Two years ago, American Water saw a need to transform how they monitor and manage the security of their operations. The company, with headquarters in southern New Jersey, employs 6,700 who supply water and water services for an estimated 14 million people in an operating region that extends into parts of Canada. With over 3,000 locations, security was a complex issue. That’s why, says Nicholas Santillo Jr, director of Operations Security for American Water, the company saw an opportunity to improve its security operations by consolidating it—taking the parts that it had subcontracted out to third parties and bringing it entirely in house. To effectively manage that, American Water would need a new control center.
“That was the beginning of the business case,” says Santillo, noting the inefficiencies of having data scattered between multiple internal and external security resources. “We then spent the next two years looking at technologies, looking to compare costs between outsourcing and taking security completely in house, and finding where we could add value back into the business.”
It became clear that a centralized control center was the linchpin to the move, what Santillo says would be the equivalent of putting “all the security information on a single pane of glass.” It turns out that that analogy would also become a key part of the ultimate solution: a security center with a large main display that could be quickly reconfigured to display real-time information in multiple ways. The idea is called Physical Security Information Management (PSIM), which is a software that integrates security systems, allowing for a user to manage them in one place. In this case, PSIM took the form of a digital wall to display feeds and layouts that could be easily integrated, customized, recalled and shared from multiple locations and multiple sources with high accuracy and reliability.
Key criteria for the display systems included cost effectiveness, scalability and reliability. Santillo says there was a lot to choose from; they looked initially at products from a half-dozen manufacturers, a process that ultimately took up two thirds of the two-year proposition. However, he emphasizes, this was also time well spent. “It did take a lot of time going to product demonstrations and trade shows,” he says. “The process began with looking at product spec sheets, then to looking at them in operation, in the field and in demonstration rooms. But it was the ability to see systems in action, compare them in real-world settings and spend time with them and the manufacturers — who we would rely on for support going forward — that allowed us to feel that we made the best decisions in the end.”
The ultimate solution took the form of the integration of three key systems: Christie’s new Phoenix, a network-distributed, open-content management system for simultaneous encode, decode and display of audio-visual data; Barco‘s ClickShare, a collaboration system that allows content to be wirelessly transferred between displays; and a Crestron Fusion enterprise management platform to monitor and manage A/V equipment, building management system, room scheduling, lighting, shades and other functions. These systems work across the two main spaces: a 3,000-square-foot main control room intended for nationwide security and systems monitoring and fitted with a huge 32-feet wide by 13.7 feet-high video wall composed of 21 Christie 55-inch FHD551-X LCD panels, and an 800-square-foot conference room with smaller displays—a 70-inch Smart SBID8070i SMART Board interactive display and a Sharp LC70LE640U 70-inch LED display panel.
All three systems met the key criteria of cost-effectiveness, functionality and reliability, including the Christie Phoenix, despite the fact that this would be the first installation of the system. Santillo says that working with their A/V integrator, ClassCraft AV, they were able to assess those criteria ahead of time by looking at certain factors. For instance, the Phoenix’s rack-mounted 12 nodes collect data from various physical and digital sources throughout the service area, such as streaming video and audio, desktop captures, online information, cable television, and facility systems, then aggregate the information, including audio, and transfer it directly to the display, reducing cabling requirements and eliminating the need for DSP to synchronize sound and picture. That kind of functionality created a significant cost saving.
Once technology platform decisions had been made, the design phase took a relatively short six to eight months. The actual implementation of the new control center and conference room took a surprisingly brief three to four months, in what Santillo says was a perfect and large-scale iteration of the carpenter’s creed of “measure twice, cut once.”
“It was really more like measure three times, cut once,” he elaborates, citing the time spent in research and then in design. “The most important time spent was during the research phase, when we not only looked at product solutions and talked to manufacturers but also to their customers, our peers, to see what their experiences had been.”
It was during that process that issues such as operator training came up, and the criteria list grew to include ease of use, which would be important for the effectiveness of training the new hires that American Water would need to staff the new control areas. Another takeaway from the process, says Santillo, is the need to coordinate between all parties during research, design and implementation phases. “Coordination is a huge issue and perhaps the most challenging, between all of the contractors, the integrator, the manufacturers, the architects and others,” he says.
Finally, he says, the ROI process doesn’t stop once the control centers opens. While it will achieve its stated goals of consolidating American Water’s security needs in house, Santillo says they will continue to look for other ways it can continue to bring value to the company. These include using it to monitor employee health and safety, for IT-network monitoring, and the possible inclusion of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) safety protocols into the system to further enhance its security capabilities.
“It never really ends,” says Santillo of the complex project. And that’s important to know right from the beginning.
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