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This State DOT Monitors its Communication Huts and Disaster-Recovery Trailers with RTUs

By Andrew Erickson

December 4, 2022


I just returned from a trip to visit 5 different DPS clients. The 5 clients covered most of the range of DPS clients, from a small rural telephone company to large government agencies.

While driving through the state capital, I stopped for my scheduled visit with this US state's Department of Transportation (DOT). For both security and client privacy, I can't tell you which state, but it's above-average in size with a lot of geographic area to cover.

I met with two people, each of which had been working in state government for about 25 years. They had both worked in management, with special focus on telecom (especially microwave and modern fiber).

Let's take a look at how they use remote monitoring equipment to monitor various types of remote sites in order to keep a statewide communications network online.

Small TempDefender RTUs monitor mobile towers

One of the more interesting applications for monitoring equipment was discussed early in my meeting.

One member of the DOT team "uses TempDefenders in trailers for recovery scenarios."

Trailer-based radios and cell towers are common techniques for disaster recovery, especially after a hurricane or flood. Just like any comm site, these trailers must be remotely monitored. Trailers have most of the same monitoring challenges of stationary huts, but may also be in usually populated environments that present security challenges.

The TempDefender RTUs installed in these DOT disaster-recovery trailers can detect changes in temperature, humidity, or power.

This lets the DOT teams monitor temporary trailer sites without having to travel there directly. By detecting problems as soon as possible, they can take corrective action quickly before an entire segment of the network goes offline.

Larger NetGuardian RTUs for permanent communication sites

This state DOT deployed NetGuardian 832A RTUs statewide about 20 years ago. Today, this includes both the NetGuardian 832A G2 and G5 models.

They also have several NetGuardian 216 G3 RTUs with built-in cellular. We discussed the new DPS standard of using rCell wireless modems. We changed to this method after considering the longevity of NetGuardians that outlast cell technologies. An RTU that last for 10-15 years will usually see wireless networks change around it.

Upgrading the NetGuardian 832A RTUs to a new model after nearly 20 years of service

This client is now actively considering an upgrade to the new NetGuardian 832A G6, which supports new security standards like TLS 1.2 and protocols like Modbus. In the words of my client: "We've been very happy with your products. They've lasted since 2003. It's now time for an upgrade. We've always been very pleased with DPS Telecom's RTUs."

The Modbus processing capabilities on new NetGuardian RTUs may come in handy for this client, as their Cummins generators may use Modbus. They'll send me a user manual to verify (something I often do to help clients, since they always have much more to work on than just remote monitoring).

This client also mentioned previous interest in Farscan (Harris Scan) compatibility, but "it's not even worth writing down anymore" as they no longer use it.

There are currently about 90 NetGuardians deployed within this statewide network, so this upgrade will be a sizeable operation. The top-level master is Megasys Telenium, and that aspect will require little to no configuration changes. When we build new NetGuardians, we make them as similar as possible to their predecessors (ex. connectors, number schemes). This massively reduces the time required when upgrading.

This DOT client will likely work a purchase into the budget within the next 4-8 months. Since they are upgrading from older NetGuardians, they'll be able to invoke our 30% upgrade discount.

Budget & scheduling details for the RTU upgrade

"We have an excellent contractor for installs," so my client is not worried about the upgrade install schedule being constrained. They're "trying to do this project as a task-work order (no bid or prior budgeting required to use this flexible pool of funding)."

Even so, installation of nearly 100 RTUs does take some amount of time. That's why this DOT plans to schedule NetGuardian 832A G6 shipments out for a year (as DPS allows).

One interesting question arose that will also affect the install schedule: "Can DPS do a DB conversion since there is no NGEdit for G6?"

I said that, at minimum, we would manually convert a few RTU profiles as part of the project. T/Mon has some automation for this, but we have a Telenium in place here instead of a T/Mon. That means that we won't be able to use on-site database/functions in play here that would normally aid conversion.

As I usually am, I'm happy to add a few hours of 100% discounted DPS engineering labor as part of this equipment purchase. We don't use terms like "full service" lightly.

I'm now preparing a detailed purchase proposal for this RTU upgrade project

Fortunately, this project has been in the works for some time. That's normal, as projects always have to find budget available. I'll be starting from a project that Ron Stover created in the DPS system in 2021.

My proposal will include:

  • NetGuardian 832A G6 upgrades (with 832A G2 trade-in discounts).
  • Optional Modbus processing (for their HVAC Controllers).
  • SNMP output to tie into Telenium (they use SNMP for NetGuardians, not DCP protocol).
  • Options to replicate an "IP thermostat": They're considering alternatives to Bard & Marvair controllers. IP thermostats currently used "are such a hassle". They fail to hot (room gradually overheats). The DOT would love to see an IP thermostat "with great flexibility and control" built into the 832A G6 (ex. via D-Wire sensor and some G6 firmware). It should support all the major HVAC brands and have PoE (or D-Wire would be fine since G6 powers sensor) and support "Delay Start" & 2 HVAC units (8 relays).

New engineers are joining the DOT as part of the natural retirement cycle

At my meeting, I also got to speak with two new engineers who "are coming up and taking over these projects". They were quiet for most of the meeting, but it was an important opportunity for them to gain familiarity with the DPS monitoring devices currently in use. We also looked at new device options like the HVAC Controller and BVM for individual battery monitoring.

What do you need to remotely monitor in your network?

As I left this happy client meeting, I was advised to say "hello" to a few friends at the nearby water management district.

The only questions left now are: What do you need to remotely monitor? When can I come visit you to discuss the project?

Give me a call at 1-800-693-0351 or email me at sales@dpstele.com to get started.

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...