Flow finds niche in valve locking

Monday, May 1, 2006

CAMARILLO, Calif.--With a simple concept, essentially similar to child-proof pill bottles, Flow Security Systems has entered the fire and security market by manufacturing and installing locks for control valves that manage everything from the flow of drinking water in cities to the flow of chemical compounds at industrial facilities. Two new products and applications include fuel-line security at LAX airport and fire hydrant security in the city of Los Angeles.
Chief operating officer Bill Teitelbaum said, "It's an overall need that most of our customers see. They know that there's a security concern." Facilities managers and security directors are beginning to worry about the safety of a building's water supply, or protecting against a fuel spill or chemical leak caused by a vandal or terrorist. One way to do this is to make sure critical valves can't be opened or shut by unauthorized personnel.
"Spin-Secure uses a process where, when the lock and valve are both in the secure position, they just spin, there's no torque," said Teitelbaum. "You can't try to spin off the lock. It's like it's already broken. Then, when you have the fully operational mode, you insert a key and the locking device flips back to the operational mode ... It's a very elegant design."
Vice president of business development Col. Jack Mathis (ret.) said one of their newest products came out of a sales pitch to LAX airport.
"We were there and we showed them the philosophy behind the solution," said Mathis, "and it just so happened that they had already built cages, etc., to protect their valves, but they said, 'Oh, by the way, we have this fuel valve on the other side of the house that we have to close for maintenance and testing, and we've always felt there was a problem there."
Mathis took that back to the prototyping department and wound up installing six adapted water valve locks to secure the twin-seal valves that control fuel flow on the airport tarmac.
In another beta application, Teitelbaum said Flow is testing a hydrant locking system in LA's Griffith Park.
"A fire hydrant is immediate access to the city's water system," he noted. "If you can lock that, it becomes less vulnerable to a vandal who might want to put something in the water system via the water supply.
"It looks like a normal fire hydrant cap, though, because we don't want to draw attention to it." The beta involves 200 hydrants.
If it is successful, Flow hopes to tackle more of the 68,000 hydrants that are in Los Angeles alone, and Teitelbaum said the company is in talks with Las Vegas for a similar application to cut down on what are mostly celebratory or drunken openings of hydrants.
"Sometimes," said Teitelbaum, "the perpetrator turns off the hydrant quickly and that puts on a 'hammer effect,' which produces a huge amount of pressure on the water system that can cause thousands in damage."