Substation Security Checklist for Intruder Detection

Critical energy systems demand optimal protection. Highly publicized events, such as the shooting at the Metcalf transmission substation in California, have brought a new sense of urgency around the issue of grid security and the potentially disastrous consequences.

This reality is pushing utilities to implement a comprehensive solution that goes beyond traditional fence-based approaches. Physical barriers can provide some level of security but combining reliable alerts with knowledge about what is happening – in real time, over large outdoor areas – is the goal.

Traditionally, utilities have relied on a combination of a fence and some type of blind sensor to act as an activity detector, combined with a video security solution to help determine the cause of an alert. But the reliability of these systems is diminished by the many nuisance alerts they generate, while also falling short of the intent to provide early awareness outside of the fence line for advanced warning and time to respond.

Smart thermal cameras that incorporate video analytics provide substantial advantages over this traditional approach, increasing the probability of intruder detection while greatly reducing the nuisance alarms that have plagued fence-based systems past. Thermal video systems cover large distances and detect what a human would miss, while delivering immediate, actionable information to enable fast response decisions.

Assessing Potential Vulnerabilities

Electrical substation security systems must be flawless to maintain continued operations, and no physical structure alone can provide that level of safety. Assessing the potential pitfalls of a system creates an understanding about where the security perimeter can be ruptured. Planning in advance for the potential mistakes of an outdated or ineffective system is an important step in knowing when to upgrade to advanced technology solutions.

Finding Faults

At one time, it was hard to imagine the creative ways an attack on a system can occur. While the threat of terrorist activity to disrupt the power grid remains ever-present, other hazards such as theft and vandalism are more common and represent an additional challenge. With the price of copper at an all-time high, and with a large amount of copper wiring present at electrical substations, it’s no surprise that they have become an attractive target – often with lethal consequences, which could cause associated liability issues, in addition to disrupting services.

Asking the Right Questions

With tens of thousands of substations across the U.S. situated in locations that range from isolated remote areas to densely populated urban areas, the job of securing these critical assets is challenging at best for security professionals.

While we don’t know the specific nature of the threats facing electrical assets, asking the right questions is an important part of determining whether there is a need to upgrade or consider a new security approach.

  • Where are the weak points in your current system that create blind spots or vulnerabilities?
  • Are you using a trusted, industry-established approach for electrical power substation perimeter security?
  • Do all of the facility personnel feel they are protected adequately?
  • Does your current system meet the spirit of NERC CIP 14 or other national security guidelines?
  • Does your current system differentiate between animals or nuisances, and actual threats?
  • What is the impact to the business or the community if appropriate measures aren’t taken to prevent a potential attack?

Why Detection Matters

While fences and other physical barriers can provide some level of deterrence, critical asset protection demands that intruders are detected as soon as they enter a secured area.  Such real-time awareness is critical to ensuring a timely response and preventing an incident from escalating.

As a result, thermal technology has become a top choice for detecting intrusions at outdoor utilities. These systems, which combine thermal sensors with video analytics, are known as “smart” thermal cameras because they never tire, can cover large areas, and “see” what the human eye would miss, while people – when provided with accurate alerts that thermal cameras generate – can make appropriate response decisions.

Let’s look at how smart thermal camera systems contribute to effective substation security beyond traditional fence-based approaches.

Dependability of alerts. Solutions deployed to protect critical facilities like substations must be able to always detect the presence of unauthorized persons anywhere across site perimeters and outdoor areas. Smart thermal cameras, which sense heat, can see through the dark, bright sun, or bad weather. When combined with video processing and analytics, they represent an excellent “people detector” for even difficult outdoor situations.

For example, video processing within the camera can be used to stabilize images electronically before video analytics are invoked, removing camera motion from wind or vibrations as a source of missed intruders.  Systems that use geo-registered analytics ignore the movement of small animals, trash and other movement from causing alerts, and send alarms only when human intruders enter secure areas.

Early Detection Beyond the Fence. While a fence can provide an obstacle to challenge an intruder, a better approach is to implement a volumetric system to provide early warning awareness. This is where smart thermal cameras excel. Volumetric SightLogix systems detect intruders beyond the fence, when they approach the facility, giving security personnel ample warning and time to intervene. It is during this critical window of time between when an assailant breaches a physical barrier and when they can do damage to the substation that provides an opportunity to prevent incalculable losses to vital infrastructure and human life.

Smart thermal cameras provide the added benefit of visual evidence of a breach without need for additional verification systems, further reducing response time.

Auto-steer PTZ Cameras. PTZ cameras are often used to watch outdoor areas, but when applied to large areas, trying to use a PTZ camera’s narrow view to find targets manually almost guarantees that events will go unnoticed. SightSensor smart thermal cameras can be used to automatically direct PTZ cameras to the exact location of an alarm to zoom and follow an intrusion in real-time, allowing security operators to quickly assess the nature of the alarm, and react appropriately.

Layers of Protection. Good security practices will protect both the perimeter and sensitive areas throughout the facility. Smart thermal video is a good tool to protect internal assets where physical or man-made boundaries are unlikely to exist. Adding infrastructure around sensitive areas would be costly and likely impede the flow of business operations. Smart video can be used to create a “buffer zone” around areas of special concern to control access based on time of day or other criteria, mitigating possible sabotage or theft from insiders.

The GPS-based analytics built into SightLogix cameras play an important role here as well. Utilities can create multiple security zones where alerts are only triggered if an intruder is moving in a certain direction that might indicate a threat, such as toward a fence. If that same intruder climbed over the fence and reached the inside yard, another security zone can be created that sends an additional alert for additional protection.

Intelligent Utility Protections for the Leading Power Providers

Utilizing proven substation security systems can greatly reduce vulnerabilities which could lead to a catastrophic failure. That’s the reason facility managers choose SightLogix electrical power substation perimeter security systems to protect critical energy sites throughout North America, Canada, Europe, and the Middle East.

Maintaining the Most Advanced Protections Available

An expertly designed thermal camera system utilizing SightLogix SightSensor NS Series, or SightSensor TC Series provides highly accurate detection of unwanted visitors. Every system is purpose-engineered for outdoor security performance that goes beyond the industry standard, deliver real-time automated awareness for a fast and precise intervention. The systems are easy to install, set up, and maintain. Each system is built to withstand the tough climates and conditions, no matter the location of the substation facility.

Trusted Solutions

There are few factors more important than trust when it comes to securing critical systems and infrastructure. SightLogix provides trusted technology systems which have proven themselves at utilities time and again, and we’re proud that others in the businesses of protecting the world’s most vital assets agree that our comprehensive, uniquely designed thermal camera system is a solution they can count on.

Read our commonsense guide to protecting electrical substations here:

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