There are approximately 153,000 public drinking water systems and more than 16,000 publicly owned wastewater treatment systems in the United States. According to our nation’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, more than 80 percent of the U.S. population receives their potable water from these drinking water systems, and about 75 percent of the U.S. population has its sanitary sewerage treated by these wastewater systems.

Given this sector’s impact on public health and human activity, it is necessary to think about the numerous security threats capable of endangering water treatment sites and facilities. Ensuring a safe and continuous supply of water is vital to so many aspects of life. And while this utility is easy to take for granted, securing it should never be an afterthought. Beginning with a highly secure fencing system, it’s essential to prioritize the protection of our nation’s water supply.

The Threat Landscape

Earlier this year, in Oldsmar, FL, a malicious actor attempted to raise the level of lye in the city’s water supply. Fortunately, he was caught tampering with the system by a facility employee. If not for this catch, however, the attack could have resulted in actual physical harm or even death to residents. This cyber attack illustrates just one way a water treatment plant’s operations can be targeted, putting potentially thousands of people’s lives at risk.

In fact, the nation’s water and wastewater systems sector is vulnerable to a myriad of significant threats, including:

  • Deliberate poisoning with harmful or deadly agents 
  • Accidental contamination
  • Physical attacks, such as the release of toxic gaseous chemicals
  • Pollution and natural disasters
  • Cyber attacks 

Outcomes of these threats can range from pervasive illness and/or deaths to interruption of service, which could seriously affect public health, the economy and other essential services, such as healthcare, firefighting, agriculture and so much more. Therefore, as water treatment facilities implement safety and security plans, it is important to ensure serious protections at every juncture. Part of fortifying the threat landscape involves embracing fencing solutions that support optimal security. 

Perimeter Security

Interestingly, high-security systems around water treatment facilities are already the norm in the UK. In the U.S., however, chain link is mostly utilized for perimeter security around these plants, though we could see a change in the future. As was the progression with electrical substations, rising threat levels urge heightened security measures. Since chain link isn’t necessarily the best option for mitigating security risks around water treatment plants, it’s important to consider other high-security solutions.

A well-planned physical security plan for a water treatment plant starts with perimeter fencing that meets the property’s unique needs. Each design requires a thorough assessment to determine the smartest, most effective fencing options and setup. Following are some high-security fencing types appropriate for water treatment site applications:

  • Steel Mesh Panel: A top contender for high-security needs, mesh panels boast a firm structure and smooth surface. Combining high-quality, low-carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminum alloy steel, the mesh can be PVC coated or galvanized to resist corrosion and weathering. Mesh is designed with unique spacing to safeguard against climbing and resist penetration.
  • Palisade: Consisting of vertical steel pales secured to horizontal rails and mounted to support posts, palisade fencing is a particularly effective deterrent for intrusion and vandalism. It exudes an intimidating visual presence, lacks footholds, is resistant to cutting and features the advantage of height as well as the option for spikes at the top. Palisade fencing is strong, versatile, durable and low maintenance.
  • Concrete Wall: Precast concrete walls are highly impenetrable, nearly impossible to scale and capable of withstanding winds of hurricane proportions. Foundations are drilled and set for the concrete posts before placing premade concrete panels in between. Solid concrete fences are particularly ideal against threats to critical infrastructure.

If chain link is to be employed for securing the perimeter of a water treatment facility, it should be reinforced with barbed or razor wire for a higher degree of security. But again, the emerging threat landscape for this sector calls for stronger fencing materials with more substantial security features.

Access Gates & Controls

In addition to perimeter fencing that enforces a high level of security, water treatment plants should consider effective protection at entry and egress points. Especially if these locations are left unmanned for extended periods of time, there’s a need for smart and effective access systems that support the overall security plan.

Keeping track of the people and vehicles entering and exiting the water treatment site can be a challenging effort, but security gates and access control systems enable facilities to document specific comings and goings, allow individual access to multiple buildings or areas, minimize the complexity of access processes and foster overall peace of mind. From swing gates and slide gates to vertical lift gates, drop arm barriers and turnstiles, there are a multitude of different remote access solutions to meet varying gate requirements.

Today’s gated access control systems are powered by internet connections or cellular networks and typically leverage keycards and/or individual pin codes (or biometrics and scanners where the highest levels of security are required) for access. An electronically locked door or gate is connected to an access control server or IP network, and when the proper credential is entered or swiped, an electronic signal is sent to the door or gate, unlocking and opening it to enable entry for authorized entities.

Advanced technology has also given rise to features including:

  • Remote control from web browser or mobile device application
  • Built-in cameras for recording or capturing photos
  • Streaming video of entry and exit points
  • Transaction records of ongoing gate activity, including time and date stamps
  • Video and IP intercom systems

Expert Design & Installation

Because the importance of securing our nation’s water treatment plants simply can’t be overstated, it’s essential to partner with a highly experienced security fencing professional for the job. A design and installation project such as this requires no less than expert recommendations on specific system applications, site grading concerns, creative solutions and the best methods to employ based on an evaluation of site-specific details. 

Be sure to find a qualified, experienced company that will manage the job in accordance with proper standards for safety, security, preventative maintenance and OSHA compliance. They should be a trained and licensed fencing expert with a track record of managing fencing projects for water treatment sites.

Before approaching your next fencing project, be sure to download our whitepaper: High-Security Fencing Systems: What You Need To Know Before You Install.