Augview – a Window to Your Underground Assets

 

Water Main Installation

Augview, founded by Michael Bundock in 2012 in New Zealand, is the first commercial, mobile application I have seen offered to the public works industry allowing utilities to geospatially capture, store, and display underground utilities in 3D through the use of a tablet or other mobile device. The software, through the use of GIS, will show operators their water, sewer, or other underground lines superimposed in 3D upon the ground in a geospatially accurate position. Users can then query the lines as with any other online GIS and access data about that utility such as size, material, age, and any other type of stored data. Or if a locator finds a discrepancy in a line's location or if he finds a new line, he can enter it into the software and immediately verify the updated or new location is accurate.

One example I can think of where I could have used this type of device was when we found a patched area in a roadway on one of our projects. It was one of those typical failures you find where you can see someone repaired something, but there's still something going on because a small hole opens back up with a void underneath. A lot of times this is caused by a hole in a sewer which allows soil above the pipe to wash away into the line leaving a void under the pavement. I knew the city had a sewer running along the roadway near that area, and I noticed a water shut off box nearby in the parkway. Because in our area the sewer lines used to be run with the water lines, I suspected it could be a failure with the building sewer. The business owner came out to comment on it and mentioned there had been a problem there, but it was difficult for me to tell for sure from what she explained if it had been the city sewer or the building owner's line. If I had Augview, I would have seen how all these lines related and where they were located. This visualization would have offered a better prediction of exactly which line could possibly have a failure. Of course public works professionals already try to make this determination using paper maps, but if it was the building owner's line, it is much easier to explain the problem to them using a 3D representation of everything rather than expect them to read a utility atlas.

I would have also liked to have an application like Augview for management of our water network. Our crews could have used the application to document the valve position when they opened or closed it. Then we could have just driven by to see if we had opened them all back up after we repaired the break, or we could have noticed when a valve between our pressure zones accidently was opened.

It would also be useful to use Augview to look at non-utility data for something like visualizing roadway ratings in the field. Then each year when we went out to rate the roadways, perhaps Augview could color the roadway based on the rating we assigned the year before in our GIS. This would prevent us from juggling paper maps in the truck while we are trying to also view and assess the pavement.

Past articles on this site have also imagined one day a product like Augview could be used to assist contractors as they build by displaying not only the underground lines but actually superimposing the plan onto the site. And I don't think it will be long before this type of implementation is extended to allow us to display real time data too. I can see one day we will be able to look up at the water tower and actually see the level of water in it or be able to see an indication at our water or wastewater plants of the flows running in and out and through each process. It would also be interesting to be able to drive by our lift stations and see the whole area colored red or green rather than just see the little red/green run light. This is also another facility that could display flows, seal failures, water levels or any other type of data.

While at the present time Augview has primarily been implemented in New Zealand, Melanie Langlotz,  business development manager, said she is "also looking for interested parties in the U.S. who can see the possibilities." So I believe it won't be long before we see Augview in use throughout the U.S. and other countries.

You can find out more about Augview by watching the video below or visiting their website or other social media sites:

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WATERCON2014

This year I am fortunate to again have the opportunity to attend WATERCON in Springfield, Ill.It's amazing how every year the conference offers so many great sessions, and the exhibitors always have such interesting displays and information. In addition to attending sessions and talking with vendors, I'll be posting as much as I can on several social media sites so that all of you can follow as much of the conference as possible. Because most of these sites are already listed in a blog post over at the Watercon blog site, I won't list them again here. Instead I encourage you to visit over there. And if you're attending too, I'll be looking for your own posts and photos from the event!

One added treat is a virtual expo we set up to try out that technology. Here's an image of the entry screen – you can find the link to visit the expo over on the Watercon site.

Watercon Virtual Expo Image 

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Hacking into SCADA

Water Plant Controls

Fortunately, for many years, the water and wastewater industry did not experience too many breaches on the digital front. But a few years back, the Stuxnet virus showed up and our digital innocence was shattered. When this happened, I was somewhat surprised because of the lack of previous attacks, but I never really heard how it all went down until last year when I sat in on a session at WATERCON 2013. When the topic came up the other day, I realized I'd never really shared exactly what I learned that day other than some rough notes I took on Cover-it-live and a general summary on the blog so figured I'd finally get around to posting that information today. 

The speaker, Michael Minkebige, a control systems engineer with Donohue and Associates started out by telling us we never really had problems in the past because hackers did not know very much about PLCs. But, he said "Stuxnet was a game changer." It was the first direct attack on PLC and HMI systems and also the first attack on governmental infrastructure from a physical angle because it was the first to destroy physical equipment. Minkebige said, "we've had other threats like denial of service but firewalls and antivirus software handled this." The other reason we were somewhat protected was because our systems and networks were old and isolated or were proprietary. He also said hackers were concentrating more on PCs – they were typically kids trying to cause trouble or break into banking systems. So basically he said we had "security through obsurity."

Then we heard about the Stuxnet attack in June of 2010. He said it was most likely deployed against Iran in 2009 by another governmental entity. Some person had picked up the virus on a USB stick and uploaded it into the Internet. There were 22,000 infections found in Iran and 6,700 in Indonesia. They suspect it took a team of 5 to 35 programmers 5 years to write the code for the virus. It is 500K bytes while most typical malware is only 10 to 15 K bytes.

The virus was spread through memory sticks and targeted Siemens PLCs and HMI software. From what Minkebige understood, the virus would "phone home" to a computer located most likely in Germany or Russia and reported what system it was on and then asked what it should do. The virus was programmed to self-destruct in June 2012. But if your antivirus found it, the virus would morph into something else. It also had two security certificates from Taiwan so it might also have appeared to be legitimate to an antivirus software program. When the virus did launch its attack it typically would change data or set points in the program. Then it would mis-report information about the operational data indicating it was operating at the correct levels or set points when it was not. A typical attack might change the speed of centrifuges by cycling them through great speed changes. There was a loss of 500 to 600 centrifuges because bearings were ripped out from this operational attack.

Unfortunately the code is now public knowledge. But there are some steps we have taken to protect our industry. Homeland Security (DHS) is on the lookout for attacks since water and wastewater plants in our country are vulnerable. And if Homeland Security recognizes an IP address from a suspect area accessing your system, the agency will notify your facility. The PLC industry has also added security to their systems. Operators are advised to keep up with patches for PLC systems. Industry organizations and societies are also publishing guidance. And DHS has released a document on how to secure your systems. We are advised to keep our systems off the Internet if possible. Otherwise, a firewall needs to be used for protection. Also, all systems should prohibit unauthorized memory devices from being used on PCs connected to your system, and you should lock out all USB connections to ensure they are not used. IT departments need to be made aware of this threat so they can monitor the systems for any suspicious activity. It's thought that future attacks might not necessarily be the Stuxnet virus, but an alteration of it.

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WATERCON 2013 – Day 3

And here we are already at the third full day of the conference. Today I started out in the exhibit hall talking to folks as they walked by the booth where we had a display of the #watercon Tweets. But I didn't have much time to chat before having to run off to the Mission Impossible session. As soon as I walked in the door and was handed a sealed envelope marked "Confidential," I realized this would be no ordinary activity. Upon opening the envelope, I discovered I had been assigned to a task force to determine five action points to address signficant water-related deficiencies in a community. Fortunately I was not alone in this endeavor – there were three other water professionals on my team who were obviously very experienced. It didn't take long for us to develop our recommendations. There were three other teams in the room working on the same assignment, and when we were all done, the moderators had us share our ideas. It was interesting to see that all the teams had come up with similar approaches. Well except our team had not thought of calling the National Guard. But, hey, as the one participant pointed out – they are there and available to help so why not use them. Afterwards we were all rewarded with candy for undertaking such a challenging assignment.

WATERCON 2013 Mission Impossible session

After we were released from our task force, I managed to catch the session on Green Infrastructure. While I could not live blog it, I did manage to share a few key points through Twitter (look for the #watercon hashtag to see the stream). The overall message from the panel of speakers is that green infrastructure is made up of complex elements. Designers are still figuring things out – particularly costs. And even though we have the International BMP Database, they cautioned trying to implement someone else's solution for your project without giving careful consideration to local conditions and factors. And finally they pointed out the operation and maintenance and monitoring of BMPs can be expensive.

Later in the afternoon, I caught the following sessions and was able to live blog them. Follow the link to run the CoverItLive tool to see the main points:

Who, What, When, Where and Why of Backflow Prevention – this was also a panel discussion about cross connections and backflow protection. It was interesting to hear the approaches and ideas from each community. Several members from the audience shared their experiences too. Make sure to run the live blog tool to see the tips and advice.

The New World of SCADA Security – this session provided an interesting view of why our operations had not experienced control security issues in the past and why they are more vulnerable now. The main point was "security through obscurity." Until 2010, hackers didn't really know about PLCs or how they operated. But because several programmers got together and wrote a program to hack into a PLC, launched it on another country's operations, and had their program picked up by someone whose actions led to the eventual release of it on the Internet, now anyone can get the code. Great.

I didn't really get a chance to talk to many vendors today – the booths had to be taken down at noon. Tomorrow is the awards breakfast and a few legislative sessions. But because I have some commitments at home, I unfortunately won't be able to attend. So I guess this wraps up my summary of WATERCON, but remember, since we captured so much of it online, you can always access the information by visiting the #watercon Tweets and reviewing the live blog sessions.

I very much appreciate ISAWWA sponsoring my registration and look forward to seeing everyone back next year!

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Watercon 2013 – Day 2

On the second day of Watercon, I alternated between attending sessions and visiting with exhibitors. Because of access to an outlet, I was only able to live blog a few of the sessions. The links to those are below:

Ice Pigging: Cleaning Mains with Ice - I first heard of this technique from a co-worker and really wanted to learn more about it. The talk was very interesting and informative. One of the key points I took away is that it is a cleaning technique only. You can't use this for the purpose of removing significant iron and other formations that have formed on the interior of your pipe. You can see in the image below a photo of the slide the speaker showed to demonstrate the type of material removed throughout the process.

WATERCON 2013 Ice Pigging Slide

What is Expected Coating Life for a Water Tank - the presenter showed many case studies and photos from inspections to explain their findings. He said their inspections are showing that the coatings are lasting much longer than the expected life.

Illinois Stormwater Group Recommendations – Regular readers of this blog may remember we reported on the work of this group several months ago and urged people to send in comments regarding the group's proposed draft (Why is the Illinois Department of Agriculture Determining Stormwater Rules for Cities? and Illinois Considers New Stormwater Regulations). The speaker mentioned they received hundreds of responses and are now revising the recommendations to reflect this input. 

Antenna Contracts: What you Need to Know Before you Sign – if you always wondered what you might be missing in reviewing antenna contracts, this is the session you want to check out. Keith Dixon, an attorney with Dixon Engineering, brought up many issues to consider such as ownership, safety, damages, and security. This was a follow up session to the one before: Antennas & Water Towers: Why or Why Not? While I wasn't able to live blog that one, I did manage to snap this photo showing a huge truss that was installed on a tower for antennas:

WATERCON 2013 Antennas on Tower

The other two sessions I attended but was not able to live blog were Tips for Ductile Iron Pipe System Design & Installation and "Give me a Break" Uncovering the Truth of Water Main Breaks. When I get a chance I will follow up with a summary of those in a later post. In the meantime, I would urge everyone interested in design of ductile iron water mains to stop by the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association booth in the exhibit hall. They have many design guides and resources you can pick up to help you at work. (They also have an interesting website with many resources and some great graphics.)

Vendors – Products

There were many vendors I was able to visit with. I enjoyed talking with Andrew at the Seiler Instrument booth and learning about their new products. Andrew is a good resource for finding out the state of GIS and CAD technology in the public works industry. If you stop by his booth you can pick up information for products that will help integrate and meet all your mapping and data needs. Here is a photo of the Seiler booth:

WATERCON 2013

I also spoke to T.J. and Brian at Ferguson Waterworks. While I just met Brian, I had known T.J. for some time. He is usually the person I call when I need to know something about watermain fittings or meters. He's also the person who inspired me to write this blog post: Frozen Meters Exposed – Don't Try this at Home. Here's a photo of Brian at their booth:

WATERCON 2013 - Ferguson Waterworks Booth

 

 

I was also able to visit with the representative from EJ – the former East Jordan Iron Works company. He mentioned they are in the process of reviewing casting designs so if you have any suggestions make sure to stop by and let him know about them. I shared my pet peeve with castings – in the "old days" the curb frames had a circular plate to fit the catch basins and inlets. Then suddenly one year they changed them to have rectangular bottoms. But they still fit over a circular concrete structure! So this leaves little corners hanging over the structure that you have to seal. Of course, not all contractors are going to seal them so the inspector has to try to stand there and make sure each and every little corner is sealed instead of paying attention to important construction activities like the material and drainage of the curb. Maybe with this revision they can figure out how to address this because failures around castings are one of the major generators of work orders for the streets/sewer departments.

Vendors – Training

If you are looking for training, the Environmental Resources Training Center has materials and training schedules available at their booth in the main exhibit hall. IPSI also has a booth on the second floor in the hall outside of the session rooms. Last year I attended my first year of the three-year program and found it to be an intense, highly energetic experience. What makes it so different is the content focuses on teaching all those non-technical skills we rarely have time to acquire as we are moving up the ranks. Everyone who has ever attended can't say enough about how incredible of an experience IPSI was to them. This year, Dave Lawry and I will also be giving one of the sessions during IPSI that will focus on communication and social media.

 

Below is a gallery of the photos I have taken while at the conference:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WATERCON 2013 – Day 1

Yesterday was the opening day of WATERCON 2013 in Springfield, Ill. – a four-day event focusing on all things water in Illinois. We were told yesterday at the business meeting that 1,400 people had registered for the conference; this number was 10% over last year's registration. It's not surprising the number is growing – the sponsoring organizations have worked hard to create a dynamic event attended by, based on all the familiar faces yesterday, everyone in the water industry in this state. I didn't have a lot of time to chat between sessions and vendor visits, but I did get a few minutes to talk with people from Stanley Consultants, Engineering Enterprises, Seiler Instrument, the City of Robinson, the City of LaSalle, the City of Ottawa, Carus, RJN, Trotter and Associates. Hopefully I can get to their exhibits and find out more about what they have been working on lately.

Because ISAWWA arranged for @AbbyMPC and I to promote the event online, I was able to live blog most of the sessions I attended yesterday. These and the others that I will live blog over the next couple days can be found at the link below:

WATERCON Live Blog Site

The blogs are archived so you can also view them by clicking on the titles shown on that site or below:

Sludge Thickening in Centrifuges and Gravity Belt Thickeners, a Comparison between MWRDGC Facilities

Formation of a Stormwater Utility in Illinois – Is it in your Future

Developing a Municipal Stormwater Utility Key Elements and Case Study Example

Envision: A Rating System for Sustainable Infrastructure

Digester Foaming Case Studies

Save Time and Money with JULIE's GIS product

 

Fortunately I was able to still find time to talk with a couple vendors; today I hope to visit even more. Below is a brief summary of the information they shared:

PULSCO, Inc. – Hydropneumatic Surge & Pressure Control

Stopping by and talking with the representative from PULSCO helped me learn why I saw no elevated water towers when I was in England years ago. He said the midwest is the main area in the world where communities rely on elevated water tanks – other areas, like England, use hydropneumatic systems instead of towers to maintain surge and pressure control. He said the hydropneumatic tank in the PULSCO system can also minimize water hammer. PULSCO will work with design engineers to evaluate a hydropneumatic systems for communities. The parameters they need for this are the operating pressure of your system, the desired tank volume, information about your pumping system, and specific requirements of the hydropneumatic tank such as orientation, inlet/outlet connections, paint and lining. 

If you stop by their booth, they have a well-written handout explaining how their system responds to water hammer. And they have a handy little wheel to help you quickly figure out delivery times of product or material.

Fer Pal Infrastructure

The other vendor I visited with was Chris Van Wormer who is a business development manager with Fer Pal Infrastructure.  The company specializes in watermain rehabilitation using trenchless technology. They use Aquapipe, a cured-in-place liner that seemed very similar to what is used in sewer lining except it is approved for potable water applications. They even handle service connections the same way as a sewer lining project with the use of a robot that drills open each corporation connection after the lining is cured. Van Wormer said the material also has some structural capacity and has been used successfully for the past 12 years in Canada and many states including Minnesota and Michigan. If you visit their booth, you can watch a short video showing the installation process, and you can see samples of the material.

Fer Pal Aquapipe Exhibit at Watercon 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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