From The Editor | March 26, 2014

Maintaining Data Acquisition Capabilities Through Storms, Cyber Attacks

Laura Martin

By Laura Martin


Not all technology holds up during a weather emergency. Electricity often fails, communication methods are compromised, and computer networks go offline.

Water utilities have to worry about how weather-related technology failures will impact their ability to provide clean, safe water to their communities. One concern is maintaining the ability to collect water system data, which is often essential to understanding the state of the system during and after an emergency. Many wastewater and water distribution utilities rely on SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems to measure valve, pump, and life station performance, tank levels, system pressures, sewer overflows, nonrevenue water loss, flow, and more. However, SCADA requires a continuous channel of communications between the host computer and each remote terminal unit, which can be compromised due to a loss of electricity or other technology failure.       

Remote data acquisition systems offer a potential solution. They are designed to continually measure data regardless of outside factors.  

 “If a communication channel goes down — whether it is radio or cellular — or if a computer system goes down, remote data acquisition systems continue recording data,” said Barry Ceci, president/CEO of Telog. “It can gather data for weeks or even months without communicating with the host computer. Then, once it is back in contact with the computer, all of that data is transferred.”

Created specifically for field use, Telog’s remote data acquisition systems operate via battery power and will continue to function even when submerged underwater.

This function was critical for New York City during Superstorm Sandy. The city was using both SCADA and Telog systems for data acquisition when it became severely flooded and lost power in multiple areas of the community. The Telog systems continued to measure flow and record other important data despite the conditions.  During and after the storm, most SCADA systems were not functional, explained Ceci.

“For NYC it was really important to keep collecting that data,” explained Ceci. “Water system managers could actually see what their systems were doing even though the city was dark.”

Remote data acquisition systems also make it more difficult for terrorists and other hackers to access water distribution systems.  This is not always the case when using SCADA systems for data acquisition, because SCADA systems are designed to monitor as well as remotely control the network.

“Security is becoming more and more important,” Ceci said. “SCADA systems are being buttoned down very tightly, because if they get hacked by terrorists they can do a lot of damage. With Telog systems we don’t have to worry because we are data acquisition only. Our systems don’t have the ability to control technology, so we don’t have the same security requirements that you would have with a SCADA system.”

Cutting-Edge Technology

Recently, Telog began offering its customers the option of utilizing monitoring products via “the cloud,” providing customers access to all their data from a website, instead of requiring them to manage their own server. This system is ideal for smaller utilities that don’t have information technology (IT) departments.

“When a customer uses our cloud solution, they would buy our product and install it, have the unit call into a data center, and then get all their information from a website,”  said Ceci.  “So that customer doesn’t need to provide computer resources.”

The traditional system, which is hosted on the customer’s own server, is still available and typically preferred by larger utilities.

Along with taking advantage of cloud technology, Telog’s data acquisition systems also utilize high-speed cellular communication. They previously used other communication methods — including radio, which is used with most SCADA systems — but found that cellular was the most reliable method. Telog’s data acquisition systems record data every second, or in some cases multiple times a second. This data is then compiled and sent to the customer at intervals they specify or whenever an alert is trigged.  

Up-to-date technology has always been a priority for Telog, said Ceci.

 “We’ve migrated through every available technology as it has become available,” he said. “We are always looking for the next best thing to serve our customers.”  

Image credit: "Storms in Paradise," © 2013 CarlMilner, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license: