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California Water Utility Uses RFID to Reduce Terrorism Risk

Alco is utilizing active tags to control access to its pump stations, as well as track assets, enabling it to locate equipment quickly in the event of an emergency.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 10, 2010Alco Water Service, an investor-owned water utility based in Salinas, Calif., has rolled out an RFID-based system for both security and asset-management applications. The company, which maintains a number of unmanned pump stations throughout the town, is employing the system to gain better visibility into the use of its stations, both for operational efficiency and in compliance with the Bioterrorism Act, federal legislation passed in 2002.

The counterterrorism law requires that a water utility serving a population of 3,300 or more must assess its system's vulnerability to acts of terrorism or other intentional harm. Alco assessed the security of its unmanned well sites, each of which consists of a small building housing a pump, and secured with barbed-wire fencing. Based on that analysis, the firm decided that by issuing RFID tags to personnel then and linking those tags to an access-control system so that only authorized workers could enter the pumps stations, it would appreciably lower the stations' vulnerability to terrorist attack. The use of RFID would also allow Alco to maintain a detailed and accurate history of employee activity at each well.

Alco has attached active 433 MHz tags to high-value hardware, such as this construction meter.
In addition, the company determined that if it attached RFID tags to vital assets, its personnel would be better able to locate those assets quickly in the event of an emergency, which should also lower the vulnerability of the water system.

"Employees enter and leave our pump stations [throughout the day], and we have a lot of equipment, such as flow meters, that we need to track," says Adnen Chaabane, Alco Water's operations engineer. "We wanted to track what goes in and out of the stations, and at what times."

Alco worked with AssetPulse, an RFID systems integrator specializing in asset-tracking applications, to develop and launch the RFID system. The system consists of active RFID tags and readers from RF Code, which operate at 433 MHz and communicate via a proprietary air-interface protocol. The hardware is controlled using AssetGather, a software platform developed by AssetPulse. AssetGather is used to maintain a database that links each tag to a particular asset or employee, and also records a history of the times and locations of each tag read.

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