How VTI Security Protected an Electrical Substation With a Radar-Thermal Imaging Solution

Find out how VTI Security helped its end customer gain exceptional situational awareness beyond its fence line with a radar-thermal imaging solution.

How VTI Security Protected an Electrical Substation With a Radar-Thermal Imaging Solution

More than 55,000 electrical substations dot the United States, in urban centers to far-flung desolate locales and all points in between. Along with power plants and transmission lines, these critical infrastructure facilities provide power for tens of millions of people as well as businesses, large and small.

Playing an integral role in the daily operations of the nation, it is imperative these sites remain secure from intrusion and sabotage. If just a small number of key substations were rendered inoperable, the U.S. could face a serious blackout.

Consider the ease at which rifle-wielding snipers in 2013 knocked out 17 transformers at PG&E Corp.’s Metcalf transmission substation near San Jose, Calif., which funnels power to Silicon Valley.

The gunmen first slipped undetected onto the compound and severed underground cables to an emergency phone system. Taking position from behind a chain-link fence, they opened fire on the transformers, causing more than $15 million in damage, and then vanished.

Although electric-grid officials rerouted power to prevent a blackout, it took utility workers nearly a month to make repairs and bring the substation back to life.The event was a catalyst for the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) establishing new security standards for utilities.

One of the most notable policies introduced was the Critical Infrastructure Protection Standard 014 (CIP-014). The statute requires utilities to identify “mission critical” facilities and assets, conduct a security inspection to identify threat and implement a security system to address those risks.

In response to security incidents such as Metcalf and other FERC activities, a large electrical utility with hundreds of substations across the nation began looking to expand security beyond its fence line about four years ago. The end user wanted to enhance and possibly replace costly, traditional fence protection systems.

These included fiber optics, microwave barriers and video analytics. The utility company looked to systems integrator VTI Security for a recommendation. Read on to learn how VTI deployed a cost-effective solution that seamlessly integrated thermal cameras, radar detection and video management software (VMS) to meet its end customer’s security challenges and expectations.

Finding a Radar Solution Partner

VTI Security, based in Burnsville, Minn., is an industry-leading integrator that has been servicing security needs in the commercial, utility and oil and gas sectors for more than 35 years. To determine the best system for its end customer, VTI reviewed six different technologies at the end of 2012.

“VTI was looking for solutions that could be deployed successfully in varying environmental conditions with the lowest total cost of ownership to our client,” says Jerry Klapak, senior account manager for VTI Security. The systems integrator worked with its client to conduct several daytime and nighttime penetration tests and simulations before recommending a solution.

vti security planning

“Tests were performed to identify potential blind spots and technology vulnerabilities to tampering to ensure the effective range and use of systems matched the manufacturers’ published specifications,” Klapak explains. “We looked at how they performed in the challenging environment of substations where considerations of the ground grid, varying quality of fencing, and limited line of sight due to geography or steel structure must be considered when selecting technology.”

VTI also tested how well the systems integrated with existing security platforms. After a series of field deployments and a cost analysis, VTI selected Spotter-RF’s product as its sole radar standard for perimeter solutions.

“Our findings were that SpotterRF not only provided the most comprehensive detection in a substation environment, but SpotterRF was also by far the most cost-effective total solution based on the ability to mount equipment on existing structures,” Klapak says.

SpotterRF, based in Orem, Utah, provides perimeter protection through its patented Compact Surveillance Radar (CSR) systems, which deliver up to 300 acres of radar tracking power in a handheld, four-pound device. The CSRs are said to provide security monitors with 100% coverage in all weather conditions.

They are designed to detect threats up to 3,300 feet beyond the fence line and give early warnings to staff before situations escalate.

Thermal and Visible Light Imaging

Upon selecting a radar system, VTI also needed a video manufacturer to supply cameras that could detect intruders at great distances. In 2015, VTI approached FLIR Systems through a manufacturer representative firm in Minnesota. The companies met together and FLIR’s technology was evaluated.

“We found that FLIR provided the most seamless integration with Spotter-RF while providing an image quality that surpassed other manufacturers, particularly on the thermal side of the system,” Klapak says. “Not only was the image resolution superior, but the FLIR p/t/z cameras also feature modular payloads, which allows our clients to change thermal cameras at any time if the need for a different focal length is required.”

The ability for the FLIR cameras to perform beyond published performance was another added benefit.

“The cameras provided usable video beyond what they specified for classifying human targets,” Klapak continues. “Our clients also have a comfort level with FLIR based on the use of their thermography technology in their operational divisions.”

FLIR’s PT-Series was selected for the perimeter solution at the substation. The PT-Series is a high performance, dual-sensor pan/tilt camera system that features both thermal and visible-light imaging. The pan/tilt mechanism gives end users accurate pointing control, while providing fully programmable scan patterns, as well as radar slew-to-cue and slew-to-alarm functions.

The PT-Series addresses the need for wide area perimeter monitoring, intrusion detection and global awareness, explains John Distelzweig, general manager at FLIR Systems.

“Utilizing our 640 X 480 resolution, the thermal camera produces sharp images with greater scene detail for threat recognition and alarm assessment. Our latest variant includes a thermal camera with a 14x continuous optical zoom and an extreme 1080p low-light visible camera with a 30x zoom,” Distelzweig says. “Built to withstand varying environmental factors, the PT-Series also supports extreme temperature range, has deicing capabilities, and is certified for shock and vibe resistance.”

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