Protection Beyond Fences
Early warning detection and identification of threats inside and outside the fence line
- By Rodrick Cross
- Feb 01, 2015
Physical protection of electrical substations is much more critical
than simply guarding against copper theft. Recent terrorist attacks
on substations and the potential for simultaneous attacks across
the United States put the entire country at serious risk for major
power interruption. Detection devices such as fence sensors, thermal
cameras, microwave and passive infrared (PIR) motion sensors all provide
some warning against such attacks but are limited in the ability to detect threats
outside the fence line.
For power utility substations, compact surveillance radar (CSR), integrated
with PTZ cameras, provides early warning detection and identification of threats
both inside and outside the fence line. This is achieved at a price point comparable
to fence only solutions and is feasible for electrical utilities.
On April 16, 2013, terrorists attacked a substation near San Jose Calif. A Wall
Street Journal article covering the event explained:
“Snipers opened fire on the substation for 10 minutes before a plant operator
heard the sound and called 911. The attack continued for another 10 minutes before
the attackers slipped into the night, just before police arrived but not before 17 giant
transformers were knocked out.”
A recent report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission captures the
gravity of this and potentially future events like this:
“Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and
the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.”
Until this attack occurred, physical substation security was focused almost exclusively
on fence line detection and security of the control house. This attack revealed a critical weakness in this approach as the attackers never entered the substation, but simply shot at transformers from outside the fence as seen in Figure 1.
Thus, the attackers were never detected by any of the existing security equipment.
The sparks caused by the fence being repeatedly hit triggered the alarm 10 minutes
into the shooting. It is evident that outside-the-fence detection and event recording
is required to reliably detect and record an attack on a substation.
The Shield System Advantage
A shield system provides reliable outside-the-fence detection and recording of
such events. It is a robotic perimeter security system that features CSR integrated
with a PTZ Camera (either EO/IR or thermal). The two are integrated through
NetworkedIO, a powerful integration platform that applies behavioral filters and
automatically slews cameras to the target being tracked by the CSRs. NetworkedIO
also allows the user to set parameters to alert operators only when there is
activity they are concerned about.
Turnkey shield systems easily integrate into existing security systems as well as
operate as standalone systems. Shield systems detect moving people and vehicles
over wide areas, cue cameras directly to the intruder, notify an operator of the
intrusion in real time, record it and then respond automatically to a threat. In this
fashion, Shield provides Robotic perimeter surveillance and deterrence.
There are four levels of Shield packages designed for short, medium, long range
and mobile applications.
Among other capabilities, Shield includes automatic, outside-the-fence threat
detection with slew-to-cue integration, it is effective operation in rain, snow, sleet,
fog, dust and at extreme temperatures and there are lower false alarm rates.
The Shield system adds particular value around large remote substations
where detection of an intruder prior to entering the perimeter is critical. In the
attack outlined earlier, fence line detectors or cameras looking down the fence
line did not detect the event because the attackers never entered the substation
or touched the fence. Outside-the-fence detection is required to defend against
this type of attack.
Alert zones are configured to alert on any movers that are not on the roads, thus
eliminating alerts on normal road traffic. The cameras are positioned to provide
complete coverage of the entire perimeter cueing off any of the four radars. Each
red ellipse shows the coverage area of one CSR. This configuration provides complete
outside-the-fence coverage of the perimeter out to a minimum of 100 meters
around the entire perimeter plus significant coverage inside the fence line.
A NetworkedIO device is able to network multiple shield systems and cameras
together via any type of TCP/IP network back to an operation center or
The cost of a complete system including all four Shield stations is comparable
to the cost of purchase and installation of a fiber based fence detection system for
a 3000 feet perimeter. The Shield system would provide complete detection, tracking,
recording and alerting of intruders in and around the substation. Recording
would only be triggered by events of interest, significantly reducing the amount of
space needed to record and time required to review events.
Shield stations are modular in design allowing for site specific layouts and
configurations, some of the common devices tied to the Shield are one or more
CSRs, PTZ cameras with thermal or IR illumination and NetworkedIO integration
Security lights trigger on when intruders are detected and loud speakers activate
on an intruders’ detection.
One electrical utility company used the Shield System in a yard surrounded by
a chain link fence. The yard housed valuable assets and was surrounded by a
fence with fiber based vibration detection installed on it. The fiber alarm was
frequently set off by trains passing by on the nearby tracks resulting in dozens
of daily nuisance alarms.
To resolve the issue a SpotterRF C40 was mounted inside the plant fence line
pointed out over the yard and a SpotterRF NetworkedIO CC8A was installed on
the same network in a different location. Two alert zones were drawn; one covering
the yard with the other covering the interior of the plant itself and filters were
applied to minimize nuisance alarms.
The result was that no more alerts were caused by the trains and the utility was
able to track intruder movements throughout the yard with cameras cued directly
to their locations. Additionally, they had interior coverage to their plant which
they did not have with the fiber on the fence.
The advantage of the Shield, for this customer, was a perimeter security solution
that was deployed in a few hours, required no trenching, eliminated nuisance
alarms caused by trains passing by, and coverage provided inside and outside the
fence line from all-weather threat detection with automatic camera cueing.
Electrical Substation Security is critical to the security of any nation. As we
have learned from recent terrorist attacks on substations, to effectively secure a
substation requires more than just detection of unauthorized entry. It requires
detection and protection beyond fences. Proven in military and critical infrastructure
environments by companies such as Exxon, Honeywell, and
SAIC the SpotterRF Shield System provides the most cost-effective
means of providing early warning in remote medium to large
This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Security Today.
Rodrick Cross is the director of engineering sales and marketing at SpotterRF.