CSO Compass Awards 2010: Alan Nutes

Security Manager, City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management

Leadership is ultimately tested by necessity, and its most successful iteration is arrived at by teamwork. As a leader, Alan Nutes is driven by the imperative to protect a large American city's water supply while under relentless municipal budget pressure. Working with city government, Nutes has adopted technological innovation to address tough problems, while the city of Atlanta has secured funding to protect its critical infrastructure when it is needed most.

See the full list of this year's Compass Award winners

CSO: How is your security challenge unique? Alan Nutes: The security challenge here is to protect the city's water supply. While stakeholders were aware of the need for security, it was not until Homeland Security got involved and set new ground rules for infrastructure that we had to do certain things. To meet those new rules, the Watershed has enhanced procedures and improved education of it stakeholders and the employees. Many of the employees here go back 20 to 30 years with the city, and it has been an enlightening experience to educate them about the importance of security. What actions have you taken to secure Atlanta's water supply?

There are adverse topographical site and field conditions. We have some reservoirs up on a hill. We also have facilities that lie across from each other on the Chattahoochee River. We needed to ensure secure data transmission between these facilities. It would have been prohibitively costly to run circuits to bridge these together. Because we have good line of sight between the facilities, we were able to use a wireless system to connect these facilities. We are using our own VPN, instead of riding on the city's network. The use of the wireless aspects has resulted in a 99.9% up-time. It saves the city about $5,000-6,000 per month.

How are you using RFID at the Watershed?

We are now looking at the use of RFID for inventory control. Prior to this, some assets have turned up missing or could not be located. We can use RFID to track assets such as water meters, generators, saws that cut concrete, and fire hydrant components.

Why would you need RFID tags on fire hydrants?

Several of the components are made of brass. Brass has become a valuable commodity during this economic downturn. With barcoding and RFID, we can now reduce the risk of losing hydrants. We expect it to save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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We implemented a pilot program in a warehouse that stored 14,000 water meters, valued at $2 million. Not one is missing. Without the use of barcodes, I am sure that many would not be located. We are now also implementing a project to add GPS to approximately 78,000 meters that will cover 1.2 million customers over a 650-square-mile area.

What is the most dangerous misunderstanding that stakeholders have about security?

Most people still consider security a cost center. The fact is, there is real ROI for mitigating risk and reducing security issues. Still, when there are cuts, it's often security that gets cut.

With the economy forcing cities and towns to cut funding for programs, how has this affected the Watershed's security efforts?

Atlanta actually adopted a city ordinance, called the Water and Wastewater Systems Security Surcharge, where users of Atlanta water and wastewater pay 15 cents per 100 cubic feet of water. This generates something like $30 million, which is used to reduce water system vulnerabilities and to fund things such as: the purchase and installation of security equipment; security improvements to electronics and computer and automated systems; participation in training programs; and screening processes for employees and contractor support services.

These funds don't impact the operating or capital budget, and it places the security function in a position where we don't have to request funding from the city council to protect the infrastructure. I believe that we're currently the only city that is funding infrastructure security this way. Now, other cities may be looking at this option for funding their security initiatives.

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