A Sound Solution for Utility Security

Utility companies are beefing up their physical security, a first line of defense. Two security technologies that facilities managers should consider implementing to enhance their current solutions are audio monitoring and audio analytics.

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Protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure has never been more necessary. Utility companies around the country are responding and taking the appropriate steps toward beefing up their physical security, a major first line of defense. Two security technologies that facilities managers should consider implementing to enhance their current solutions are audio monitoring and audio analytics.

As the demand for proactive security measures continues to increase, so does the need for intelligent security solutions. Audio analytics offers a wide range of sensitivities, features and applications by analyzing and identifying audio events through advanced algorithms, similar to the way the human ear processes sound. By using solutions such as audio capture, monitoring and audio analytics, utilities can arm themselves with early threat detection, providing a more proactive approach. While there is no completely fail-safe way to make a facility invulnerable to premeditated malicious strikes or internal system malfunctioning, it is strongly advised that utility managers consider the following five ways a power station can benefit from the application of audio monitoring and audio analytics.

Additional Evidence
Integrating microphones into perimeter cameras allows for the capture of additional information including, but not limited to, suspects names, voices and even accents. If two perpetrators are congregating outside a facility’s fence planning an offense, control room personnel can listen to their conversation and take preventative measures to thwart the proposed attack. In addition, the aforementioned intelligence of suspect names and voices can be key in obtaining a conviction in the courtroom after an incident has occurred—both of which are valuable assets that CCTV cameras alone couldn’t provide.

Enhanced Detection
Reactive security is no longer an option with today’s challenges. Utility managers must now rely on more advanced solutions to proactively assess and respond to a situation. Many are familiar with features such as motion detection and thermal sensors, but equally important is sound detection and analytics. Audio analytics, specifically gunshot, aggression, glass break and alarm detection, have become game changers for high-risk situations—and critical infrastructure facilities have much to gain from using them.

For most utility facilities, a perimeter fence is the first line of defense against potential infiltration. The majority of utility security managers, however, still rely solely on video to protect their outer boundaries. Because video surveillance systems are used to review events after they have occurred, these measures are not enough to maintain security. By integrating audio analytics into an existing security system, however, managers can access the tone of a situation in real-time and take action, possibly preventing an incident before it occurs. In the short and long run, preventing incidents is far less costly than investigating a breach or paying for subsequent damages.

Shortened Response Time
New sound sensors such as gunshot, aggression, glass-break and alarm detection have the capacity to send immediate notifications to law enforcement and first responders as soon as a specific acoustic event is detected. In fact, some systems offer the ability to remotely access and control CCTV camera functions and viewing angles. For situations such as the April 16, 2013, event that took place at the Metcalf Sub-Transmission Electric Distribution facility in San Jose, California, gunmen fired on 17 electrical transformers, causing more than $15 million in damage and threatening the main power supply of thousands. Gunshot detection would have been of particular value. Had a gunshot detector been installed at this location, security forces could have pivoted cameras towards the sound source to capture the event in real-time, providing more information to first responders and possibly saving the utility a large amount of money.

Real-time Dialogue
A two-way, hands free audio solution (Talk/Listen/Outdoor), when integrated with an existing camera, allows operators to notify trespassers they are being monitored. The real-time dialogue acts as a powerful deterrent and is often enough to discourage suspects from engaging in elicit activities. It also reduces the need to send security guards to remote areas, greatly increasing overall efficiency. If an individual is trespassing on private property, for example, security personnel can either make direct contact or set an automatic message to play, such as, “You are being recorded. Leave the property immediately. The first responders are on their way.” With their cover blown and plan foiled, the perpetrator has no choice but to either flee or surrender to authorities—both of which end with the facility being unharmed.

Operational Efficiency
In addition to increasing security, microphones also provide the ability to monitor equipment to ensure it is functioning properly. By installing a sound activated switch, designed for audio applications where monitoring needs only be triggered once a predetermined amplitude threshold has been exceeded, utility managers can observe machines that aren’t functioning properly, breaking down or alarming based on a preset level of decibel output. Any microphone can be used to remotely listen in.

Following the release of a news source article explaining what occurred at PG&E’s Metcalf facility, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) began requiring enhanced security for any substation “that if rendered inoperable or damaged could result in widespread instability.” Which substations this new rule applies to, however, depends on the energy demands of a facility’s particular region, which is subject to change based on variables such as time of year and current weather conditions. For those the standard applies to, controlling power companies will be asked to create an upgraded defense plan and have it approved by an independent security expert.

Fortunately for utility managers across the country, the Public Utility Commission (PUC), an entity created to “balance the needs of consumers and utilities,” has the ability to grant utilities up to 0.3 percent of gross intrastate revenue to cover these costs—making the required security enhancements a feasible task. According to the PUC’s public website, “the budget for Fiscal Year 2016-17 is $71,947,000 in state funds and $2,681,000 in federal funds, for a total of $74,628,000.”

Any shutdown of our nations critical infrastructure could mean unprecedented difficulties for individuals across the country, making it imperative for facility security managers to continue researching new, innovative methods of increasing overall protection. With the advances in audio monitoring technology exponentially growing each year, there is no better way to upgrade your security system.

About the author: Richard Brent is CEO of Louroe Electronics and a Security Industry Association board member.

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