receiving data from the RFID seals and video from the cameras, also receives information from SCI's analytical software that constantly culls data from a variety of wired sensors that provide near-continuous water-quality measurements. If the RFID seals are broken, or if any of the data exceeds the system's pre-set, user-specified thresholds, alarms are triggered. These alarms, both visual and audible, are sent to the plant operators' monitoring station. Additionally, the alarms generate real-time images from the cameras, which also include several minutes of video generated prior to the alarm. When operators receive the alarms, they also receive the data and video. All of this information, Nelson explains, along with action recommendations programmed in by SCI, helps the operators determine the level of threat and the appropriate response to take, if any.

The EWS, with its surveillance cameras, RFID seals and various sensors, provides the plant with an automated monitoring solution. "Typically," Nelson says, "this water-treatment plant has two operators working around the clock. And as you might surmise, due to the fact that we are on the Rio Grande River, there are situations where there are people coming on to the property that aren't supposed to be there. This system helps the operators determine if someone is on the property that isn't supposed to be there. It also provides some sort of comfort beyond the operators walking the property."

Since installing the system in 2007, Nelson notes, there have been no serious incidents to date. But the system also helps the plant track the regularly scheduled monitoring required of the vault. "The RFID devices can help the operators determine, for example, if one of the clear wells was breached," he says. "With the added video that records what's happening when the RFID seal triggered the alarm, the operators can determine if the breach was a plant employee or someone unknown."

According to Nelson, the plant is now expanding its use of the EWS. Next year, he says, it will add another HS3 onto a chemical storage building used to house one-ton cylinders of chlorine. It's likely that RFID seals will be added to the cylinders, attached via the seal's cable that is also looped through the cylinder rack. If, at any time, the seal or cable is opened or broken, thus disrupting the electronic circuit that runs through the seal and cable, the RFID tag would transmit a signal initiating an alert. "We feel that there will be some [Environmental Protection Agency] EPA-authored legislation that will require additional security measures to protect these one-ton cylinders. So we are being proactive," Nelson says of the expansion.

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