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Grid Security: Honeywell Technologies Helping Utilities Secure Vulnerable Infrastructure


When we flip a switch on the wall, we often take for granted that the lights will turn on. But what if they don’t? 

A cyber attack last December against the Ukrainian electrical grid cut power to nearly 250,000 people, after hackers temporarily gained control of a trio of power companies. But cyber-criminals aren’t the only threats. Consider what happened almost three years ago when an electrical substation in Santa Clara County, Calif., was attacked by gunmen, cutting power to portions of Silicon Valley. 

According to reports, someone slipped into an underground vault and cut telephone cables to the facility. Within a half hour the snipers opened fire—taking down 17 transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley—and exposed potentially significant vulnerabilities to the national power grid. 

Since then, government regulators and the industry have been fine-tuning aggressive new security standards set to roll out this year. North America has 55,000 electrical substations, and under the new standards energy companies must ensure that critical ones can effectively “deter, detect, delay, assess, communicate and respond” to physical security threats, such as the one that occurred in Santa Clara County.  

It could be a daunting task, but Honeywell, a leading global manufacturer of electronic security and life safety technologies for commercial buildings, industrial sites and homes worldwide, recently showed how it’s achievable with the right mix of technology and planning. 

Partnering with another technology company, SpotterRF, a manufacturer of radar systems used for perimeter security applications, security integrator 4PC, and the Security Group of design and engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, Honeywell successfully implemented a new integrated security system for a remote, unmanned electrical generation and transmission facility. 

The state-of-the-art solution integrates SpotterRF’s award-winning active radar technology with Honeywell’s Vindicator V3 Intrusion Detection System for protection of the perimeter and beyond, and other Honeywell security technology. The solution provides advanced notification of threats, freeing up time for more effective response. The system also actively monitors the surrounding skies and enables accurate visual detection 24/7—at night, in fog, during inclement weather, and even behind obstructions. The system not only met the new security standards, but helped reduce operational costs for the facility, such as unnecessary security guards and false alarms. 

Honeywell’s approach – outlined in a case study on the project – provides the facility with an early-warning system that integrates perimeter intrusion detection, video management and access control to safeguard against attacks. 

“Our system not only met the needs of the substation and electricity plant, but it exceeded industry standards for critical infrastructure installations,” said Greg Tomasko, Honeywell applications engineer. “With our approach we went beyond any existing regulations to protect against potential future threats  This approach can be used as a template for other installations in the future to protect the entire utility industry.” 

Honeywell recommends a three-pronged approach to better substation security: 

       1)   Make the perimeter smart. The first line of defense for many substations continues to be a chain-link fence and padlocks. Instead, networks of advanced sensors and radar equipment can be coupled with video to notify an approaching threat minutes in advance, giving authorities a chance to react when every second counts.

       2)   Choose video analytics over fancy cameras. Expensive cameras may not be the answer. Today, the true benefit of video surveillance is its intelligence and analytics capabilities, offering multiple views, site navigation, and event verification. Live-time assessment reduces false alarms and allows operators to take action swiftly and remotely, arming or locking areas as needed.

       3)   Better access control. Establishing a comprehensive and effective access control system, which authorizes who can go where with things like key control and entry logging, can help reporting run smoothly—and make sure the facility is protected from internal threats.

In addition to its existing portfolio of perimeter intrusion solutions, Honeywell recently acquired RSI Video Technologies, whose Videofied© technology helps protect critical infrastructure, such as electrical substations.

RSI’s wireless, battery-powered motion detectors with built-in cameras quickly and securely deliver a video clip with the alarm signal to security monitoring stations and end-users. The solution provides video verification of security incidents as they are occurring, and can shave precious seconds, even minutes, off of response time by law enforcement, yielding more arrests and reduced losses. 

Download this white paper to learn more about how a highly integrated system gives utilities the best defense against attacks and regulatory fines.