Wireless Keeps Island of 165,000 Dry
Wireless Keeps Island of 165,000 Dry
By: David Geer
Jan. 1, 2000 12:00 AM
A modern-day Atlantis of sorts, the city of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada sits on an island - the delta of the Frazier River. A haven from the watery depths surrounding it, the landmass is made mostly of sand and silicon deposits from the river itself. The environment is flat - perfect for a critical-needs wireless network.
How critical is the need? Some 180 pump stations situated around the island keep the city dry and inhabitable. Richmond city engineers often work around the clock to keep the pumps working, and the pumps tell them when they need attention, wirelessly.
IT Phone Home
The special frequency used by Hung's team is dedicated to the city of Richmond by Industry Canada, the department of the Canadian government overseeing the information highway and other matters related to industry and consumer interests. A central server at the operations yard polls each station 24 hours a day, seven days a week via this 900MHz frequency.
Information Builders, a New York software and services company that enables information retrieval and analysis, came on board to provide a solution to make useful reports of the data. "We needed something robust that could handle industrial strength reporting, as well as something that could tap into the application data storage," says Hung, "Information Builders used their adapters and their ability to sort and file the data into usable reports for our engineers and field people."
Information Builders provided an Internet-based application to produce the reports daily. This information allows the engineers to see trend analyses that help determine where maintenance needs to be relative to upkeep, drainage, and sanitation issues for the pumps.
Findings Fed Forward
The resultant solution, using a CDPD connection, transfers the data via a local wireless carrier. With Sierra wireless cards, field engineers connect to the Internet with Compaq iPAQ PDAs. With PDA software from AvantGo and Information Builders' reporting tool (WebFOCUS), the pump analyses, including water temperature and levels, are available to staff remotely, everywhere on the island. This includes a list of recently failed pump stations.
"Let me tell you how we used to do this," he says as he begins to put things in perspective. "We used to have an audible siren alarm and a red light at every pump station. If something went wrong with a pump, a branch got stuck in a pump or an animal got caught in there, the pump stopped, the alarm would go on, and the light would go on and flash. We relied on the neighbors to call the city and say hey, there is a screaming noise going on; you need someone to come out here and fix it."
You can begin to see where part of the demand for a solution came from. Today, there are no more lights or sirens and Hung's crew is able to respond more quickly and efficiently. From a customer service perspective, the response is seamless, invisible to the consumer. There is no more waking of residents at 4 a.m. with sirens.
Powerful Data Attracts Attention
"Their initial implementation was to collect data feeds from these units that measured water levels in the sewage system," says Michael Corcoran, chief communications officer at Information Builders. Over time, the data presented certain significant values that translated to warning signs from the pump infrastructure. To help track and use this significant data, Information Builders implemented WebFOCUS products, which integrate real-time enterprise data in order to make it immediately available to multiple users. These were used in conjunction with data synchronization software for PDAs from AvantGo. The AvantGo product goes out and collects Web pages from the Compaq server, downloads them, and displays them as small Web pages on the PDAs through a viewer.
WebFOCUS's part of the operation is to collect the data and create meaningful reports as files in HTML format. These are then available on the server. WebFOCUS pushes the reports to AvantGo on the PDAs as they are created. This is a real-time synchronization of newly created data reports; the information is always current. Whenever a trend or pattern is discovered in the analyzed data, an alert is sent and a report is instantly created and distributed to the wireless devices.
Declaring Platform Independence
"[Our software] plugs into MS Outlook and a variety of other e-mail messaging systems. Doing it at that level really gave us a transparency to the transport layer," says Corcoran, the chief communications officer of Information Builders.
"One of the reasons the relationship with us worked out," says Corcoran, "was that he [Eddie Hung] liked our approach. At the first level of deployment, they were using PalmPilots. In the second wave, they were looking at some Pocket PC devices. Then, maybe even RIM devices. He was looking for something that would work, that wouldn't lock him into a particular solution."
Hung figured from the beginning that the city of Richmond would want to add other applications. As such, it would be difficult to limit those applications with preset device types and other standards. They had to be open to the endless possibilities.
A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Bytes
Engineer and staff hours once spent traveling to each pump are spent preparing and responding. Pumps that were lost are saved. An island of 165,000 sleeps at night, undisturbed by warning lights, sirens, or rising water. For them wireless technology has meant a realized increase in personal security and quality of life.
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