Data protection for O&M13 April 2000
Dam and reservoir owners go to great lengths to ensure the effective operation and maintenance of their facilities. But are the data which make O&M possible stored securely as well as being readily available to those who require them? If not, electronic filing may be the answer
The paper archives belonging to dams and reservoirs occupy a large amount of physical space. The larger the archive, the greater likelihood that data will be held in more than one location. At times there will not only be a central master archive but also dispersed regional holdings associated with particular reservoirs. Understandably, this makes it difficult to control the information and prevent unauthorised access. Access problems are also compounded by the fact that legitimate users of one set of data need to be given access to the whole archive, and this raises the issue of vulnerability of data. Research into the information needs of staff managing, maintaining and inspecting reservoirs and dams, by UK company COGNICA, revealed typical cases of originals being borrowed and not returned, or suffering damage in use.
COGNICA’s survey, conducted among major reservoir owners in the UK and a sample of inspecting and supervising engineers, showed that the protection of both the structural and content integrity of reservoir and dam data varied between organisations. The original data itself existed in a variety of forms and locations, and although the current archives did address the immediate requirement of the UK’s 1975 Reservoir Act to hold data, they did not do it in the most secure way.
COGNICA’s research showed that users believed protecting information against physical damage and deterioration was paramount. The group surveyed was particularly concerned about old typed reports and large scale drawings which exist on a variety of media including paper, linen and canvas. Catastrophic loss caused by flood or fire is fortunately rare but deterioration caused by handling, exposure to sunlight and photocopying will lead to a gradual degradation and eventual loss of archive material. The research suggested that conversion to a properly managed electronic storage system would eliminate this risk to
All respondents who currently archive data in a paper format thought that an electronic system would be beneficial but some concerns were raised about data modification and unauthorised copying. An electronic networked environment would offer a workable and practical solution to the problem, providing the authorised user with control of the whole system and eliminating the need for extra administration staff. Documents could still be sent by email, fax or post if necessary but could also be viewed by those who needed access to the documents across a local or wide area network, eliminating the risks associated with data transfer. Updating of the reservoir archive with new material can also benefit from an electronic approach, such as in the UK where the 1975 Reservoirs Act requires that records be submitted in a prescribed form. The use of an electronic template of the prescribed form of record ensures that all the relevant information is correctly recorded, that all fields are completed before saving and that reports are in a consistent format.
However, any electronic system developed requires data security issues to be addressed as a priority to prevent illegal viewing or adapting of data. Password protection is the most appropriate way of limiting access solely to the owners of the data. It not only limits who can see data, if necessary down to the individual document level, but can also prevent the data being changed without correct procedures being followed. Password control has other benefits and can, for example, allow tracking of document usage against specific users or user groups. Statistics
can detail how many times a document is used, when and by whom. Modification tracking as part of the same password protected system, linking changes
to specific users, can also provide
the basic information for a change control
Another way to relate common documents is to apply intelligent linking to the data. This allows instant access to referenced works acting as a live bibliography. A benefit of this approach is that new reports need not reproduce information from referenced work as a link to the existing data supports the new report.
Rapid access to the correct information can solve problems almost before they occur. A high level search based on keywords and titles in an electronic archive means that a document can be found, quickly and efficiently, without having intimate knowledge of where it has been filed.
In an emergency it is vital that all parties are using the same information and that all relevant data are available and up to date. Storing data electronically on a central server that can be accessed across a network means that all the data are held in one place, and everyone views the same data.
Documents in an electronic system can be highlighted for specific review. For example, an inspecting engineer can examine all the supervising engineer reports or the data owner can give access to selected parts of the archive across a network. The data recipients also have the knock-on benefit of only getting data that they have an interest in.
With all of the above in mind, COGNICA developed AQUIR. An easy-to-use, integrated electronic system, AQUIR has been designed specifically for reservoir inspection staff and managers and replaces paper-based data with a centrally-held electronic record which can be accessed instantly by authorised users.
In the UK, Severn Trent Water is carrying out a pilot trial of the system. As part of this trial, the system has had to demonstrate its flexibility in linking to a number of company systems and demonstrate that it can work as a stand alone system, or as a networked internet or a web-based facility.
When setting up AQUIR at a reservoir, a precise process needs to be followed to ensure that the data is presented in a format which can be used and accessed by reservoir personnel and meets their precise needs. The first task is to identify the appropriate data to be held on the AQUIR system. To do this, a team of trained staff visit sites to locate relevant documents and drawings. That data is captured though scanning documents using optical character recognition software so that they can be manipulated rather than read and the text can be searched for key words.
Drawings are scanned or input electronically if possible to allow for greater manipulation. ‘Elephant drawings’ are sectionalised down and a simple schematic added to the front end to allow the user to select the required section of the drawing. Photographs of critical site elements are taken to complement the plans so that, for instance, a potential site visitor would be able to navigate round with ease. All of these elements are pulled together in the AQUIR software with such useful extras as a reservoir fill calculation program.
Since the software can, if placed on a secure internet site, be accessed from home or any distant location it is likely to make the job of panel inspectors much more straightforward. An inspector can finish a site visit, return to base and add the information straight onto the database.
As well as containing information on structures and assets, AQUIR can also hold historical records on incidents such as floods, rainfall figures versus reservoir levels, and embankment slippage, offering links between related documents.
The use of multimedia presentation techniques within the system are also considered to be useful. The provision of user-friendly, interactive information through the integration of images, words and sound is seen as important in capturing local knowledge and experience: essential for emergencies and particularly beneficial for staff training. It has been found that multimedia features increase understanding, stimulating personnel to carry out their work more effectively, boost job satisfaction, save time and effort, and improve response to routine surveys and emergencies alike.
AQUIR has been designed and developed so that it can be accessed by staff — or emergency services — who have no specialist IT training. By using familiar web browser technology to distribute and present data it allows users to access information easily, subject to password and other security controls. This technology also has the benefit of being cost effective and familiar, with a set of buttons along the top of the page to click on. Data are structured according to the sections of the relevant legislation and AQUIR allows links to be added intelligently to other associated documents. Files are stored in PDF format for ease of use and which can be read using Adobe Acrobat software.
The software for AQUIR has been written to ensure that updating and maintaining the knowledge held can be carried out simply and effectively through the use of workflow technology. New data regarding reservoir levels, main-tenance activity and structural surveys can be simply entered on the system.
AQUIR has already generated a warm response from reservoir operators throughout the UK. One manager said: ‘At the moment, finding the relevant reservoir data means searching through numerous cabinets and drawers. Using AQUIR we will be able to access the information we need instantly.’
The short term benefits of the software is that it can hold existing data centrally with reduced threat of physical damage. However, in the longer term, new reports can be entered directly into the electronic system with links to previous reports, therefore eliminating duplication of information and so making the information immediately available.
A dam is an important asset and the cost of construction and maintenance of dams and reservoir structures is significant. Because of this, great lengths are taken to protect and maintain them but as data relied upon to do this job are often not as secure as the dam, an electronic record ensures that when-ever information is needed, it is available instantly in a reliable and trusted format.