To Hell and Back

How to Rebuild a Control Room in Five Days. Lessons in Disaster Recovery and Emergency Response

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Teams worked around the clock to get the control
room working again.

During the initial planning phase, the team estimated that there was enough water to supply the township for about five days.  They based their calculation on historical consumption rates during prior stage-four water restrictions.  However, it became clear that – for whatever reason – the towns were actually consuming water at a higher rate than expected.  GVW made the decision to begin bringing in tankers of fresh water to avoid running out.

Installation. The team dealt with a series of setbacks, including underestimating wiring challenges, incorrect solenoid valves and a fuel line issue with the generator.  It overcame these issues sometimes with brute force (i.e., more manpower) and sometimes with ingenuity.  In the end and after some long nights, the wiring was completed and the plant was ready for commissioning.

Commissioning. The commissioning began on Thursday afternoon after the generator was connected and operational.  The team members checked motor direction using two-way radios, which proved crucial throughout the commissioning process.  On Friday morning, personnel checked valve operation and performed some troubleshooting of wiring issues and mechanical problems with pumps.  By Friday afternoon, the water quality instruments were interfaced to the PLC and the plant was churning out good quality water. 

Work went on around the clock.

At 9:00 p.m. on Friday night, the storage tank began filling as the team carefully supervised the plant into the early hours of Saturday morning.  On Saturday morning, the plant continued to run while the final commissioning tasks were carried out, including the resolution of various instrument, motor, valve and dosing issues.


GVW IT Manager Noel Squires said about the ordeal, "Strangely enough, when we looked back, we actually rebuilt that control room for about $440,000.  Now if you did that as a contracted job, it's probably going to be like $1.5M to $2M.  We didn't need multiple quotes, didn't need all the bureaucracy, and we just cut the chase and did the job." So the obvious lesson learned is that the next time you need to rebuild a control room, instead of bidding it out, just set it on fire!  But seriously…

The completed shipping container control room.

With a combination of solid emergency preparedness, cross-trained and motivated personnel, strong vendor relationships, solid planning, and – yes – a little bit of luck, GVW built a brand new water treatment plant control room in a box and had the plant running in five days.  The experience of the individuals involved even allowed for the implementation of some on-the-fly improvements to the plant, so that it was actually running better after the ordeal than before. 

The fire at Kilmore and ensuing response has left an indelible impression on the organization, both reinforcing some existing practices and influencing organizational change.  The change management system, once frequently overlooked, has been institutionalized to a greater degree than it was before the fire.  Control buildings across the authority are being reassessed and redesigned to be more fire resistant.  Finally, says Squires, "And I think we're trying to avoid falling for the old mistake where you're always preparing for the disaster you just had.  You've kind of got to think, 'Well, what's the next one going to be?'"

Many thanks to Noel Squires, IT Manager, and Ryan McGowan, Operations IT Coordinator at GVW, for their time, photos, presentations and reports that were essential resources for the preparation of this story.

Jon DiPietro is Principal, Bridge-Soft, LLC

About Jon DiPietro
Jon DiPietro is the founder and principal of Bridge-Soft, LLC, which provides environmental data management software to water & wastewater utilities and environmental labs.  He is also the author of the upcoming book, [ital] Social Media for Engineers & Scientists[ital]  from Momentum Press, a frequent speaker on Internet marketing and social media, and a certified Inbound Marketing Professional.

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