Electrical substations have been featuring once again in the security industry news.
In the United States, a security study based on Federal energy records has revealed that the US power grid suffers a security attack once every 4 days on average. This presents a huge challenge, not just because of the size of the US grid but because of the complexity of attacks being both cyber and physical in nature – 2 very different problems requiring very different security solutions. It’s also a serious concern because of the potential knock-on effect of a widespread outage – eg. heating systems, air-conditioning systems, medical equipment and traffic lights could fail and commercial and industrial premises be rendered inoperative.
The need for closer scrutiny of this sector was highlighted 2 years ago when, in April 2013, there was a physical attack on an electrical substation outside San Jose, California. Intruders cut underground, fibre-optic communication lines and disabled 17 substation transformers with gunfire. Site damage was estimated at USD 15 million. Fortunately, officials were able to re-route power from nearby plants in the Silicon Valley and prevented a serious outage from occurring. However, so significant was the attack that it has its own dedicated page on Wikipedia.
In the United Kingdom, where our security systems manufacturing facility is based, electrical substations are also a target for crime, not just for vandalism but increasingly for metal theft. In recent years the value of scrap metal has made substations attractive to copper thieves. The consequences of perimeter intrusion of this nature are not, however, always just limited to site repair costs and power outages; there can also be resulting injury and even loss of life.
We became aware of this several years ago when an intruder who attempted to steal copper from a substation in Edinburgh, Scotland was electrocuted and died. After the incident, the substation operators commissioned us to provide a perimeter security system that could protect the site’s electrical components and at the same time increase the chances of any intruder being detected before they risked coming into contact with potentially lethal equipment.
Our Flexiguard™ perimeter intrusion detection system formed the core part of the installation.
Operators of electrical supply lines in the UK keener than ever to get the message across that electrical substation attacks have a much wider impact than people imagine. We have already mentioned site damage and potential injury to the intruder but there’s also the matter of substation personnel being put at risk and environmental damage can result if cables are burned or chemicals released. NOTE: In the San Jose incident mentioned above there was a leakage of 52,000 gallons of oil! Here is an information leaflet about the need for greater public vigilance published by one UK electrical supply operator.
Having mentioned electrical utilities, there are of course others in need of effective perimeter security, such as gas pumping stations and water treatment facilities. That’s something we’ll cover in another article but in the meantime you can read more here about how we have provided solutions for these other sectors.