Guest Column | July 6, 2021

Sounding The Alarm: How To Enable Efficient Infrastructure Surveillance And Response

By Greg Jackson


With SCADA and an upgraded remote alarm notification system, North Port Utilities in Florida can keep ‘eyes’ on operations even when workers are off — out of sight but never out of touch.

Located on the Gulf of Mexico between Tampa and Sarasota, North Port, FL, has 80 miles of freshwater canals and is the only city in Florida with an entire 8,000-acre state forest inside its city limits. The city’s residents, visitors, and many businesses depend on the Water and Wastewater Utilities Department.

Responsible for the city’s water and wastewater infrastructure, North Port Utilities manages 115 lift stations, 30 miles of sewer gravity lines, 70 miles of sewer lines, 3,000 manholes, 1,632 fire hydrants, 307 miles of water transmission lines, and 3,000 valves, as well as booster stations and storage tanks at two wastewater plants and one water plant. Visualization software, including SCADA, helps the city’s utilities monitor lift stations and both water and wastewater plants, which drastically reduces the frequency of visits to remote sites.

For approximately 13 years, the city has relied on SCADA and remote alarm notification software to push critical alarm and event details to remote workers in any abnormal operating conditions. Three years ago, Robert Davies, North Port Utilities instrumentation and controls supervisor, joined the team. He oversees all electronics, electrical maintenance, and SCADA for the city’s water and wastewater plants and sewer lift stations. After thoroughly reviewing the existing setup, including hardware and software, and bringing the city’s new wastewater plant online, he updated the water and wastewater plants’ servers and upgraded to the latest versions of the AVEVA System Platform and an updated alarm notification system, which ensured that the visualization and notification software that manages the utilities’ sites was running on the most robust products.

In his supervisory role, Davies is intimately involved with servicing and maintaining their SCADA applications. Davies is also responsible for the configuration of the alarm notification software, which includes setting up alarm escalation. For example, the water plant is set up on a six-hour, day-and-night schedule because when the plant is staffed during the day the system does not send notifications. However, when the plant is offline, the alarm notification becomes active and sends alarms, if necessary, such as during a power failure. The water and wastewater sites run 24 hours but are staffed for 16.

“This remote alarm notification software is our ‘eyes’ on during the eight hours when the plants are not staffed,” Davies said.

Upgrading Technology
The utilities’ staff uses this alarm software to receive alerts via SMS, voice, and email. Davies is currently in the process of implementing the software’s mobile app to streamline decision-making through push notifications. This will allow the team to quickly see what is wrong, send an acknowledgment, and monitor alarm condition changes in real time, right from a smartphone. The mobile app also promotes team problem solving through a chat feature that will help Davies’ team converse, brainstorm, and share solutions on the fly, from wherever they are — whether in the plant, at home, or on the road. Another benefit of the mobile app is how efficiency will be improved through the team visibility feature that shows who has seen an alarm as well as who has acknowledged it, reducing guesswork and redundant responses.

“I really appreciate the escalation alarm feature. First it notifies the plant’s main phone line, then the operator’s cell phone, then the chief operator, and superintendent, and finally it will call me if no one else has responded to the notification,” commented Davies. “However, I’m looking forward to exploring the robust features on the new mobile app,” Davies said.

Overview of the city’s wastewater equipment connected to remote alarm notification software. When an alarm occurs on specific equipment, the City of North Port can visualize the alarms through its SCADA system.

Making A Difference
The alarm notification software has been extremely helpful during unexpected communication failures at some of the utilities’ booster station cellular sites in notifying team members when the cellular modems were down. Typically, the alarm callouts are for power failures, analytical instrument out-of-ranges, pump-start fails, excessively high water levels, and compliance issues that require quick reaction from the team.

Utilities are always concerned with saving money and avoiding noncompliance fines. This remote alarm notification software provides Davies and his team with the confidence to keep things running smoothly. This regularly occurs with a wastewater treatment plant that must maintain a specific compliance residual in the pouring contact chamber because water is put out for irrigation reuse purposes. At night, when no one is at the plant, if residual is lost, the system goes into a reject mode. The water that continues to come in must go somewhere, which leads to the possibility of retention pond flooding. Continuing this domino effect, if the retention ponds overflow, this water could go into local estuaries and cause a lot of problems. However, because of the alarm notification, these issues are avoided.

“Getting notifications about compliance issues saves us a substantial amount of money by preventing any fines from the Department of Environmental Protection [for being out of compliance],” said Davies.

Davies also cited how advanced notification from the alarm software prevents problems with the lift and sewer and pumping stations. He is planning to integrate a Data Flow Systems database to an OPC Data Access server to be able to connect to the software system for alarm callout for this application.

Actual images of test alarms on North Port Utilities’ instrumentation and controls supervisor Robert Davies’ phone.

“The remote alarm notification software that we’re using is a good, solid product that saves me a lot of time and works exactly as it is supposed to. The tech support team is always timely in helping resolve any issues,” added Davies.

About The Author

Greg Jackson is CEO of Austin, TX-based WIN-911 and may be reached at or (512)326-1011. Prior to becoming CEO five years ago, Jackson held leadership positions in international sales, business development, operations, and product/solution development. The company helps protect over 18,000 facilities in 80 countries by delivering critical machine alarms via smartphone or tablet app, voice (VoIP and analog), text, email, and announcer-reducing operator response times, system downtime, and maintenance costs. For more information, visit