Israel's Holistic Approach to Water Security: First Stage -- Prevention

Feb. 21, 2010
The September 11th tragedy stood as a wakeup call to many of our global security needs. It became compellingly clear that in order to sufficiently protect all aspects of our lives, we would have to develop corresponding security systems...

By Dovev Levinson, CEO Whitewater Security

The September 11th tragedy stood as a wakeup call to many of our global security needs. It became compellingly clear that in order to sufficiently protect all aspects of our lives, we would have to develop corresponding security systems. The aftermath of the atrocities has left the water sector, in particular, extremely susceptible harm.

However, the concept of water security is not only limited to terrorist attacks; in fact it has become a framework for protection against a variety of ever growing threats, such as operational error, accidental contamination, intentional contamination, natural disasters and other unknown hazards.

Organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) work to define the guidelines and regulations for modern day water security. Due to this complexity, it will take time to define these water security regulations.

In the interim, water utilities, civil engineering companies, emergency authorities and other water security early adopters can use one country's experience on water security as a useful resource.

Israel is recognized for its expertise in both water management capabilities and security tactics as reflected in the comprehensive solutions to water security utilized in the country.1 In its entirety, the Israeli approach to water security has minimized infrastructure vulnerability and ensured a continuous supply of safe, high-quality water to the people of Israel. Developed over the past 70 years, this holistic approach to water security is a methodology for securing water supply infrastructures in the face of diverse and evolving threats.

The Israeli holistic approach includes five pillars of water security: prevention, protection, detection, crisis management, and recovery.

The power resulting from the combination of all five pillars into one comprehensive solution yields utility management capabilities that far surpass any single technology. This synergy allows precise management and security in every situation, from everyday tasks to minor events or major crises. This is an all encompassing method developed from Israel's vast experience regarding both water and security.

In a four part series, the five pillars of water security will be examined, and the knowledge and training necessary for each defined.

The First Pillar of Water Security: Prevention
The key to prevention is effective vulnerability assessment, including mapping the water system and analyzing the potential threats, coupled with robust procedural and crisis planning and personnel training.

The initial assessment process is one of the most critical aspects of securing a water supply against threats.2 The assessment must include quantitative and qualitative analysis, mapping and prioritizing water supply vulnerabilities. The EPA recommends physical assessment to determine which facilities within a water utility may be at high risk based on factors such as consequence of contamination, site location, and physical security.2 In addition to these physical concerns, the Israeli assessment method includes the factors of monitoring and detection accuracy, water quality, facility management, and end users. By pin-pointing the existing or potential at-risk elements in the whole of a water system, vulnerability assessments give decision-makers the necessary information to plan risk management strategies that minimize potential threats.

In Israel, as part of the vulnerability assessment, the water system is analyzed in relation to national scenarios and relevant local applications such as water pollution, impact on water quality, disruption of water supply, damage to the infrastructure and the environment. Vulnerability assessments should also include water security intelligence covering political stability in the region, enabling proper awareness of terror risks and threats.3

Understanding and prioritizing the weaknesses in a water system is a necessary beginning, but prevention does not stop there. Every water system should implement detailed action plans, both for general procedures as well as crisis situations.

In many water systems, it is impossible to see the integrated picture of all the system's components; CRM, SCADA, ERP, GIS and other elements may be in place, but each one serves a deferent part of the system. Israeli experts have learned that it is crucial to create a unified information system, thereby enabling plans that account for the risks and widely varying warning signs from each component. Additionally, countermeasures for any events must be prioritized. A failure or contamination within one facility may best be managed by a countermeasure at another point in the system. Crucially, the potential results of all countermeasures must be included in the planning, in order to prevent accidentally worsening a hazardous situation.

Water utility mangers and personnel must act fast to perform the right tasks in the face of an emergency. Importantly, then, plans should be digitalized and compiled for access from anywhere in the system, so that individuals can immediately retrieve the right knowledge to attend to any potential crisis situation. Finally, proper training is necessary in the areas of terrorism fundamentals, threat identification, decision-making, security and procedural tasks, and crisis response. Fast, correct action can, and often does, mean the difference between an internal incident and a public contamination.4

Coupled with prevention of a water crisis is protection of the water itself, which will be addressed in the second part of our series on the Israeli Holistic Approach to Water Security.