EMC Security, an integrator based in Suwanee, Ga., was tapped by GreyStone Power Corporation, a utility company operating in the greater Atlanta metro area, to deliver a single solution platform to secure its remote substation locations, which were experiencing copper theft.

The rash of thefts required expensive repairs with major downtime. Additionally, because the locations featured extremely high voltage, there was possible liability from injury or death by an illegal intrusion.

A key goal of the system was to alert the utilities’ SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) operation center and off-site cloud video monitoring on any non-authorized person within the substation, so GreyStone Power could immediately contact 911. A secondary goal was to implement a talk-down system to allow SCADA to communicate any warning or safety instructions directly to the site.

The biggest challenge was that the extreme remote locations prevented the use of access control readers, said Gene Musco, general manager of EMC Security’s commercial division. Multiple companies and stakeholders had access via a gate keylock system with no centralized database. GreyStone Power wanted to continue utilizing the keylock system and existing protocols to enter the substations.

A North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC)-approved network was established to communicate information to the SCADA operations center and for cloud-based monitoring.

The EMC Security development team researched multiple options for a single solution platform, and selected Avigilon access control and video solution software for the installation.

Avigilon’s cameras operate clearly in low light. Most importantly, the AI software distinguishes between human, animal and vehicles, minimizing false alarms. The access control software completely integrates with the video system, allowing operators to write customized scripts for the talk-down system.

EMC Security completed the electric substation project in three phases: network topology and implementation; video camera deployment with talk down; and access control with local alarm sounders and control beacons.

The first phase was design and deployment to meet the NERC-complaint network requirements to communicate to the SCADA operation center. EMC Security partnered with GreyStone’s IT department to utilize the fiber infrastructure from the remote substations to the SCADA center, and added compliant fiber switches to meet cybersecurity and bandwidth requirements.

The second phase was the installation of Avigilon analytic cameras and servers to cover the perimeter fence lines and interior substation sites. Unauthorized perimeter and interior alarm video clips are sent to a remote cloud monitoring site and SCADA for review and action.      

EMC Security enabled a talk-down feature to allow SCADA to communicate a warning or safety instructions directly to the substations, using a session initiation protocol (SIP) control desk microphone at SCADA and large 15-watt site audio speakers for the sites. GreyStone Power was impressed with audio quality being loud and clear.

With the successful deployment of project phases one and two, EMC Security was challenged with reducing false alarms from the multiple stakeholders entering the site utilizing the existing keylock gate entrance system.

For the final phase, EMC Security integrated the Avigilon access control system with the video systems and onsite security equipment. The access control integration allowed authorized personnel following the new process to disable all alarms while on premise. The integration allowed easy control for the reduction of false alarms from authorized personnel.

The project required close coordination between EMC Security and GreyStone Power’s IT department, a process that took six months, Musco said. Actual installation at the initial substations took between two and three weeks. Ultimately, 50 substations will be equipped with the new system.

GreyStone Power was impressed with the successful outcome. The SCADA staff noticed the solution provided enhanced security measures. Besides serving as a crime deterrent, the system also improves worker safety through its talk-down tool, which enables SCADA personnel to spot issues such as workers without hard hats or safety goggles. “We developed a way that over network the guy at the console hits a substation and is actually talking down to that person with 15 watt speakers,” Musco said. “That’s huge because you’re saving lives.”