How do Southwest Florida municipalities keep their water supply safe?

A hacker took brief control of a Florida town’s water supply to increase the number of harmful chemicals.

The incident happened on Friday in Oldsmar, about two hours north of Charlotte County, and is currently under investigation by numerous law enforcement agencies, but what does the encounter mean for the security of water treatment plants in Southwest Florida?

Lee County and Fort Myers utilities say they are always monitoring their cybers systems to prevent hacks. And in Charlotte County, there is an ongoing process of creating a long-term plan to improve its cyber-security in the utility’s department.

Thomas Hill, Charlotte County Utility chief operator, said there are a lot of alarms and prevention tools to avoid a similar event.

“We’ve got cameras, we’ve got that gate, coded entry,” Hill said.

Charlotte County Utility Director Craig Rudy said the water is sampled in real-time.

“As it’s going through the system” things are adjusted as needed, Rudy said.

Rudy said if there is too much of a certain chemical, “an operator will respond immediately or the system will actually shut itself down.”

Regardless, Hill said the water quality would remain safe and the water would continue to flow.

“They’re pretty hard-core on security ever since 9/11. It’s been beefed up a lot,” said John Thompson, an adjunct professor who teaches water and wastewater operations at Florida SouthWestern State College.

Thompson said the chance of a successful hack is slim with the security measures in place.

“I think you could get in but I don’t think there’s a lot of damage you could do because the alarms would trigger,” Thompson said. “We’re always going to have people who try to push that envelope and you just have to make sure your systems are secure and don’t skimp on cyber-security.”

Reporter:Erika Jackson
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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