By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
A security breach at Mansfield Dam on Tuesday morning sent local law enforcement agencies into emergency mode since the local dam is critical infrastructure protected by state law and federal law under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
A Lower Colorado River Authority employee saw a man run by him shortly after he went into the dam tunnels around 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 14.
The LCRA maintenance worker notified security officers that morning about the unauthorized man he saw.
“All of the equipment was turned off remotely as soon as we had notice of a breach,” said Phil WIlson, LCRA general manager. “At no point in time did we have our resources threatened. The dam was always secure, the power, hydro generation was always secure. No individual could have done anything inside the dam at that point.”
As standard protocol when security is breached, Austin Police Department and the Travis County Sheriff’s Office were quickly called to assist in making sure the dam was secure. Within less than an hour, the dam site, just off of RM 620 near Steiner Ranch and Montview, was filled with LCRA Rangers, the APD SWAT team, TCSO and the Travis County K-9 unit.
No one was found after a thorough, top to bottom search that took several hours. The site was then deemed all clear and safe, Wilson said.
LCRA held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to update the public.
“The dam is safe, it is secure now. There’s no one there that shouldn’t be there,” Wilson said. “Public safety is continuing to be protected like it always is.”
Public safety is critical to LCRA, which manages a chain of six dams.
“We wanted to make sure that when a call like that came in, that we responded appropriately,” said Wilson, who had not experienced this type of event in his six years at the helm of LCRA.
LCRA is continuing its investigation on how Tuesday’s breach happened since Mansfield Dam has high fencing and a series of gates to get into the buildings at the dam. Background checks are conducted for people visiting the dam. There are “no trespassing” signs posted, video monitors, and an officer on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week on site.
“The fact that a person got in causes pause and we’ll do a full investigation to what may have happened… and why this individual was where he wasn’t supposed to be,” Wilson said.
LCRA is doing a post mortem to make sure policies and procedures were followed to make sure “the technology is the right technology, that physical security is the right physical security, and that our physical presence here… is working the right way,” Wilson said.
So much attention is being put on this situation because the dam is critical infrastructure.
Mansfield Dam was built 82 years ago and it protects the water supply in the Greater Austin region and protects the area from floods.
“We had the massive floods a year and a half ago in October, this dam is what kept us between flooding and not being flooded,” Wilson said. “Because it is so critical, we treat it accordingly and it’s a very vital piece of infrastructure for Central Texas.”