Baffling the Thieves

For good security, prevention is better than cure.

Baffling The Thieves

For good security, prevention is better than cure.

By Paul Hull

Many devices are available to monitor utility structures, whether they are office buildings or remote stations, large complexes or small installations. All utility structures contain valuable equipment, and they should be protected against intruders and thieves; remember that not every intruder is a thief, but sometimes a person or animal bent on causing damage.

No matter how sophisticated the monitoring devices, there is still a simple, underlying principle that should be observed. The best systems and devices are often pointless if the utility staff doesn't care about security. Everyone must believe in the importance of secure equipment and buildings, just as they believe in their own security.

Some security seems simple. Locks have successfully been used longer than any other security device for a wide variety of products, from a birthday bicycle to a bank vault. Check out some of today's lock makers-companies such as CyberLock, Master Lock, Hercules Industries, Brooks Utility Products and Sterling. Locks have been used for centuries, usually deterring the intrusion of people trying to take our products-but not all security threats are caused by people. Some of the most common and costliest damage is done by creatures other than humans. They are not trying to profit and not trying to make an easy living from theft-they are animals and birds looking for places to rest or nest, and some utility locations offer attractive residences.

As we have extended our living spaces, we have decreased the available space for common creatures. Consequently, they are trying to find new, sheltered residential areas, and your substations look attractive, sheltered from the weather, warm and fairly safe from their own intruders. Several methods that rely on scent have deterred animals from nibbling at cable or nesting in boxes, and they have been successful across the continent. An advantage of such methods is that they don't kill the animals-they merely persuade them to go to better-smelling places. These sniffing deterrents are worth trying, especially when they can be placed in locations such as cabinets or equipment boxes. Keeping mice away from boxes, for example, will also keep mice-hunting cats and snakes away.

In January 2012, Utility Products ran an article about Greenjacket that caught my attention. This system involves engineered covers that are a precise fit for equipment risk points in substations, points that are favorite targets for birds and smaller animals. Each system, made by Cantega Technologies, is built for a particular installation. Technicians from Cantega evaluate images and schematics of your existing facilities and develop a budgetary estimate for the solution. The reasoning behind Greenjacket's custom-fit approach is that it eliminates the common root for intrusion by small creatures-gaps in protection where they can enter to build nests or contact energized equipment. It's interesting, too, that the protective covering can be installed on energized equipment with no required downtime or outages.

Baffling The Thieves

TransGard Systems Inc. offers another deterrent to animal intruders, especially those who enter by climbing or crawling through fences. Different states have their own pests-squirrels and raccoons, Cuban tree frogs, marmots and now an increasing number of snakes. TransGard System's patented fencing systems give a humane shock to any animal trying to climb the fence-discouraging entry and return visits. You can even get snake panels that keep away snakes as small as one-fourth inch in diameter. More than a decade of use by more than 2,000 substations in North America has shown the effectiveness of TransGard fencing.

Responding to the Alerts

A powerful point made by one person experienced in building and equipment security is: "When you get an alert, respond as soon as possible. You wouldn't expect people to ignore warnings, would you? But they do. If your utility has spent thousands of dollars on security systems for remote substations, it seems almost criminal to avoid responding to alerts in a prompt, effective manner. Your response may differ with the type of intrusion, whether it's a natural invader or a malicious one. Perhaps the most important response is the way you get the substation or other endangered property back to its normal operational standard, remembering that downtime at your substation can affect a much larger number of customers than seems likely from such a remote location."

As intrusion detection systems become more sophisticated, the importance of knowing how to respond becomes more relevant, too. The days when you could send a vehicle to the remote location are generally over. That response is usually too slow, too expensive and too time-wasting. There are many substations that are beyond a one-half hour drive for the local operators or repairmen, so a wasted response is irresponsibly expensive. What kind of monitoring can you have that is both efficient and easy to respond to? There are many good systems, far too many to describe here. One that has intrigued me, however, comes from Cisco and its partners. Let's take a truly remote type of substation, one for wind power. These substations are miles from local help. ADT Security Services Inc., a Cisco partner, implemented the Cisco Physical Security solution at the wind power company's headquarters, sales offices and wind farms. There aren't separate systems or networks for the user, which is a major advantage offered by Cisco.

The Cisco Physical Access Control solution controls access to exterior doors, doors at substations, and laboratories where engineers and technicians may do their work late into the night. Doors remain locked unless an authorized employee passes a card in front of a proximity reader. Video surveillance cameras are mounted near doors and in the warehouse areas; apart from obvious surveillance, they can monitor compliance with safety regulations. Cameras with pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) controls monitor the exterior of all buildings; these types of cameras also are mounted on remote area turbines to detect vandalism attempts.

"At one wind farm, two video surveillance cameras with PTZ controls monitor the property from the top of a 250-foot television broadcast tower," said Chris Schwengel with ADT. "A Cisco 881 Integrated Services Router connects the cameras to the network so operators can control them from any location with a browser."

The utility's physical security is simplified with such new technologies. The security personnel at the utility's data access control centers can view real-time and archived video from any location, using the Cisco Video Surveillance Manager. Personnel can also centrally manage the Cisco Physical Access Control systems in each location. The Cisco Physical Security solution is already paying for itself by eliminating travel to manage and monitor the systems, which can include airfare and engineers' time. The quick equipment troubleshooting and reconfiguration over the network minimizes downtime and prevents interruptions in the revenue stream.

Threats and Solutions

As fast as technologies are developed, computer-based solutions to equipment theft will follow. There are, however, simple solutions for simple problems. I've mentioned locks, those age-old solutions that have worked well. Today you can get locks that need to be activated through the Internet and keys for locks that cannot be reproduced. For much larger intruders, such as vehicles, you can get barriers. And, there are many forms of fencing. The strength and style of fencing will depend on your assessment of the value of the equipment to be secured. Some utilities use double fencing, higher-than-usual fencing and even concrete walls to supplement the fencing; the level of protection depends on what is to be protected and how likely-and professional-an attempted intrusion could be.

Lighting also plays an important role. Thieves and intruders like shadows because they offer protection-so the less shadows at your site, the better. If you have neighbors near your site, bright lights can help them identify intruders. Bright lights also make surveillance easier and more accurate. Sound and motion surveillance can create challenges. You can detect activity when an alert is sounded for unauthorized movement at a substation, for example, but it probably requires confirmation from a camera to ensure the intruder has damage or theft on his or her mind and is not just an animal passing by.

I've delayed mentioning the single most dangerous type of thief until the end. That thief might be someone you know, someone who already has knowledge of the security measures-and knows how to disable them. It's an employee. The first and most important step is to check the credentials of anyone you hire, and be sure visiting contractors have done the same. Tell your employees what you are trying to accomplish in security measures, and give them a few hints about what kind of behavior to look for. You're not asking them to spy; you are asking them to protect their own jobs. Why do employees steal? Sometimes it can be discontent with company procedures and a feeling of "getting my own back" for a perceived injustice. Sometimes stealing can be a way to get money to feed a habit too expensive for someone in his or her normal income range. Screen for drug users. Do regular drug checks. You will certainly have fewer job applications from thieves who need the extra money once it's known that you check regularly and thoroughly. Try to do your employee testing as openly and fairly as possible, and explain how any kind of equipment theft can hurt everyone.

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