Loyal Sheltie helps water utility manager receive alarms

Loyal Sheltie helps water utility manager receive alarms
Ted Wixom, operations manager of Eastsound Water Users Association (EWUA), uses a service dog, Charlie, to receive alarm notifications for the Mission Communications SCADA system.

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Located in the northwest tip of the state, Eastsound, Wash., is approximately 100 miles northwest of Seattle. Ted Wixom, operations manager of Eastsound Water Users Association (EWUA), manages the water department like any other supervisor — except he has a service dog. Charlie, a dependable 6-year-old Shetland Sheep dog (Sheltie), stays by Wixom’s side every day. Wixom is deaf in one ear and profoundly deaf in the other. He wears a hearing aid on his good ear, but cannot hear high-frequency tones. As the manager of EWUA, Wixom receives alarm notifications for the Mission Communications SCADA system via cellphone, pager and email. 

Although Wixom cannot hear his cellphone ring, Charlie sounds the alarm. He responds and anxiously notifies Wixom. “Charlie lets me know under no uncertain terms when my cellphone rings,” explains Wixom. “He usually jumps into my lap.” 

Shelties are fondly known for intelligence, obedience and loyalty. They are also known for being very energetic, a trait that gives Charlie his ability to help Wixom. “The high-pitch tones make Charlie very anxious. When I first noticed that he was responding to the tones, I rewarded him. Over time, I trained him to let me know when my cellphone or pager was ringing,” he explains. “He ignores all other electronic noises, so he doesn’t send a lot of false signals. He’s earned his kibble.” 

Without the ability to hear in one ear, Wixom can no longer detect the direction from which sound originates. When someone begins speaking to Wixom, Charlie notifies him by pointing him in the right direction. As a dedicated companion, Charlie goes everywhere with Wixom. He even goes out in the field, although he stays in the truck for safety reasons. 

Moving forward with assistance 

In addition to alarming, EWUA uses the Mission Communications system to remotely monitor and control tank levels and pump cycles on remote tanks and wells. Water-quality variables, turbidity and chlorine residual are monitored at one of the remote treatment plants. 

Before using the Mission system, EWUA personnel had to predict when to conduct daily treatment plant routines. Occasionally, personnel arrived at the site too early or too late. “We are now able to operate the treatment plant instead of the treatment plant operating us,” Wixom explains. "We trust the data and we let it guide our actions."

Recently, EWUA implemented the tank and well control package to control the pumps that fill a remote tank. In 2012, 500,000 gallons of water overflowed because manual controls were used. After that incident, personnel knew there had to be a better way. EWUA then partnered with Mission to provide automatic controls in the hopes of drastically reducing or eliminating overflows. Wixom uses the analog reports and graphs during meetings to review turbidity and chlorine residual. Since the water quality changes each season, the analog graphs display high and low values for evaluation. 

“We’re not interested in specific values; we’re interested in trends,” says Wixom. “The data is displayed in a manner that allows us to review it in an intelligent and useful way.” 

EWUA began using the Mission system approximately one year ago, and Wixom says the system took some getting used to. “We’re quite happy with the results,” he says. “The information that Mission sends me is great, but most of the time it can’t make the final six inches to my brain and that’s Charlie’s job. He’s a great dog.” 


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