Tools for Electrical Substation Security

Building a resilient and redundant security plan starts with hardened barriers and access systems. But integrating video surveillance into the perimeter barrier as well as inside the substation is critical to mitigating the risks we face.
Substation Security

The physical security of electrical substations is coming under increasing scrutiny. There are more than 60,000 utility sub transmission and distribution systems in the U.S. Since these facilities tend to be remote, they are vulnerable to vandalism, theft, terrorism, or other damage. The results of even one incident are costly, and not just in terms of equipment but also in public reputation or even human lives.

Most engineering teams are highly aware of the risks to the architecture that so many Americans rely on. If your responsibility is keeping these facilities secure, you have a lot of ground to cover. 

When it comes to physical electrical substation security, one thing is clear: You must make effective use of all available tools, including technology, to protect your infrastructure. This blog will help you understand the risks and how video surveillance can help.

The Risks of Substation Physical Security

The Risks of Substation Physical Security

The power grid is critical to the functioning of our society. Almost everything we do today has some reliance on the nation’s power grid. Substations often have valuable metals and tools that make them a target for thieves. Copper and metal thieves view a substation as a potential gold mine. 

Adding to the appeal, scrap metal is simple to sell and usually untraceable. Thieves add insult to injury by damaging fencing and equipment in the process of burglarizing the substation.

Any vandalism or damage could be catastrophic for an area. Even a car accident can take out the grid for thousands of people:

  • A car crash into a transformer took out power for 1,300 residents in South Carolina.

  • A car accident in the Virgin Islands took out a pole and transmission lines. It subsequently took out the electrical substation in a chain reaction.

  • Tens of thousands of people in Colorado Springs lost power when a car crashed into an electrical substation.

Perhaps more ominous is the possibility of terrorism as an increasing threat to the physical security of our power grid. Here are just a few examples:

  • A major PG&E transformer in California suffered a coordinated attack. Phone cables were cut and for nearly 20-minutes snipers systematically knocked out 17 large transformers that supplied power to Silicon Valley. The shooters have never been caught. It took 27 days to repair the damage. PG&E subsequently spent $100 million to harden their substation infrastructure.
  • An improvised explosive device (IED) was left at a substation in Nogales, Arizona. The IED was placed next to a 50,000-gallon diesel tank. Fortunately, it didn’t go off.
  • A high-powered rifle attack at a substation left 13,000 Utah residents without power.

More recently, even issues of cyberterrorism have made the news, as nation-states have attempted, sometimes successfully, to infiltrate digital security around our critical infrastructures. 

All of these incidents illustrate a big issue that we must resolve. But how can we secure such a large and dispersed network of substations?

The answer is with intelligent placement and coordination of a sophisticated substation security system. 

Making a Video Surveillance Substation Security Checklist

Video Surveillance Substation Security Checklist

The physical security of the nation’s substations and electrical grid will take more than fencing. Building a resilient and redundant security plan does start with hardened barriers and access systems, true. But integrating video surveillance into the perimeter barrier as well as inside the substation is critical to mitigating the risks we face.

Today’s video security technologies can do more than alert you to a problem:

  • They can sound alarms and deploy bright, flashing spotlights that may deter the threat. Sometimes just an audio or visual deterrent will be enough to run off a thief looking for an easier target.

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) software can respond appropriately by the category of threat level. For example, the cameras can be trained to flag a human crossing a specific geographic area at a certain time of day as okay. But a different human sneaking into that same space after hours can trigger an alarm.

  • Thermal cameras can detect a human presence in low-light conditions. These hardened outdoor video surveillance tools work just as well in sunlight as they do complete darkness. Shadows, poor weather, or backlight do not lessen their effectiveness.

  • Video analytics have evolved to make modern cameras “smart.” They can help you spot traffic patterns that seem suspicious. Alternatively, they can help you tag and easily find video recordings from hours of film work.

  • IP-cameras can connect wirelessly to a cellular network. They can be made tamper-proof, too, which means these tools can watch your site in real-time without interruption.

  • Virtual guards can provide additional protection by monitoring the entire system in real-time. When coupled with AI-enabled software that can alert security to specific threats, this kind of 24/7/365 protection alleviates both big and small risks to your facility.

Designing the best video surveillance for electrical substation physical security requires an analysis of each asset. The best surveillance companies, like Pro Vigil, conceptualize the facility into zones and apply the appropriate technology to the structure. 
Each zone may require a different technology, whether it’s a power line surveillance camera or 24/7/365 video surveillance by a virtual guard. The entire customized security architecture is integrated into one functioning continuous system. 
The goal of each video surveillance model is to leverage the intelligent technologies behind these tools to automatically alert monitoring personnel. These teams can remotely take control of these cameras, zoom in, record data, sound alarms, and, if necessary, alert the authorities.
Their chief benefit is they cover the areas that traditional security may miss. For example, if you have an onsite security team patrolling the area, they simply can’t watch everywhere at once. A video surveillance network sees what they don’t when their backs are turned.

Pro-Vigil: Your Video Substation Security System


The physical security of our more than 60,000 electrical substations is imperative. These remote locations are subject to vandalism, theft, terrorism, or other damage. The results of even one incident could be catastrophic.

The research shows us that a properly designed video surveillance security system can deter crime. Pro-Vigil is the nation’s leading security expert helping keep the nation’s power grid substations safer. Talk with our team today to discuss your options

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