Home » What Physical Security Do Power Stations Need to Protect Themselves from Increasing Attacks?

What Physical Security Do Power Stations Need to Protect Themselves from Increasing Attacks?

Posted by Mark Mariotti on Mar 8, 2023

Thanks to the growing number of attacks on the electric grid, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued an order advising the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to submit a report on the effectiveness of the current NERC reliability standard and its addressing of physical security.

“FERC staff noted that in recent months, there has been an increase in reports of physical attacks on electric substations that in some incidents have resulted in thousands of customer outages,” writes Paul Ciampoli in Public Power. “In early December, Duke Energy responded to power outages caused by vandalism against utility equipment in North Carolina.”

What is the nature of the attacks and how do they affect the electric grid? According to The Washington Post article, two North Carolina substations were attacked by gunfire. This knocked out the power for 45,000 homes and businesses.

Additionally, there are eight incidents under investigation across four states that happened in one month alone. The story quotes Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of FERC as saying he isn’t aware of any other month with as many physical threats to power stations as this one. This is in spite of the physical security attacks in 2013 and 2018.

Why are power stations at risk for attacks? According to the story that quotes James Robb, chief executive officer of NERC, there are many substations that don’t have staff to protect them. The ones in rural, remote population centers are most at risk for attacks. One reason is that the attackers believe their chances of being caught are very low.

That’s why FERC wants an analysis of NERC standards related to physical security. FERC’s role is to oversee NERC. “Utilities were directed to develop security plans that would be verified by a third party,” writes Naureen S. Malik, Josh Saul and Mark Chediak. “That included a plan to protect against bullets, Robb said. Measures included adding cinder walls or opaque fences around substations, putting in place security cameras and establishing procedures to notify local law enforcement.”

The Challenges of Protecting Power Stations

Considering the electric grid is responsible for powering up many homes, businesses, and organizations, they have a critical role that affects people’s lives. When the power fails, they must work quickly to solve the problem and restore power. They’re dealing with a complex network of power plants, substations, and transmission lines.

A power outage isn’t simply an inconvenience in today’s connected world. It can cause work stoppage. It affects schools and the proper conservation of food. When building temperatures become too hot or too cold, it can put people’s lives at risk. And of course, no one can use their electric devices unless they have a generator or a rechargeable battery with juice left in it.

Energy sector organizations designed the energy grid by keeping reliability, protection, and resiliency in mind. Of course, reliability is a must as customers want their electricity to stay on. Protection is crucial as it prevents outages, cyberattacks, and physical attacks from happening. This requires developing and evolving physical security processes to secure the giant, complicated, and interconnected network. Finally, resiliency ensures they have backup plans for continuity.

That’s why operations and management comprise a large part of the budget. It’s what it takes to make sure all buildings get the required energy. So, organizations have to make tough decisions regarding their budgets.

All that said, physical security is not a nice-to-have. The cost is so much higher when the power grid goes down due to attacks that could be prevented.

What It Takes to Secure Power Stations

A hacker can figure out how to physically access the equipment at a power station. As soon as they do, they can break into the facility and disrupt thousands of people’s lives in one fell swoop. Some places may have a power generator, but they don’t have infinite power.

There’s also the danger of playing with people’s lives as patients depend on life-saving medical equipment. Every industry will be at risk if the power goes out. Even the simple act of street lights going out can put people’s lives at risk as drivers and pedestrians may make mistakes in the darkness.

One thing the energy sector needs to do is change its way of viewing cybersecurity and physical security as silos. Typically, they do not interact with each other. This way of thinking is perilous as it will impact their protection and resilience. A better approach is holistic security by combining cybersecurity and physical security.

How do you make this happen? It’s called the convergence of physical security and cybersecurity. Convergence is the formalization of a partnership between two different departments or functions. Therefore, converging physical security and cybersecurity strengthens an organization’s security posture and helps mitigate risk. In the long run, they will be more efficient in emergencies while boosting situational awareness.

Physical and cyberattacks render power stations vulnerable to attacks according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). This is evident in the passing of more than 12 security measures in 2021 by state legislatures. They wanted to find a way to slow down the skyrocketing ransom and terrorist attacks.

Some state legislators are aware of the greater need for physical security, not just cybersecurity. NCSL reports a few legislatures are in the process of adding and increasing penalties for anyone who attempts to damage the power infrastructure, even it is as simple as trespassing on their properties. Although energy sector security is a priority for state legislatures, companies cannot depend on them to support them as they contend with evolving threats.

To sum up, as part of an interconnected network, power stations, and other energy sector facilities must have physical security and cybersecurity plans, as well as infrastructure in place. It calls for a security framework with multiple layers of security. It’s a tall order as power stations need to prevent crooks from attacking energy sector facilities or locking the systems for ransom. The good news is there is a proactive security solution that happens to come built-in with multiple layers of security.

First, be aware there is no single security solution that can do everything. This one solution can close a lot of gaps. Still, it’s crucial to have a security plan that adds other layers such as fencing and lighting.

Proactive Security Reduces Risks for Power Stations

Power stations need to be protected from physical and cyberattacks to keep the electric grid from shutting down. Traditional security technology such as alarm systems and basic security cameras don’t have the same capability to proactively protect. They react. On the other hand, video surveillance with remote monitoring has the power to help protect, unlike any other security technology.

The monitoring part of the equation is what makes a difference. It helps deter attacks to help prevent damage before the situation escalates to treacherous outcomes like the shutdown of critical systems and associated power outages. Doing this can also avoid the high costs of having to purchase replacements for expensive components.

Another important factor is the customization of the security setup for the power station and its interconnected network. Each power station has something unique about the layout. For example, rural areas don’t always have the best network connections. The right security vendor can help ensure the security cameras and monitoring function at all times regardless of the location.

You want to look for technology that follows R5 5.1 from CIP-014-2 guidelines: “Resiliency or security measures designed to collectively deter, detect, delay, assess, communicate and respond to potential physical threats/vulnerabilities …”

That’s exactly what Stealth Monitoring’s remote video surveillance technology can do. It helps avert crime, minimize damage, lower the energy sector organization’s liability, and protect the public.

Here’s how Stealth Monitoring power station security technology works. It combines remote video surveillance with advanced analytics and human monitoring to help protect a giant energy grid and its components while achieving R5 5.1 guidelines.

In conducting your search for the ideal power station security camera solution with video monitoring, remember that not all video surveillance technologies include high-resolution security cameras, advanced video analytics, and trained human monitoring operators. This collaboration of current high-definition video cameras, analytics, and monitoring operators greatly boosts the chance of catching potential problems before anything occurs. That’s what it takes to guarantee all the power stations and substations remain operational.

It’s also important to talk to security vendors who have experience in the energy sector and protecting power stations. The industry is unlike any other industry. Yes, it has life-critical systems like those in hospitals. However, unlike hospitals, power stations aren’t all in one place. They have many locations, some of which are in out-of-the-way areas. Unfortunately, that’s what puts them at risk for attacks. Intruders think they’re in a low-risk situation.

When customers don’t have what they need, it’s a huge burden on an organization that’s responsible for electricity. Besides, video surveillance with remote monitoring like the one from Stealth Monitoring could lead to a speedy return on your investment within a few months.

If you’d like to learn more about the challenges that the energy sector, power stations, and electric grid face and solutions that can help protect them, check out the white paper on energy industry threats and solutions. For a security solution that maximizes your ROI and protects power stations, contact us.

exas Private Security License Number: B14187.