Municipalities’ Modern Superhero: SCADA Systems on the Silver Screen

In Hollywood, art can imitate life, except with bigger budgets and more exciting plot lines. A common movie trope is when a villain threatens to contaminate a town’s water supply, putting thousands of citizens’ health and lives in jeopardy. Luckily, the hero manages to foil the plan in the nick of time. Today, the hero is modern water management technology, like satellite-based SCADA systems, which can easily prevent similar stories from developing. While it might not make for exciting movies, satellite-based SCADA systems provide the protection required for modern utility infrastructure, in a scalable and affordable way. Check out these examples of where a SCADA system would have saved the day. [Spoilers ahead]

In Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the Scarecrow gleefully reveals that he and his henchmen have been contaminating Gotham’s water supply with a powerful hallucinogen through a busted water main. If Gotham’s Public Works department had installed a satellite-based SCADA system, the water utility manager would have been alerted immediately of the equipment breach. The recorded data that the utility manager can access from anywhere would also show the inaccurate chemical levels of the water supply. A satellite-based SCADA system would have exposed the issue and foiled the plan before any damage was done. And for once, Batman could have taken a vacation.

In the 2000 film Erin Brockovich, Julia Roberts stars as the title character who investigates the Pacific Gas & Electric Company after hundreds of residents suffer from cancer and other illnesses. The story is based on the true tale of Brockovich and her attorney boss Edward Masly discovering that the company had been neglectfully polluting the water supply of Hinkley, California, with harmful toxins.

Much of Brockovich’s time is spent driving hundreds of miles to water plants, digging through old and outdated records, and researching data from the PG&E company, some of which is destroyed or slated for destruction. With today’s technology and legislative safeguards against this kind of blatant environmental disregard, a monitoring system like SCADA makes the data about chemical levels readily available. Furthermore, Brockovich (or anyone!) wouldn’t have to drive hundreds of miles to dig up old documents but instead have instant remote access.

The “contaminated water supply” trope is especially convenient for Hollywood’s zombie movies. George A. Romero’s 1973 film The Crazies plays up fears of a crazy-making virus spread through unfiltered drinking water. Apologies to zombie enthusiasts but proper management and monitoring of the water supply via a satellite-based SCADA system would alert the utility department to unsafe levels for drinking water immediately. And if zombification were a real concern, the utility services manager could easily send the satellite-based data to the Center for Disease Control, ensuring that the walking dead remain just interesting entertainment.

All fun aside, the municipalities dedicated to modernizing the utility services and systems with the latest and best technology are the reason residents can trust their water supplies. Being able to record, monitor, transmit and analyze data across entire utility services makes the public works departments the unsung heroes of modern municipalities.