Foiling the Substation Terrorists

Not all threats have two legs and vehicles

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Utility Products
Not all threats have two legs and vehicles

By Paul Hull, contributing editor

Some of the most successful invaders and vandals in substations have had four legs or more, and some of them could sit comfortably on the palm of your hand. Animals can do costly damage to installations by working their way into small spaces and chewing the components. Bird nests can interfere with switch operation and they also provide food for other intruders like snakes and raccoons. Substations are remote by definition and a constant guard is a difficult challenge, unless... unless your guard is something that deters the animal and birds from getting near the expensive components. Such a guard or sentry has been found and it works, unattended, for a long time. It’s Sniff’n’Stop, an odorant that keeps the marauders away but does no harm to anybody or anything.

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Snakes cause problems, usually when they are searching for food. They crawl into cabinets after mice and even climb metal support structures holding the energized electrical bus to feast on birds’ eggs, often with explosive results. Problems like these prompted a utility in an eastern territory to investigate the practical success of using an odorant to protect substations from wildlife intrusions. One particularly troublesome substation was located in country where much of the area is rough, mountainous and forested, with wildlife in abundance. Among creatures that had found entry were primarily rats, mice, birds, and several varieties of snakes, including rattlers, black snakes and copperheads. One of the utility’s maintenance department linemen told how they used to have snakes that would get into the electrical control cabinets from different points. The intruders came in through the conduits and cable trays, probably coming in after the rodents, their natural prey. Once they got in there they would just perch and lie in wait for whatever came their way. It was as if they set up regular housekeeping for themselves!

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The utility workers found not only live ones but also the skins that had been shed. Previously the workers had tried using sticky traps to catch the rodents that were inside the substation cabinets looking around for interesting booty. When trapped, the rodents would send out distress signals, just what the local hunting snakes had been waiting for. The problems came when the stalking snakes crept in and crawled across the trays in the cabinets to find their prey. The snakes, with their long bodies, cross all the phases. Ouch! Bang! When the entry points were found to be cable tray entrances and conduits, the deterrent sponges were used to protect those entrances for the utility. Since its application, Sniff’n’Stop has kept these predators– you could call them terrorists– out of the substation’s costly components by making them unattractive.

Installation is Simple and Safe

Sniff’n’Stop is not a pesticide. If you like, call it a “green technology”; its odorant is found naturally in cranberries. The odorant has been effective in field applications for more than 10 years and is used in everyday household, industrial, and agricultural products. (Some people say its smell reminds them of a child’s inflatable pool toy or that first opening of a newspaper or magazine hot off the press.) Thermo-plastics and thermo-setting plastics are used in the encapsulation process to give it its time-release properties.

This protective device has three main objectives in order to be successful. It must get the intruders’ attention immediately, before they can do any damage. It must last a good length of time. And, of course, it must be simple to install. ICORP makes and markets the odorant. The fragrance lasts for years at levels that most of its animal targets can detect (but we human beings cannot). The product is available in several forms: coated sponges, enclosure odorant pads, paints, and putties. It is now available in granules that can be spread around the areas that require protection.

For substation cable troughs, the 16” x 24”, double coated sponges, are easily cut to fit in the appropriate field. For ducts, conduits and risers, single-side coated sponges are available that are die cut to fit inside 3” to 6” diameter pipes, and around the cables. Simply insert them in the end of a pipe. With the convenient die cuts, they install in seconds and last there effectively for years.

The newly-developed granules are available for spreading in and around the grounds. They look like kitty litter and fall into the pea gravel, where their odor is released by simple movement of the gravel (such as by snakes crawling across it in search of food). Ask about the time-released enclosure odorant pad, too. That’s available in three sizes. Use the one that suits the sizes of the cabinets or splice boxes to be protected. You can also get ¼# and 1# IPACK putty kits, where you mix two parts from the pack and smear it on the place that needs direct protection from those scratching, biting, chewing little invaders. For larger treatment areas, two-part paint kits are available.

We should emphasize again that this product is safe to handle, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly. While it drives the potentially harmful creatures away from your substation equipment, it does not injure either them or the workers.

Complete Protection

If you were making your office building secure you would not leave one rear entrance or window open just in case somebody authorized wanted to enter and didn’t have a key. It must be the same with substation security. You do everything you can to foil the efforts of human saboteurs. You should do the same for the wildlife invaders.

Birds can provide their own challenges because of the distance from where they stand to their noses! It’s known as the Air Gap Problem. In its extensive research over the years, ICORP found that merely applying a surface coating of Sniff’n’Stop did not deter the nesters. But birds were found to have one behavior trait that helped. Most of them don’t like having anything sticky on their feet. They try to remove it as quickly as possible, and the only tool they have to do this is... the beak. Right by the nose. To take advantage of this bird world habit a sticky Sniff’n’Stop formula was developed, and it remains sticky for years. It has been proven effective with most types of birds and it does no harm to the bird.

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The Sniff’n’Stop odorant protection system has proved it works well against many kinds of wildlife, from long snakes to tiny mice, from woodpeckers to spiders, squirrels to bears. The odorant has been found to be effective at concentrations of 0.2 ppm (a level that human noses cannot detect). Tests have revealed that such concentrations can be maintained at the surface of a thin, film coating for a minimum of six years, and that is even in well-vented areas outside on wooden fences or poles. The manufacturer is constantly working to improve the efficiency of the products. In substation situations where the product has been tested in selected locations, utility workers have discovered that, yes, the odorant works! Some doubting testers, who said the solution was too simple for such an expensive, common problem, have now changed their minds.

Most of the products and equipment I have studied in my journalistic research about new solutions to old problems and new ways to achieve good results for traditional challenges have been both interesting and impressive. I must admit that this simple way to keep the little, non-human terrorists away from damaging our substations has impressed me more than most. It is certainly worth investigation. I believe it may be one of those solutions that really does pay for itself many times over in the damages it saves.

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