Innovation

How data and analytics are keeping Philly’s water safe

CH2M assisted Philadelphia to implement a Surveillance and Response System (SRS) demonstration project under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Water Security Initiative.

CH2M Global Director Smart Cities and Senior Technology Fellow Dr. Avinash S. Patwardhan and Ken Thompson, CH2M Deputy Director Intelligent Water Solutions and Senior Technology Fellow, identify how big data was used in Philadelphia in order to keep water safe.

Big data, analytics and city operations
City operators understand that critical asset failure disrupts citizen services, resulting in safety, security and health issues, breach of environment regulations and loss of business investments. Therefore, it is essential to use big data and analytics to improve the efficiency of managing city assets, proactively flagging risk and avoiding it when possible.

Today many cities and departments are working with multiple systems and solving one problem at a time rather than considering long-term costs and strategic implications or openly sharing the information. When systems are operating in silos across a city, they can generate disparate data sets that would reduce hours of rework and confusion shared across multiple departments. Data has always been critical for business operations and it must be collected, processed and managed in an open-city platform to improve overall decision-making.

Big data in use in Philadelphia 
CH2M assisted Philadelphia to implement a Surveillance and Response System (SRS) demonstration project under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Water Security Initiative. The objective was to integrate multiple forms of surveillance and data streams through Information and Communication Technology to promote early and rapid detection of a water-supply contamination incident. Creating actionable information rapidly from large data sets allows for new insights into a utility’s water system.

Creating and merging information from multiple SRS component data sets into a centralized platform enabled PWD staff to determine whether a water contamination incident occurred and to facilitate appropriate response. Information from each component was integrated via an innovative incident detection dashboard that compiled data and spatial information onto a GIS platform for visualization and detection of possible incidents in near real time.

The IoT Revolution

Data alone provides minimal value until it is processed into actionable information and knowledge that leads to insight. With today’s Internet of Things (IoT) revolution and increasingly large disparate data sets, the use of big data analytics is essential for cities to rapidly process these data sets in a way that minimizes impact to daily operations.

The IoT refers to a technology trend well underway in machine-to-machine communication that is poised to radically change the business environment. It is estimated, by 2025, there will be over 50 billion “things” connected to the internet. This will be a significant disruptive innovation for the water industry that will enable the ability to collect data and perform analytics at the edge of their systems.

Most of these “things” will be sensors, embedded in physical objects and linked together using the same protocols that connect computers on the internet today. These sensors will generate huge volumes of data, enabling users to identify and resolve existing problems as well as optimize their systems. Other physical devices will also be connected that control the very operations being sensed and make autonomous decisions based on data trends.

Benefits of Big Data in City Operations

  • Cost savings due to proper asset management, quick decision making, and transition from reactive to proactive maintenance.
  • Operating efficiency by operating assets at peak performance.
  • Improved city productivity and savings that can be used for other programs.
  • Improved cross-departmental communication through open information sharing.
  • Enhanced citizen communications regarding safety, security and public space.
  • Increased environmental stewardship by meeting and exceeding environmental regulations.

Understanding and evaluating Big Data challenges and using advanced analytics to gain asset knowledge, cities can realize a variety of these benefits.

A version of this article also appeared on Smart Cities Council.

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