Infrared cameras protect major water utility

Reduction in false alarms is notable, security director says
Wednesday, June 3, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.–When you are the security director for your state’s largest water utility, protecting reservoirs can be a challenge.

For Scott Starkey, security director for the Birmingham Water Works Board, which serves more than 600,000 residents here, the solution came in the form of thermal cameras.

“How do you protect a dam? Adverse impacts could have a catastrophic economic effect. It could be the biggest disaster in Alabama history,” Starkey told Security Systems News.

Protecting buildings is easier than securing a reservoir, he said.

“You can’t put a light in the middle of the water. There are problems at night with fog and dew,” he said.

After four years of experimenting with a number of methods to secure its water supply, Starkey and the Water Board settled on FLIR infrared cameras to protect itself from threats.

Through its central monitoring station, the thermal cameras allow the utility to differentiate between actual criminal activity and “moving leaves and flowing water [and animal activity],” Starkey said.

Previously, the utility had a number of false alarms that arose from the activity of geese, alligators and “drunken fishermen,” who would drive boats too close to the dam, but didn’t actually pose a criminal threat to the water supply, Starkey said.

The Birmingham Water Board is pleased with the installation, especially with the reduction in false alarms, he said.

“With security systems there is a line. If you get too many false alarms, people tend to ignore them. You want it to be accurate enough,” Starkey said.

The Birmingham Water Works Board has more than 600 employees, has four water treatment facilities and delivers more than 100 million gallons of water a day to customers in five counties through 4,000 miles of pipeline.

Starkey was an SSN “20 under 40” award winner in 2012.