"When I think of FirstNet now, I think of endless opportunities."

Posted on August 19, 2019

by Bryan M. Fortino, CFO, Del Oro Water Company

Del Oro Water Company serves 20 districts throughout the State of California. This accounts for 9,000 service connections from Bakersfield to Fresno serving about 23,000 customers, including schools, fire departments and local businesses.

We depend on technology to help us do our job and keep our field staff safe. Our Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system allows us to remote control our assets in the field in a catastrophic event. This helps us make sure firefighters have adequate water and pressure and keeps our field staff out of danger.

Without it, it's manual control. It's losing the ability to view our SCADA and it's potentially putting lives at risk.

That's why we're glad we're on FirstNet now. And thanks to the support we received from the FirstNet team when our systems went down, we are customers for life!

The Camp Fire

On Nov. 8, 2018, when the Camp Fire broke out, we got word from our regional superintendent, John O'Farrell, that it was spreading rapidly. Cell service went down around 9 a.m. and I knew instantly that it was not going to come back up quickly. I knew that we had to have a backup plan for communication.

John had already deployed the staff using manual methods of turning pumps on and off, making sure that the firefighters had adequate water and water pressure for the fire hydrants. The staff was operating in emergency mode. They knew where they had to be and what they had to do.

We began trying to locate our field staff to make sure they were safe. They're equipped with cell phones and tablets and we use the various "find me" applications to locate them. But we quickly realized we could see a few of the staff members, but not all. We knew our internet and phone system had started to go down.

Total Chaos

This was the first experience where total chaos broke out throughout the town; throughout our service areas. There were mass evacuations. And we had no communication with our staff.

Without internet, we couldn't view our SCADA systems, or control those devices in remote locations throughout our districts. The SCADA systems allows us to see flow rates, which pumps are on, which pumps have stopped, whether there is a power or internet outage.

We plan for emergencies and have meet-up places and communication, but without that communication in place, we went to Post-It notes. The only way to communicate with the Post-It notes was to physically be at the various pumping sites where we were posting notes. We had to let other staff know when we had been there, and what we had done.

Even though the fire had destroyed entire neighborhoods, water service was still on at those homes. Our field staff had to deal with turning off valves in the street and at the residential homes that were drawing water firefighters could use to fight the fire instead.

Calling for help

Starting Nov. 8 – and throughout the weekend – I made at least 40 phone calls to our service providers; to multiple agencies and various water utilities in the California Water Association. We were trying to find other means of communication for our field staff to coordinate their locations and assist them with their needs.

Then we received a call from Kristi Mercado. She said, "I'm with FirstNet. What do you need?"

I'd heard about FirstNet before. But I always assumed FirstNet was for first responders only. I didn't know it was available to agencies that support first responders.

We received a Cradlepoint IBR900 the next morning – provisioned for what our IT department said we needed. It had the FirstNet SIM card. Once we connected it, everything fired right up.

Immediate relief

Instantly, SCADA was working. The alarms stopped. And we were able to see what pumps were off, what pumps were stuck in manual mode, what pumps were still running and most importantly our tank levels.

We knew we had a long road ahead of us. But we also knew that in the future we had a reliable team and partner in FirstNet.

When I think of FirstNet now, I think of endless opportunities. I think the biggest benefit that Del Oro has received is the support staff, the knowledge, the teams that FirstNet has either partnered with or deploys. They are all first class, they're quick and knowledgeable.

In a word, FirstNet is a lifesaver.

Bryan M. Fortino is the Chief Financial Officer for Del Oro Water Company, founded in 1963 under jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission and serving 20 districts throughout the State of California. Fortino holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Arizona State University.