Security efforts are now defined to protect critical infrastructure
- By Reinier Tuinzing
- Dec 01, 2015
Traditionally, electrical substation security was aimed only at preventing
access to stop vandalism and improve safety. Today, however,
security efforts have been redefined to address new threats in order
to protect critical infrastructure. Substations are a critical element in
the distribution of high-voltage electrical networks, and any disruption
can have a severe negative impact on society.
With these new threats have come new government mandates that drive more
security implementations. Fortunately, there are technologies available that can
assist utilities in their compliance with the new requirements.
Today, utilities must address threats from multiple areas: theft, cyber terrorism
and destructive attacks. For example, the higher price of copper has escalated
many instances of stealing wires, pipes and tubing over recent years.
While in the past the electrical grid operated with concepts and mechanisms
that relied on physical or manual resources, modern systems have become a technological,
interoperating network of control and data acquisition. Electrical
generation, a foundation of modern convenience that contributes significantly
to higher quality of daily life, has grown to become a critical component of practical
and economic stability—and therefore a major focus in national security,
vulnerable to acts of terrorism. The challenges can be daunting.
BACKGROUND: REQUIREMENTS AND MANDATES
Following the Northeast Blackout of 1965, the original North American Electrical
Reliability Council was formed in 1968 by the Department of Energy to promote
power transmission system reliability in the electrical utility systems of North
America, as well as to provide guideline policies for their operation and accreditation.
The North America Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) succeeded the
original Council in 2006 to revise the policies into enforceable standards in the
United States and in some Canadian provinces.
NERC provides standards for implementing physical security at critical substations
to protect personnel, prevent unauthorized access, and provide situational
awareness for timely response and notification should circumstances
dictate. NERC also manages a Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) program
overseeing preparedness and response to serious incidents involving critical infrastructure.
The CIP program originated in 1998 and was updated in 2003. It was
designed to recognize that some critical infrastructure that is so vital, that the
incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security, national economic security, national public health or safety.
THE ZONE APPROACH TO SECURING CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
The best way to approach modern physical security installations for electrical
generation and substations is to conceptualize the facility as having different
zones. Different technologies can be applied for each zone, which are then tied
together through an integrated network with video verification.
The zone descriptions and associated technologies follow:
Dividing the property into different zones allows a security operator to utilize different
detection components for each zone. The importance here is to develop a
system based on an open platform technology that is designed to interconnect different
components from a variety of vendors. No one vendor has all the pieces to
the puzzle, so it is smart to be future-ready for new capabilities that are constantly
coming on the market.
Depending on the property’s remoteness and critical importance, an operator
may want different levels of physical security detection for different sites:
DETECTING APPROACHES TO THE FACILITY
Long distances: To detect approaching personnel or vehicles at a long distance
from the perimeter boundary (see Zone 0 – Down Range), compact, land-based
radar systems combined with ground sensors could be used. These devices preventively
notify the security operations center that a down-range object has been
detected and can automatically direct IP video cameras to the location.
Within 100 meters: Closer to the perimeter boundary (see Zone 1 – near perimeter),
detection technology such as thermal IP cameras, laser scanners for high
contrast scenes, and IP surveillance cameras with or without embedded video analytics
can be used to identify intrusions.
Thermal cameras are used to detect heat registration day or night. They can
detect a couple degrees of variation from the background.
Laser scanners can detect movement day or night, with pinpoint directional
control. Their real strength is in high-contrast situations, such as direct sunlight
or sunlight reflections off water. The detection then directs PTZ cameras to the
IP surveillance cameras, whether PTZ or 360-degree digital PTZ, are easy to
install. Camera coverage can be linked with sensors in other zones, and the video
can be displayed on smartphone devices for remote and roving access.
Physical and virtual fences: The Zone 2 – Perimeter Line can be an actual fence or
a virtual fence with lasers and ground sensors. For physical fences, there are a variety
of sensor technologies, including fiber-optic cabling. The sensors can be tuned to detect
vibrations from any sort of tampering with the fence material. This provides critical
protection when combined with ground sensors that can detect digging activity.
Inside the fence: Passive infrared sensors use infrared light to detect object
movement (see Zone 3 – Inside Perimeter Line). When combined with IP cameras
and video analytics, this provides a complete set of detection tools.
Protecting infrastructure: If an intruder manages to get inside the compound
(see Zone 4 – site infrastructure), there are two factors to consider: access to the
building via secured doors and protection of the building exterior roof and windows.
Door access should be protected with an access control system linked to the
video system. Access control should include proper card enrollment, with security
staff monitoring door/gate access to determine if unauthorized personnel are entering
The right substation security system will support interoperability between automatic
sensor detection systems and verification with video surveillance systems
that notify operators before an intrusion occurs. No one vendor can supply all the
pieces to the puzzle, so the important factor is to ensure flexibility in the technology
design. Be sure to choose a security system based on a video
software management platform with open architecture in order
to allow the exchange of information in real time between all the
components for a systematic approach to detection, notification
This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Security Today.