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PRCUA Partnership Results in New Technology to Avoid Costly Cleanups


PRCUA Partnership Results in New Technology to Avoid Costly Cleanups

(USA, MS, Pearl River County), June 16, 2010 – On more than one occasion sewage lift station failures have resulted in sewage being released to the environment, or backing up into customers’ homes. The Pearl River County Utility Authority (PRCUA) has found a way to avoid expensive cleanups, prevent household disasters for its customers, and possibly bring more jobs to the county. Working in partnership with a local technology development firm, the Simple Cellular Alarm Telemetry Unit (SCATU) is now on the job monitoring “high risk” lift stations and notifying the operators of any trouble before it becomes a disaster.

After multiple, messy backups in a customer’s home, Cliff Diamond, General Manager of the PRCUA was determined to find a way to stop a lift station failure from causing problems like this again.  Preventative Maintenance (PM) was a good place to start. This meant replacing old components before they failed. Also inspecting systems daily could catch some problems. But, unfortunately even with the best PM program, a simple power failure or a few diaper wipes clogging a pump intake can make a lift station overflow in just a few hours.

While most lift stations have a trouble indicator light, few people notice or know they should call if they see it illuminated. Some of the larger more modern lift stations have SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems that constantly monitor their condition.  The cost of retrofitting a typical lift station with compatible SCADA equipment could cost over $10,000 each.  While worth every penny, the utility simply could not afford to equip many stations in the short term.  There must be a simpler, less expensive method of solving the problem now, without having to wait on a grant or bond issue, Diamond thought.

Diamond put the problem to W. L. “Bud” Nail of Technological Services Company, a former NASA Test Engineer at Stennis Space Center with an office in the same building as PRCUA in Picayune.  “Cliff really had a good handle on what was needed.  He has a background, not only in waste water systems, but also in electrical equipment and control systems.  He had done his homework and knew that nothing in his target budget range was available commercially. But he new it was technically feasible and if someone was clever enough they could build it at a reasonable price.  He even came up with the name. Our part was to add our experience, contacts and a bit of innovation to realize his dream.”

So a partnership was formed. Diamond representing PRCUA, issued a purchase order for the first SCATU and agreed to help define the critical features that were needed as well as provide critical feedback as the design progressed.  TSC did the detailed design and engineering, and worked to secure parts suppliers and a manufacturer. In less than 8 weeks, the first SCATU was in the field at work and a second unit on its way. 

“Some board members and support contractors were not convinced that a rugged industrial quality device, with this much capability, at this price was possible.  But seeing, is believing. I let them kill the power, and press buttons. In less than a minute, my cell phone beeped and I could show them text messages describing the problem and the location. For our immediate purposes, the SCATU has the most important features of systems costing five to ten times as much, plus a few they don’t have.  The system actually turned out better than I imagined, and I have a pretty good imagination.” - Diamond

 The First SCATU installation by PRCUA – June 2010


Additional Information, Quotes, Pictures and Illustrations

An Illustration from the SCATU Installation Guide


So what exactly does the SCATU do?
First and most importantly it monitors a Lift Station’s success in moving sewage up hill. Sewage must be pumped up hill so it can flow down to the next lift station and ultimately to the treatment plant.  If the SCATU detects that the lift station is falling behind in its job, it sends an “Alarm” text to the operators. If they don’t get an “Alarm Cleared” Message in a matter of minutes, they will send out a service person.  The text message includes the location of the lift station, so the service person knows where to go.

Secondly, the SCATU monitors the electrical power being used by the Lift Station.  If power is lost for more than a minute, a text message is sent warning of a power failure. If power is not restored within a few hours, a generator may be deployed to keep the sewage moving.  Monitoring the power allows operators to react long before the alarm is activated.

Thirdly, the SCATU provides a Service Button that allows service personnel to notify operators that they have arrived on the scene and are taking care of the problem.  The service personnel also press this button daily to notify the operators that daily maintenance has been performed and the SCATU is on the job monitoring the system.

Are there other features?

Other interesting features of the SCATU are that it can send Alarm, Power, and Service text messages to up to 10 individuals.  It is completely autonomous, and electrically isolated from the Lift Station.  It gets its power from a battery that is recharged by a solar panel.  The unit mostly sleeps, using very little power until it detects a problem or button pushed.  Then it wakes, connects to a cell tower and sends one or more text message.  It can operate for up to 3 months with very little sunlight.  Once a day, it sends a message reporting, the charge on the battery, the voltage of the solar panel, the closest cell tower signal strength, and its internal temperature.  It has a “Test” button that allows the service person to simulate an alarm.  It has LED indicator lights to show the condition of the lift station locally.  It was designed and is manufactured in Picayune MS.

What is its Cost?

“Cliff had hoped the unit would come in at under $1000 installed.  That would be 1/10 the cost of conventional systems.  The manufacturer is quoting less than that in quantities of 10 or more. The installation costs are the second part of the equation. We put a lot of effort in making it drop dead simple to install. Mount it with 4 screws.  Connect two cables and it just works. Andrew Le (PMHS ’05) our graphic artist drew a really nice installation guide, that received good reviews from the installers.  But even so, they made a few suggestions we’ve incorporated in the next version. Things like color coding the cables rather than calling them the ‘left’ and ‘right’ cables. A 15 to 20 minutes install is quite possible, which could get the turnkey price to less than $1000.” - Nail

What other changes will be made in the next version?

“We’ve actually already incorporated a few changes back into the first unit that will be standard on future units.  For instance, initially we had a solar panel with adjustable tilt suspended above the unit. People could not resist playing with it or using it as a handle.  The panel is now flat with the top of the enclosure, with no adjustments. We also found the SCATU was a little too chatty about its own health. It would sometimes report that the solar panel was ‘disconnected’ when a dark cloud blocked out the sun for more than a few minutes.  Now, we just let the SCATU report its battery voltage once per day and ignore the minute-by-minute state of the solar panel. By monitoring the battery voltage we’ll see if the solar panel has a problem soon enough.” - Nail

How many SCATU systems will be sold?

“We are confident that one or two a month will sell with no marketing. But there are literally thousands of small and not so small utilities that have exactly the same need, we hope by word of mouth we will ramp up production to 50 or so a month.  If that happens economies of scale could lower prices which would help spur sales further.” – Nail

Who is the PRCUA?

The Pearl River County Utility Authority (PRUCA) was established per Act of Mississippi Legislature in April 2006 under the Mississippi Gulf Coast Region Utility Act as codified in the Mississippi code under Sections 49-17-701 through 49-17-775. The PRCUA is a Political Subdivision of the State of Mississippi.

The purpose of the Pearl River County Utility Authority is to perform multiple tasks of the planning, acquisition, construction, maintenance, operation and coordination of water, wastewater and storm water systems in order to insure the delivery of those services to the citizens residing within Pearl River County.

Who is the manufacturer of the SCATU?

VideComp Inc. of Picayune MS.

Who designed the SCATU?

Technological Services Company

What else does Technological Services Company do?

“We bring technology to solve problems our customers face. A lot of what we do enhances our customers business, and they wouldn’t want their competition (and in some cases their clients) to find out exactly what that is.  Our web site tells a few tales where we have permission and have left out enough details not to affect their business. We do work for some very large and very small organizations, and everything in between. The SCATU is a pretty good example of one type of thing we do.” - Nail

See for more info.

 Who Can I contact for more information? 

W.L. “Bud” Nail, Vice President of Operations.  601-799-2403


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