Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Watching the Water

Just a short note on this system the EPA developed to detect contaminants in municipal water supplies.

The system determines the best places to put sensors and then provides real-time data on potential contamination events:

TEVA sensor placement optimization tool (SPOT) enables water utilities to determine and evaluate sensor placement. TEVA-SPOT requires specific information from the utility and allows users to select design objectives and compare and contrast the benefits of different sensor placement.

The TEVA research program has developed CANARY, an event detection tool, that reads data from water quality sensors in real time and predicts whether the recorded water quality changes are actual contamination events.
I'm sometimes critical of protective interventions, because they can tend to be passive and offer a false sense of security. But assuming this system works as advertised, this is the sort of protective intervention that can yield real results, for a number of reasons.

First, it's capable of detecting both accidental and intentional contamination. This makes it a desirable protective element for any water-supply system, regardless of whether there is a legitimate threat of intentional contamination. Next, it detects things that behave in consistent, predictable ways. If there's a contaminant in the water, you can recognize it and act. You don't have to be concerned with shifting the danger to another place, as you do when your protective intervention is designed to alter the behavior of unpredictable, inconsistent agents (i.e., humans). Third, because this detection system is protective of the entire water system, it provides a real deterrent to any potential malicious actor. A comprehensive protection regime such as this can greatly reduces the chances that someone will use the water system as an avenue of attack.

On the municipal level, the other critical element in the system is communications with the public in the event of a contamination incident. Then you've got a solid protective regime.

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