Why Attacks on the Power Grid Demonstrate the Need for Substation Security Systems

An intentional or accidental attack on a substation can have severe and immediate consequences. Power outages disrupt our critical infrastructures. Hospitals, water treatment, and other less essential services can grind to a halt.

A recent series of physical attacks on power grid substations across America caused substantial, lengthy, and costly power outages. This blog explores what happened and why video surveillance at substations is critical to power grid security.

Deliberate Substation Attacks Illustrate Power Grid Security Vulnerabilities

Between October and December 2022, four states experienced severe threats to their power grid security. There were six attacks on power substations in Oregon and Washington state. Substation attacks followed in North and South Carolina. During the most recent events, one or several people used firearms to attack two Duke Energy substations.

Energy Wire reports, “While vandalism and theft of materials like copper at substations are common, damage due to firearms is rare.” 

What is a Power Grid Substation, and Why Are They So Important?

There are more than 55,000 power grid substations in the U.S. Each plays a critical role in the transmission of energy to millions of end-users. A power grid substation works in three ways:

  • It receives high-voltage electricity from a transmission line.

  • It transforms the voltage into a lower level for homes and businesses.

  • It distributes controlled, safe electricity to end-users.

  • It protects against power outages by regulating distribution.

Substations also play an essential role in connecting power generation sources into the grid.

An intentional or accidental attack on a substation can have severe and immediate consequences. Power outages disrupt our critical infrastructures. Hospitals, water treatment, and other less essential services can grind to a halt. For these reasons, substation security is critically important to the overall safety of the entire power grid.

In the case of the North and South Carolina attacks, tens of thousands of people were without power, and schools and businesses were closed for several days. Repairing the damage to the substation ran into the millions of dollars. 

Beyond asking why the attack occurred, authorities are taking a closer look at substation security. What security measures protect the substation infrastructure?

Substation Security is Power Grid Security

Substations are critical infrastructures intrinsic to the transmission of power. They’re also an increasing target for criminals. To protect against these threats, substations should include several security measures in place, including:

  • Physical barriers, such as gates and fences to prevent unauthorized access.

  • Sensors and alarms to alert authorities to any attempted perimeter breach.

  • Security cameras with live and recorded video surveillance.

  • Cybersecurity to protect against online threats to computer software and hardware.

Security Magazine says, “Like the substations in NC, substations are often in rural areas surrounded by a chain-link fence providing minimal protection.”

Few security substations have a 24/7 human presence to monitor the site. With more than 55,000 of these locations, providing this kind of onsite protection is almost impossible. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to watch these locations. Video surveillance with live feeds and virtual security guards use innovative technology to provide better power grid security. Here’s how that works.

How Can Video Surveillance Help with Substation Security?

Substation Security

Video surveillance could be the tool we need for better substation security. Security cameras can:

  • Deter criminals who may be targeting the substation.

  • Detect and alert authorities to incidents as they happen.

  • Identify the perpetrators of a criminal act.

  • Provide a continuous record of activity at the substation.

  • Improve the effectiveness of police response.

Some key solutions for video surveillance substation security include:

  • Wireless video surveillance that connects to the internet via the cellular network. These units can be solar-powered and hardened to withstand severe weather, and can provide real-time monitoring of a substation. They can even trigger alerts if a human breaches a perimeter fence.

  • AI-powered video surveillance tools can lessen false alarms. Many substations are in remote locations. Operators want security to be alerted about human trespassers, but not a wandering squirrel. The solution is “smart” cameras powered by AI. If a trespasser crosses a boundary, the camera can send an alert to a security guard over the internet.

  • Night vision cameras can use infrared or other low light enhancements to see even in very dark environments.

  • Virtual guards can monitor video cameras from a remote location. They can use the onsite security camera to pan in or use audio to speak to someone onsite. Even better, they provide the 24/7/365 watchfulness necessary to protect substations.

  • Audio and visual deterrents such as flashing lights or a loud recorded message could scare away vandals.

  • Integrations with existing alarm systems create a more coordinated security response.

  • Remote system monitoring ensures high uptime and makes sure that cameras will work when you need them.

The Department of Homeland Security has issued warnings about the vulnerability of our power grid for some time. These latest attacks illustrate the immediate need for better substation security. CNN says, “The challenge is most of these places are outdoors, most are in remote areas.” These latest attacks left 40,000 North Carolina customers without power for days. 

Yet we have the technology right now to improve power grid security.

Video surveillance is a valuable set of tools for enhancing substation security. They can deter crime from happening. Security cameras provide a visual record of activity but also allow you to respond in real time. These cameras can connect with a live remote security guard who can respond 24/7/365.

Pro-Vigil has been a leader in 24/7 substation security long before criminals aimed their guns at these facilities. Talk to us today to learn more about our security solutions. 


What is a power grid substation?

A power grid substation distributes and transmits electricity across the power line infrastructure to homes and businesses. Substations transform and manage voltage levels, switch electrical circuits, and protect end-users from dangerous power surges.

How can video surveillance help substation security?

Video surveillance helps proactively deter criminals from harming electrical substations. Video surveillance can help prevent unauthorized access to substations and their valuable infrastructures when used with other physical security measures.

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