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Guns alone aren’t enough to guard water

By | July 22nd 2009

By Cyrus Kinyungu

Seven years ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) raised alarm over a new kind of terrorist threat forcing security agents worldwide to hastily review their security watch list.

The FBI sent a bulletin to computer security experts in America hinting that al-Qaeda terrorists may have been studying the country’s dams and water-supply systems in preparation for new attacks.

CCTB-TOX, an online continuous contamination bio-monitor that detects chemical contamination in water.

The terrorists were specifically seeking information on water supply and wastewater management practices in the US and beyond.

Water poisoning

"Poisoning food and water supplies also may be an attractive tactic in the future. Although technologically challenging, a successful attempt might cause thousands of casualties, sow fear among the US population, and undermine public confidence in the food and water supply," Robert S. Mueller III, the then FBI Director is quoted by the FBI website www.fbi.gov saying in a testimony before the Select Committee on Intelligence of the United States Senate on February 11, 2003.

Since then, the whole world woke up to the reality that water poisoning was a soft spot and had to rethink about water security.

Regrettably, even after Kenya was targeted thrice by terrorists, the country is yet to upgrade its security surveillance on the water facilities to impenetrable levels.

The reservoirs for the supply of water in various urban centres are still unprotected with many water supply installations remaining unguarded.

Indeed, last year the Government had to act in panic to dispel fears that saboteurs had poisoned water across the country.

"Before any water is released for consumption, the Nairobi Water Company through its quality assurance department, checks it for quality standards and safety," said a statement from Nairobi Water Company.

It said it conducts random checks at treatment plants and reservoirs to confirm the safety of the water. The panic was felt across the country.

Embracing technology

Ironically, in this era of technology, the Government’s only response was to dispatch armed policemen to guard water reservoirs and treatment plants. They had no way of telling whether the water was safe for consumption. Drawing parallels with Israel, a country that has been closely targeted by terrorists for decades, the country activated its technology industry to come up with tools to fight water terrorism when it realised the threat posed by saboteurs. Now dozens of Israeli water security technology companies are exporting the technology abroad.

During a recent international media tour of Israel as part of preparation for the 5th International Water Technologies and Environmental Control Exhibition, the companies showcased some of the technologies to be exhibited.

A BlueBox, which is an electronic water irregularity detection machine. Both have been developed by Israeli companies to detect abnormalities in the water.

The exhibition will take place in Tel Aviv on November 17-19.

White Water Technologies, presented an all-intelligent, state-of-the-art water irregularity detection system — ‘BlueBox’.

Mr Rani Weinberg, the company’s senior assistant to the CEO says the BlueBox provides a software that significantly reduces the struggles associated with assessing and interpreting water quality information.

"The BlueBox collects all relevant data on a daily basis, and is equipped to analyse anything that the facility requires; from chlorine to turbidity to PH," he says. The information, he says, is synchronised into the BlueBox software, which then analyses the data and identifies any abnormalities.

"After all data is collected, the software will interpret and aggregate the information into a series of fully analysed graphs," he adds.

He says the graphs provide the security officials with all data regarding contamination levels and event.

"It is an early warning system that provides organisational preparedness, manages operations, collects relevant information, and investigates all events. The BlueBox provides online monitoring technology for real-time diagnosis," he adds.

Detecting contamination

Checklight Ltd on the other hand presented a continuous contamination bio-monitor, CCB-TOX, which is an online monitor that detects chemical contamination events and issues real time alerts to drinking water utilities.

It has also developed a portable contamination bio-monitor testkit that enables water utilities and supervising organisations to better protect public health.

The company’s CEO Mr Eyal Mor says CCB-TOX can be deployed in monitoring stations positioned at strategic locations from water sources, treatment facilities or community reservoirs or tanks.

"It is based on breakthrough state of the art verified technology based on natural non-pathogenic luminous bacteria used as living sensors," he says.

He says the technology can detect radioactive, biological or chemical contamination in the water online.

Mor says that the company fetched very sensitive bacteria from the Red Sea and used it in the bio-monitor. "We sensitise the already sensitive bacteria further by adding reagents making them very sensitive and active to detect wide range of contaminations on a very low concentration," he says.

"It continuously draws samples at predetermined intervals into two assay chambers. One is tested for the presence of cationic heavy metals and the other for organic toxicants," he explains.

Mor says the bio-monitor significantly reduces the threats associated with water spills, accidents, equipment malfunctions and natural disasters as well as threats inflicted by security breach, sabotage or terror attacks.

Aquatic sensors

At Mekorot, Israel’s state-owned water company which supplies 80 per cent of the country’s water requirements, water security is of paramount importance.Israel does not take chances with its water resources.

Among other security precautions, the company uses sensitive fish and small clubs to detect any abnormal changes in the water quality.

"A change in behaviour of these aquatic animals shows that something is wrong with the water," says Matau Kadari, a water quality engineer at Eshkol site, the main national water carrier filtering system and buffering reservoir.

He says the fish are monitored round the clock physically and through closed circuit television (CCTV). Besides, the company has signed an agreement with Aqwise Ltd, a company that specialises in developing advanced biological technologies for the removal of contaminants from drinking water.

Tahal Group, which constructed the Israel’s lifeline, supplying water from the Sea of Galilee to the whole country, also presented on its products on water security.

The company designed the entire system of Israel water supply and supervised its construction taking special consideration on security aspects.

The company’s website says: "Measures were incorporated to protect the system from terrorist attacks and ensure that should contamination occur, there would be sufficient time to avert injury to consumers."

From this, it is apparent Kenya’s water and sewerage companies, other companies that deal with water including soft drink bottling plants and brewers can gain from these technologies to assure their customers’ safety.

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