Substation Security Tips

Electrical substations power most of the work we do and the utilities we rely on.

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Electrical substations power most of the work we do and the utilities we rely on. Whether it's because our clients and potential clients never see or think about them, or because we put less thought into safeguarding the safeguards, substations are important mechanisms that, when left unprotected, leave homes, businesses and even entire cities vulnerable.

A substation can be as large as a city block or as small as a toolbox. It can be located in a residential community, urban area or remote rural location. Specific protective measures, therefore, are rarely applicable across the board. Managers of all types of substations, however, must analyze the broad threats to their system and determine how to best safeguard against them. Those threats generally fall into one of three categories: natural, human-initiated, and wear and tear. This article will inform you of what threats you should be aware when ensuring your electrical substation is prepared for all potential security threats.

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Natural threats are the most difficult to predict and prevent. Extreme weather conditions, fires and animals are threats that could strike at any time. These threats are serious, but because they are unpredictable doesn't mean there aren't pre-emptive measures that can be taken to minimize potential damage.

Every part of the country faces unique weather threats. If your substation is located near water and/or experiences heavy rain, consider building high, weather resistant walls around critical structures. Hurricane windows, the same kind used to protect homes in high-risk areas, must be employed if severe wind or precipitation is even a remote threat. Minimum security system requirements will be discussed later, but the system you use must monitor weather and inform you when extreme heat or extreme cold threatens the substation's ability to maintain standard operations. In addition, ensure wireless smoke detectors are installed and fully functioning.

Animal intrusion also must be considered. The commonly-held belief is that this threatens only rural and remotely-located substations. While it is true the preventative measures that must be taken vary based on location, anti-animal measures must be implemented regardless of location. In rural areas, large fences-sometimes the same ones used to protect against weather-are an effective way of keeping out large animals such as deer and bears. In urban areas, installing a fence that also reaches a few feet underground will help keep out rodents, such as moles and squirrels.

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Regardless of where your substation is located, the smallest insects can cause the biggest problems. Because of doors and windows, no physical barrier will ever be able to keep them completely out; the same kinds of flytraps that are often used in homes can be used. It is important, however, to be aware of local noise ordinances if purchasing a model that makes the zapping noise. Poison can also be used, but be certain the chemicals will not have adverse effects on the substation's operations.

Human Interference

Intentional or otherwise, people remain a threat to even the best plan. From petty theft to terrorism to simple human error, there are countless ways humans can interfere with your substation. According to Cigre, 88 percent of substations experience at least one break-in every year. Ten percent see more than 20 intrusions in the same time frame. Although many of these break-ins do not end with stolen or destroyed property, they are a substantial threat to a substation's operations.

Regardless of an intruder's intentions, there are available mechanisms to prevent and react to all unwelcome visitors. There should be no room for confusion. Large, barbed wire fences and simple signage that warn of a security system and threaten intruders with police action will probably discourage loiterers from entering. If more motivated criminals attempt to break in, the security system is the first and most important line of defense. Motion detectors and security camera systems will immediately alert security personnel of all unauthorized events. If an intruder does take expensive equipment, it is important to have a trusted insurance company ready to help replace it. In an effort to ensure all preventative measures are taken, your insurance company will urge you to consider limiting access to the substation to authorized personnel by using digital keycards instead of traditional keys, which can easily be forged by petty criminals.

In addition, it is the substation manager's responsibility to maintain organized records. By making sure someone is monitoring video surveillance at all times and there are no lapses when the management company makes internal changes, most serious crime will be stopped before it starts.

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Wear and Tear

Although inevitable, it is important to prepare for problems that will arise with old age. Hiring a trusted, substation-specific maintenance company to perform bi-annual audits of your facility will help identify problems before they threaten the substation's functionality; a good time is during seasonal changes. These services can be expensive, but they will save money long term by finding problems before they become too expensive. The insurance companies and substation managers share an interest in keeping everything running as it should, so, if you are unsure of where to find a reputable and local maintenance company, consider asking your insurance provider for suggestions.

Because of variables such as location and facility type, no two electrical substations are the same. As a result, the preventative action that must be taken to protect them varies. The lingering threats of natural, human-initiated and wear and tear related security issues, however, must be taken seriously by operators of all substation types.

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