Paul Sweeting discusses the importance of supply security in the utilities sector and gives his top tips for ensuring your plant is protected

For anybody working in the utilities sector, you’ll be aware of how crucial the security of supply is. With customers relying on these critical services, plants can’t afford to have disruptions.

Unfortunately, as sites with plenty of attractively expensive and powerful equipment present, power plants are vulnerable to crimes such as damage, vandalism and trespassing. Not only can the consequences of this be inconvenient to people who depend on the utilities supply, but it can also be extremely costly for the plant to repair or replace.

To ensure your power plant runs smoothly and efficiently, I’ve rounded up my top tips for protecting a utilities supply site. Read on to find out more.

Assess the plant’s needs
The role and responsibility of all plants is to supply the public with the necessary utilities, and to match the demand for these on a second-by-second basis, regardless of any disruptions. This can see major pressure put on plants to react accordingly when something does go wrong, making it particularly important for management to plan for their own individual plants or stations – assessing its needs, at-risk areas and the solutions for securing them.

As most high-risk sites will be subject to a security audit on purchase of the plant, all facilities and security managements should be knowledgeable about the physical aspects of the site. For many, the goals of a physical security strategy will be a collaboration of the following three concepts:

  • Detect: To be alerted to any unauthorised entries or attempts, as well as any mechanical or electrical faults on site which could suggest an intruder.
  • Identify: Have a system in place that can keep watch over the plant as a whole, including workers and equipment. This should be recordable footage, so you can review it and use it as evidence after an event.
  • Restrict: Put barriers in place to prevent break-ins and tampering.

Identify potential risk types
Black sky hazards – events that interfere with the normal functioning of critical supplies across many regions – come in two main forms: manmade and natural. The differences between them dictate how long the supply is likely to be disrupted for and how much it will cost for repair and replacement. So, knowing what threats are present will be incredibly important to all power plants and stations.

Manmade hazards
These can typically be controlled better than natural hazards, as they are created by a person rather than a result of the weather. These issues can include cyber breaches to electric infrastructure, as well as physical assault and nuclear detonations interfering with the electromagnetic pulse.

Natural hazards
Unavoidable and, in some cases, catastrophic, many utilities plants are susceptible to being hit by turbulent weather conditions, like hurricanes and earthquakes, which can interfere with or destroy the supply. Whichever type of hazard you experience, ensure you have plenty of security in place to protect the supply of utilities against these, for as long as possible.

Create a layered security strategy
After identifying key purposes and goals for putting the system in place, as well as what risks you may be exposed to, you can set your security strategy. Thinking logically and thoroughly about all elements of the plant site will help you to construct an effective security plan.

Working on an ‘outside-in’ basis will be particularly effective in deterring trespassers from the get-go.

External measures
Lock picking is one of the main ways unauthorised personnel find their way into power plant sites. Protect your utilities supply from damage by using the three-step lock system – complex and unique keyways, concealed hinges, and latch cover plates – to buy more time for somebody to spot the intruder. Similarly, getting hard-wearing fencing which looks intimidating and hazardous will be likely to deter trespassers. Choose wire mesh fencing that has confusing and sharp additions to the top, including barbed wire and spikes.

High-security doors that can withstand prolonged physical attacks will be important for both the inside and the exterior of the plant. Prioritise hard-wearing substation doors for the external entrances and exits to obstruct any intruders.

As trespassers won’t want to be spotted, ensure you’re making it likely that this happens, through exterior lighting. Using sensor lights can be helpful in darker hours when the plant is mainly empty.

As obvious as it seems, CCTV and guards manning the perimeters are key for preventing and witnessing any crimes that may take place, so be sure to utilise these.

Internal measures
Determined trespassers might not be tempted to use back entrances or other areas that look irregularly used, acknowledging that this would draw more attention to them. This might mean they resort to bold steps like going through the front door, so a manned front desk with personalised check-ins, like fingerprints, would help to combat this.

However, to do this everywhere would be costly, so incorporating key cards or giving access codes will prevent any unauthorised personnel from freely moving around the site. For rooms with high volumes of wires, control panels or important computer systems, it’s a good idea to have a separate key or access code to these zones, so only a select few can gain entry. Ventilated doors are high-security and cater for the required airflow needed in plant rooms and substations. These involve key-in codes and are extremely robust, so can help protect your plant.

Important equipment within the plant will also need to be highly protected, so put these behind security grilles to add an extra obstruction to the crime. Knowing your plant well and getting periodic audits done by specialists will ensure your site remains secure through any eventuality, including legislative, environmental and economic changes.

A power plant can be susceptible to many threats, both manmade and natural. But, with the main purpose of all power plants and stations being to provide a continuous supply, be sure to follow my tips to ensure you’re as equipped as possible to tackle any issues.

Bradbury Group
Paul Sweeting is the Technical Director at physical security specialists, Bradbury Group. Bradbury Group has been manufacturing physical security products since 1991, and now produces doors, grilles, cages, and bar sets for clients across the UK. Bradbury offers the widest range of third-party accredited security and fire doors in the industry, and its security solutions are widely used in the utilities, government, commerce, education, transport, and pharmaceutical sectors.

For further information please visit: www.bradburyuk.com