Home » What Physical Security Does the Energy Sector Need?

What Physical Security Does the Energy Sector Need?

Posted by Mark Mariotti on Jan 6, 2023

The energy sector delivers electricity to millions of businesses, organizations, and homes through a complicated network of power plants, substations, and transmission lines. It plays a crucial role in everyday life- when a power grid goes down, the energy sector must work quickly to solve the problem.

A power outage can prevent workers from doing their jobs. It can also affect schools, food, and building temperatures. When a home or building becomes too hot or too cold, it can put lives at risk. No one can charge their electronic and communication devices without electricity. In short, the energy sector is one of the few major necessities in people’s lives.

Like any other business, companies in the energy sector must make tough decisions in managing their budgets. A major part of the budget? Operations and management. These aspects help ensure customers get the power they require. Companies have built the energy grid with a focus on reliability, protection, and resiliency.

Reliability is vital, as businesses within this sector know customers depend on them to keep things running. Protection requires creating processes to secure the complex interconnected network that makes up an energy sector business, preventing both cyberattacks and physical attacks. Resiliency means they stay on top of their operations and have business continuity plans in place should an emergency or shutdown occur.

Energy sector budgets must absolutely factor in security. Not only cybersecurity, a common focus in today’s digital world, but also physical security. These are interdependent. Too often, companies focus on cybersecurity not realizing the lack of physical security can open them to cyberattacks. To effectively harden systems, it’s important to understand vulnerable areas within the energy sector.

4 Weaknesses Affecting the Energy Sector

Criminals targeting the energy sector may choose to do so for a variety of reasons- and one small attack could cause unimaginable damage. The following are four areas of vulnerability that are highly susceptible to attacks. If any of these are bypassed, it could bring the energy grid down with devastating effects on society.

1. Plants

Energy plants are often multiple buildings located in rural areas. Should something happen, first responders may not be able to quickly or easily access the location to help mitigate the situation.

2. Transmission and distribution of electricity

Towers, transformers, substations, and transmission lines are spread out and the hardest thing to secure from a physical standpoint. It’s because they are widely distributed that these components are susceptible to attacks. With components found far and wide, it creates a bigger challenge in catching invaders.

Additionally, finding replacement parts if any of the HV transformers gets damaged can be extremely difficult. With parts being hard to find, the facility may need to repair damages with what materials are available, as looking for a replacement can take too long.

The situation could be even worse if a bad actor or an accident causes the HV transformer to explode, creating a fireball. The fire can spread and cause even more extensive damages and destruction.

3. Substations and Equipment

Like the plants, substations transmitting energy also tend to be in rural areas. These assets are easy targets because every substation has many of its components unprotected. This is due to requiring heat transfer into the air to maintain normal operations. Their exposure is necessary as they allow for access during maintenance.

The substation needs to be able to withstand severe weather, humidity, fog, dust, and low light. This ensures the substation can continuously transmit energy without incident. Unfortunately, this need for exposure combined with their rural locations means that when copper prices skyrocket as they have in 2022, thieves have begun threatening critical infrastructure by targeting copper found in electrical substations.

Thefts at these locations have wide-ranging consequences beyond the value of the stolen property. Disruption of electricity, communications, and emergency services, along with massive damages and in some cases death of the thieves themselves due to electrocution.

4. Breakable Barriers

Barriers include gates and fences. These can help protect assets, especially when you use them to create a single point of entry and exit. But they can’t stop all trespassers from entering the facility or accessing substation properties.

Again, many components in the energy sector are widely distributed, exposed, and located in out-of-the-way places with little traffic. Hence, they become prime recipients of criminal activities.

A Crucial Component of Energy Sector Security

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) confirms that physical and cyberattacks threaten the energy sector. This is why state legislatures passed more than 12 related security measures in 2021. These measures address the growing number of cyber threats, such as ransom attacks and international terrorism.

State legislatures also know the importance of physical security. NCSL indicates some legislatures are working to create and strengthen penalties for damaging energy infrastructure or simply trespassing on their properties. Although energy sector security is a priority for state legislatures, companies cannot depend on them alone to support them as they contend with evolving threats.

Hackers can attempt to find a way to physically access the equipment. If this happens, then the facility will be successfully hacked, and many people’s lives can be majorly disrupted. A power generator can only operate for so long. Critical businesses within an energy grid can be affected. Hospitals depend on power for surgeries, running life-saving medical equipment, and appropriate temperature settings. Even the streets could be in danger as streetlights can stop working.

Some energy sector companies take the approach of treating physical security and cybersecurity as separate departments. They do not collaborate with each other. This method can have negative outcomes, weakening both their resilience and protection. A more thoughtful way is to integrate the two for holistic security management.

The energy sector security can benefit from considering the convergence of physical security and cybersecurity. Convergence is when two separate security functions — such as physical security and cybersecurity — put a formal cooperation in place. This can increase their ability to secure their assets and mitigate risks. It can also help them be more efficient in responding to human threats and improving situational awareness.

In summary, the energy sector, with its interconnected network and facilities, needs to consider both physical and cybersecurity when coming up with security solutions. Accomplishing this requires a security framework consisting of multiple layers of security. Fortunately, there’s a proactive solution with multiple layers of security built-in: video surveillance with remote monitoring.

Proactive Energy Sector Security with Multiple Layers

It’s important to understand that no security solution can work by itself. The best energy sector security encompasses multiple layers. Remote video surveillance is designed in such a way that it  may meet that need in and of itself. You’ll likely still want to explore other layers to add, including lighting and fencing.

Effective energy sector security must protect itself from cyber-physical threats to guarantee the energy grid doesn’t shut down. It’s vital to customize the security setup for every plant, substation, and all its related components. Security cameras have the advantage in that they can be everywhere- including in rural locations. The right security company can make sure the network on these cameras operates effectively in these remote locations.

Unlike traditional technology, remote video surveillance takes a proactive approach to energy sector security. It helps to avert criminal activity and prevent damage before the situation escalates to dangerous outcomes like power outages, the shutting down of critical systems, and the costs associated with replacing expensive components.

Fortunately, newer video surveillance technology, like that used by Stealth Monitoring, can help deter crime and damage, lower the company’s liability, and protect the public. Stealth’s solution likely meets the definition of R5 5.1 from CIP-014-2: “Resiliency or security measures designed to collectively deter, detect, delay, assess, communicate and respond to potential physical threats/vulnerabilities …”

Here’s how Stealth Monitoring’s R5 5.1 energy sector security technology, which combines remote video surveillance with advanced analytics and human monitoring, can help protect the scattered energy grid and its components.

  • Detect. Video surveillance consisting of high-resolution IP video security cameras with professional-grade monitoring and advanced analytics help detect suspicious activity in real time. This solution runs 24/7 year-round and on the holidays.
  • Deter. Speakers installed around the plants and related components allow Stealth security professionals to issue warnings to anyone who acts suspiciously. This can help avert crime and damage.
  • Delay. A property containing a fence or gate around the perimeter along with barriers and locks will slow down trespassers. This layer gives the professionals monitoring the site time to contact the police. While these barriers help slow down the intruders, video surveillance and monitoring can notice dubious activity before anyone reaches the asset. Between analytics and our trained monitoring operators, the police often arrive while the incident is happening.
  • Assess. Advanced technology analyzes all the cameras for a match to any one of its many programmed scenarios. As soon as it recognizes one, it alerts the trained operators who can act quickly by checking out the event, assessing the situation, and acting immediately.
  • Communicate. As soon as the police are in route, monitoring operators can stay on the line with dispatch while delivering updates and relevant information, such as the suspect’s last known location. This real-time communication can help officers stay safe and mitigate the situation.
  • Respond. The Stealth security operators have been trained on established protocols and can take appropriate action when something happens. Moreover, Stealth has relationships with local law enforcement departments across the U.S. and Canada. The police tend to elevate call priority when we call, because Stealth can provide video verification that it’s not a potentially expensive false alarm.

As you research remote video surveillance systems with monitoring, look to select technology that contains high-quality security cameras with advanced video analytics and trained human monitoring operators. The cooperation between video analytics and monitoring operators will increase the chance of spotting suspicious activity before anything happens. This is imperative to assure the energy grid stays up and running.

Security for other industries may have different needs than the energy sector, which needs a unique security solution because of how it operates. The first step is to talk to vendors with energy sector security experience.

The right remote video surveillance technology can yield a return on your investment within months. To learn more about remote video surveillance and how it can protect the energy sector, pick up Remote Video Surveillance: More Than Just Catching Criminals. For an energy sector security solution that maximizes your ROI, contact us.