Dec 16 2019

Advanced Video Is an Increasingly Crucial Security Tool for Utility Companies

By implementing advanced video tools, utilities can boost safety and efficiency.

While they must ensure a reliable and stable flow of power at all times, electric utilities face a disparate array of challenges. Security threats, unplanned maintenance and theft of materials all increase operational costs for utilities, while also increasing the risk of brownouts and blackouts that affect customers. And these issues can be further exacerbated at far-flung or unmanned facilities, or those with limited personnel.

Advanced video monitoring technology is playing an increasingly important role in addressing these issues, providing increased safety and efficiency at utility sites. Video is being deployed for a wide range of applications, including equipment monitoring, asset management and substation automation. In each case, utilities can improve their operations and detect incidents in real time by automatically analyzing captured video through analytics tools.

The Role of Video Surveillance in the Energy Industry

In a December 2018 paper published in Energy Informatics, researchers point out the growing role of video surveillance in protecting not only individual utilities but also national security. The protection of critical infrastructures “is essential for the orderly functioning of a society, its economy and national sovereignty,” the researchers write. “Now, more than ever, critical infrastructures are facing an increase in the number and severity of threats, and thus we require security systems to operate as a protective means towards the detection of actions that could result in catastrophe.”

Traditionally, organizations have relied on video surveillance to provide live feeds back to security personnel, or to provide forensic evidence for investigations into past events. As tools have evolved, however, utilities are increasingly relying on their surveillance systems to detect incidents and automatically tip them off when something out of the ordinary is happening.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Read how to avoid a security breach from the inside.

Building Out an Advanced Video Surveillance Environment

To improve operations through video surveillance, notes Electric Energy Online, utilities must select the right technology for each component of their environments. In particular, utilities should consider each of the following:

  • Architecture: Most video surveillance systems utilize an architecture with one central server, with cameras connected either directly or via an IP network. Sometimes, business leaders assume that there is unlimited bandwidth, and that their existing communications infrastructure won’t be a limiting factor. However, for utilities with multiple remote sites, a centralized architecture can severely hinder performance. A distributed architecture — with at least one video server at each remote site — allows for continuous high-resolution recording, optimizing bandwidth by delivering only video across the network on an “on-demand” basis. That means it is not affected by network disruptions.
  • Harsh Environments: “The harsh substation environment presents particular challenges for utilities,” Electric Energy Online notes. To ensure reliability, equipment must meet rigorous specifications and must be able to operate in a wide range of temperatures.
  • Cameras: As prices drop and expectations grow, more and more organizations are adopting IP-enabled cameras (although analog cameras can still serve a purpose if cost and ease of use are the top priorities). Cameras that pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) give utilities more flexibility but tend to carry a higher price tag. Utilities will make decisions about factors like camera resolution and lenses based on the amount of detail, field of view and low-light performance needed for each specific application.
  • Software: While all video management software has the basic ability to provide real-time and historical video monitoring and other functions, industrial environments have additional needs. In particular, utilities may require an industrial protocol to support easy integration with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, the ability to control digital input/output for use in automation applications and the ability to integrate with other automation equipment.

Video analytics software is also important. These programs offer features including motion detection, perimeter violation (or “virtual tripwire”) and tamper detection — and can also detect when people are loitering in restricted areas.

While video surveillance is already considered a must-have for most utilities, organizations can improve their operations and glean valuable insights by improving their video environments — ultimately reducing downtime and costs. “Given that substations are the most remote points of any grid,” Electric Energy Online writes, “the real question that the utility should consider is not whether to implement a video monitoring system, but rather what is the most that can be obtained from it.”

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