Utilizing Technology

By using integrated systems and into tapping the latest technologies, Laurens Electric protects itself from new threats

LAURENS Electric is a member-owned rural electric cooperative in upstate South Carolina. Founded in 1939, the co-op provides service to more than 50,000 residential, commercial and industrial consumers in Laurens, Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson, Abbeville, Newberry and Union counties.

The cooperative strives to be the provider of choice for energy and related services. Part of its core mission is to provide excellent service through quality products. Not only does the co-op sell electricity, but it also sells a variety of services and products, including commercial and residential security systems.

Like other U.S. utility companies, Laurens Electric needed to increase security its offices in response to the changing security climate. Guidelines issued by trade groups and the government now recommend, at a minimum, that utilities install security systems with alarms and cameras at all entrances and exits; that employees wear identification badges at all times; and that there be locks on all gates, doors, buildings, electrical panels and control panels.

Many states also now require detailed security plans for public utility companies. Physical security plans are designed to safeguard personnel, property and information. Plans typically include a facility protection program, incorporating fences and surveillance cameras, and company procedures to follow based on changing threat conditions or situations.

In order to achieve greater physical security, Laurens Electric chose GE's Topaz access control system, which integrates access control with video surveillance, alarm monitoring and photo ID badging. Using a browser-based interface, Topaz handles systems with up to 128 readers. Up to 16 cameras can be connected to each of eight DVMRe Triplex series recorders on the Topaz network for a viewing universe of 128 locations.

The control panel contains an on-board, high-speed LAN/WAN connection, in addition to RS-485, RS-232 and dial-up connections. Once activated, the auto configuration detects RT panels, input/output modules and dial-up modems on the system.

The co-op comprises 165 employees who work out of a headquarters office, three branch offices, an operations center and a monitoring center, which are spread throughout South Carolina. All of these offices are protected by the Topaz access control system, which is integrated into the video surveillance system and runs on the internal network. Offices are networked so that the access control system can be managed both at the corporate headquarters in Laurens and also onsite at each office.

Integration Creates Better Security
The access control system is integrated into the utility's video surveillance system, which includes GE cameras and DVMRes. This allows personnel to monitor each office from any location and see what activity is occurring. The system also can send out alarms.

A combination of static and PTZ cameras are integrated into the access control system at each office, including the gates controlling access to parking areas. The cameras monitor incoming and outgoing traffic at all sites. When someone comes in and engages a door or the gate, the PTZ camera automatically goes to that location, giving a visual of when those locks were activated.

At the operations center, 28 cameras keep an eye on activity. The Laurens corporate headquarters has 18 cameras, the Maldin branch office has 13, and the Joanne and Woodruff offices each have four. The Laurens monitoring center has eight cameras installed on the system. Four-, nine- and 16-camera DVMRes are used, depending on the number of cameras at each location.

Integrated video means that video events are tied to access events for easy retrieval. And with the Triplex capability of the DVMRes, when an access point has been breached, the system continues to record while the monitoring center reviews playbacks of the breach and continues to watch the breached area.

Biometric HandKeys Help Secure Nuclear Generating Station

Biometric hand geometry readers have been a high-security mainstay of the U.S. nuclear plant industry for many years. In fact, they are used at 97 of 103 U.S. facilities. But they also are used beyond the American border.

For instance, in Canada, Hydro-Quebec's Gentilly-2 nuclear generating station enforces security, physically restricting non-qualified, non-trained personnel from hazardous zones, and implementing a log of personnel and visitors' comings and goings with Schlage HandKey hand geometry readers. HandKey readers, which positively authenticate users by the shape and size of their hands, are used at entrance turnstiles, exit turnstiles and boundaries of administration/production radiological zones.

"Every employee -- even the chairman of Hydro-Quebec himself -- as well as visitors to the facility, has to enroll on the HandKey to be admitted to the site," said Louis Rivard, IT systems designer at the Gentilly-2 station. "We chose hand geometry for its ease of use, reliability and high accuracy. Also, versus making our people have to give their fingerprints or being forced to have retinal scans, the hand geometry approach was the easiest to introduce. In fact, at implementation, the employee response was excellent."

Rivard said the Canadian jurisdictional authority in nuclear matters was very satisfied with Gentilly-2's initiative to improve its security with such a technological approach. The generating station was able to provide better compliance, easing the renewal of its operations permit.

"We are now in a pre-project to upgrade our system," Rivard said. "Hand geometry will remain our major biometric approach to authenticate people."

Using Topaz, schedule doors and gates are scheduled to open and close at predetermined times. Delayed alarm reporting and monitoring provide adjustable entry and exit delays that let the system act as both an access control and intrusion detection panel. Access to all sites is controlled at the main corporate office.

Laurens Electric uses HID proximity cards and readers for access to most doors and gates, and combination locks for other access points. Employee photo identification cards double as access control credentials and are required to be worn at all times.

Credential activation is automated in Topaz. Its controllers support magnetic-stripe, Wiegand, barium ferrite, bar-code, proximity, biometric and smart card technologies. The cards are instantly activated via a quick start menu.

The Topaz server also operates as a fully functional workstation. Up to four extra workstations can be added to the system. Both the server and the workstations include interactive maps with onscreen video call-up, PTZ control, and report and event printing. Multiple workstations allow personnel to manage access from the operations center, from the corporate office or from any office where a workstation is installed.

The utility's human resources department uses the system, as well. The department handles the administrative aspects of the access control system, including adding and deleting new users. When employees are terminated, they are immediately deleted from the access control system by the HR department. In addition, the HR department monitors each site using the system.

The system's reporting tools also have been useful for managers at Laurens Electric. They are able to see exactly who has been coming and going, and pull up events by date and time.

For heightened security, every employee and visitor carries a photo identification card that is created on site at each location. The cards are created with the access control system using a digital camera and MagicCard printer. Photo ID badging and report generation with pre-configured and custom reports are part of the Topaz package. The software includes a badge design and drawing package with multi-layer design tools, drag-and-drop capabilities and a full editing function. The digital photo capture tool provides image manipulation capabilities. Multiple-frame capture means that subjects can choose the best shot from several photos. Photos also can be imported from remote video cameras and digital still cameras.

When visitors come into the office, they are issued temporary visitor badges. Visitors come into the main lobby, sign-in on a sheet and receive a visitor badge. The person they are coming to see comes to the main lobby and, later, escorts them back to the main lobby.

Selling Electricity -- And Security
Not only does Laurens Electric use the Topaz access control system itself, but it sells the system to other businesses, as well. The electricity co-op has a diversified business portfolio that includes such things as HVAC repair, surge protection, underground locating, and a full line of residential and commercial security systems. Laurens Electric is licensed to sell such equipment in North and South Carolina. In addition to its 50,000 electricity customers, Laurens Electric also serves 8,000 security customers.

It has integrated surveillance systems in police stations and city hall departments at municipalities in the area, as well as in some major manufacturing firms. With a range of customization tools -- from color graphics and custom reports, to predefined password templates, time schedules and access groups -- dealers like Laurens Electric can create easy-to-use systems for their customers. About 75 percent of security sales are residential; the other 25 percent is commercial.

Laurens Electric sells the Concord line of residential security systems from GE, as well as peripheral devices such as hardwired and wireless. The co-op also leases GE's CareGard personal emergency response system, which uses a panic button so that homebound individuals can let someone know if they need help. Laurens monitors the CareGard and residential alarm systems -- along with its own alarms -- from a central station that is a subsidiary of Laurens Electric. Center personnel also handle alarms for approximately 21 other dealers.

Integration is the Answer
Integrated systems are setting the standard in these security-conscious times. You are in danger of falling behind on the security curve if your video system is not communicating with your access control system, and you can't control it all from both a central location and remotely. As many have discovered, selling such integrated security systems, and offering monitoring services for them, can be a boon for utilities, as well.


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