Power Protection: The Electrical Substation Security Checklist
Power generation is on the rise across the United States. As noted by U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), more than 4 trillionkilowatt-hourswere produced nationwide last year. There’s no sign of slowdown either, given the increasingly high demand for electricity to power always-connected networks, mobile devices, and smart homes.
The result? Electrical substation security is rapidly becoming a critical concern for IT directors and property managers alike; if digital or physical threats impact the ability of the substation to regulate or transmit power, the consequences could be severe. Here’s a substation security checklist to help improve oversight and reduce total risk.
Assess Your Risk
Before implementing effective security protocols and policies, you need to identify potential power threats. Start with an in-house assessment to discover any infrastructure or IT vulnerabilities — for example, newer SCADA systems may include some internet-facing services, while physical security issues such as poor sight lines or burnt-out lightbulbs could increase the likelihood of criminal activity.
It’s also important to consider threats that may not specifically target power distribution but could still have a significant impact. For example, break-ins that result in theft or vandalism to computer equipment could impact power transmission or take down substations for extended periods of time. Weather is also problematic. If your substation isn’t equipped with backup power generation for physical components and cloud storage for digital services, severe storms could bring down power city-wide. Last but not least, substation management must be prepared for more mundane threats such as car crashes. Consider a recent case in Kaysville, Utah, which saw a driver smash into the main power pole and take down two substations, in turn shutting down power city-wide for two days. Initial assessments both identify threats and help management implement effective response policies.
Actual Footage of a Substation Intruder
Take Preventive Action
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the truism is certainly applicable to substations. By detecting threats before they happen — or when they’ve just begun to increase risk — substation staff can reduce both the immediate impact and long-term problems.
Start by updating security protocols and policies. Ensure that only authorized personnel are on-site and only when they have reason to be there. Make sure you implement a system that tracks the arrival and departure of all employees and update policies to reflect specific penalties for leaving the station unattended or bringing unauthorized personnel on-site. Next, implement effective perimeter security. This means using high-definition, Wi-Fi-enabled cameras that can be placed anywhere to provide a 24/7 view of the substation. Combine this with virtual guard services — trained security personnel monitor substations using existing cameras and audio systems to ward off intruders and contact emergency services as required. This is ideal for substations that don’t have on-site personnel 24/7 and can also help reduce utility provider spending since well-trained virtual security guards can limit risk while limiting overhead.
Detect Emerging Threats
Knowledge is power. Consider recent data from the American Public Power Association, which found that squirrels and other wildlife are the most common cause of outages. Without high-quality thermal cameras and a video monitoring service, it’s easy for property managers to mistake accidental squirrel interference as targeted attacks, increasing the time between detection and remediation. Leveraging the right detection technology gives substation personnel the knowledge they need in real time.
Or consider the risk of cyber attacks: In 2016, hackers breached 30 Ukrainian substations and left more than 200,000 citizens with no power. Cutting-edge antivirus and anti-malware tools must be used to detect and deflect incoming attacks.
Recover and Restore
What happens when something goes wrong? Since no system is foolproof, it’s a good idea to draft (and regularly review) contingency plans. These plans should detail exactly what happens in case of emergency, what failover protocols are in place and lay out procedures to get power back online. Training drills are also essential. At least twice a year, run drills with staff to ensure they know what to do, who to call and how to respond in the event of an outage. Mutual assistance networks are also beneficial since all utility providers benefit from sharing hard-won expertise.
Keeping the Lights On
Substation security is critical to keep the lights on and limit power disruption. Reducing the risk of potential problems means assessing current risk, implementing effective prevention strategies, empowering detection tools and teaching staff how to recover and restore essential systems.
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