Installation of the MotionViewer remote sentry, a solar powered trailer with megapixel PTZ cameras mounted on a high mast, helped to catch thieves at a coal mine in the central part of the U.S.

As George Washington once stated, “there is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy.” Public utilities such as copper mines, coal mines, and power plants have to be prepared, as much as any other corporate or government entity, especially after Homeland Security experts flagged such facilities as highly vulnerable to catastrophic terrorist attacks. More commonplace, however, seems to be theft from such facilities. 
Such is the case at Gulf Power, which serves more than 400,000 customers in 10 counties throughout Northwest Florida, from Pensacola to Panama City. Criminals were stealing copper wires and components from remote, often unattended, power substations at frequencies reaching epidemic proportions. The threats were creating multi-faceted challenges for utility companies, and those in charge of their security.
Copper wiring and components have garnered increased attention from criminals because its value has gone up drastically in recent years, and it can be easy to unload: a quick trip to the scrap yard, and thieves can swap stolen copper for easy cash.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy published a study reporting that thefts of copper wire costs American industries more than $1 billion every year. The same report found that thieves hit everything from utility poles to service trucks; substations, however, are especially vulnerable.
But the cost of metals theft to the utility companies goes far beyond the immediate loss of materials – companies encounter losses in operating revenue, they incur the costs associates with repairing their damaged infrastructure, and have to compensate for the damaged substations being off-line while they’re under repair.
Gulf Power began using thermal imaging technology from FLIR Systems to help it fight the growing costs associated with the theft of copper wiring and components from its substations, which provide power to critical infrastructure assets and local military bases. The substations are typically unmanned and the network of fence sensors and security video cameras are monitored remotely from a central security facility or dispatch center.
Gulf Power realized that security video cameras are not optimal solutions for providing 24-hour visual security, even at facilities like substations that can be lit with floodlights, because of their limited range and potential poor lowlight imaging capability. To solve its security needs, Gulf Power worked with Pensacola-based security integrator Advanced Control Concepts (ACC) to find and implement a 24/7 visual security solution.
ACC installed FLIR’s PTZ-50 MS multi-sensor thermal security camera for its 24-hour imaging capability and 360-degree panning capability. Thermal security cameras provide clear imagery in total darkness, giving Gulf Power’s security personnel, including Charlie Griffith, an investigator with the power company, improved imaging performance, allowing him to monitor the substation’s fence lines and the surrounding area for approaching people and vehicles. Thermal video is naturally high in contrast, so it works well with video analytics package ACC installed in Gulf Power’s central monitoring facility.
The FLIR thermal security cameras were mounted on 30-inch poles for greater coverage, and the camera’s auto-slew command to respond to fence sensor alarms automatically pointing the camera at the appropriate alarm zone. This allows security crews to analyze and assess the cause of the alarm quickly and accurately.
“These thermal cameras have greatly enhanced our security crews’ ability to see at night, and this lets us respond more efficiently to all manner of alarms and intrusions,” said Griffith of Gulf Power.     

A Blended Video Solution

Coal mines often face the same security and theft challenges as do copper mines, as Securitas Security Services USA, Inc. recently found. The company provides security services to some of the nation’s largest utilities, mining operations and petrochemical plants, including a large coal mine in the central part of the U.S. and was the target of repeated thefts. According to Kory Best, branch manager for Securitas USA, the mine presented significant security challenges, including:
  • It was remote; 10 miles from the nearest community, homes or businesses.
  • There was no electrical power or lighting.
  • There was no broadband or telephone.
  • The site itself covered over 150 acres.
The mine had been the target of repeated thefts and tens of thousands of dollars in losses over the past few years. The mine’s security personnel worked with Securitas to protect the facility. 
Initially, two patrol officers were deployed to the site, as that was all the budget would allow, yet the sheer size of the site was overwhelming for only two officers. Each patrol took more than one hour to complete. While patrols did provide significant deterrence, the patrols were never able to actually identify or apprehend any thieves. The thieves became more sophisticated and began using lookouts to warn each other as the patrols approached and losses continued. While ultimately there is no substitute for a live guard to respond to an intrusion, deploying trained personnel to remote locations is costly, even in the best economy. The security solution included installation of three Mobile Surveillance Units (MSUs), essentially a solar powered trailer with megapixel PTZ cameras mounted on a high mast. Though the MSU’s enhanced the site’s surveillance beyond what the officers’ patrols could provide, the security officers still were not able to monitor 100 percent of the site or inside any buildings. In addition, the night vision was limited and there was no illumination from site lighting to assist. This made monitoring a more labor intensive feat.

The Last Straw

In early June, thieves struck again and made off with thousands of dollars of copper wire and cable. MSUs could not monitor every portion of the site (exterior and interior), thus allowing thieves to gain access undetected.  A more comprehensive solution was still needed in order to “lock down” the site from a surveillance standpoint.
Videofied, a wireless outdoor security system that operates up to four years on one set of batteries, became the best security solution for the problem. MotionViewers detect intruders and send a 10 second clip of the intrusion over the cell network to a monitoring operator for immediate review. The operator can dispatch law enforcement and log into the MSU cameras for streaming video to coordinate response in real time. Videofied provides the coverage needed with up to 24 MotionViewers on one system. The MotionViewers were used as “remote sentries” to support a PTZ camera on a centrally located MSU.  The Blended Video concept worked. A few days after the latest intrusion, the system detected intruders and sent a video alarm to the monitoring station, contacted Best, who then logged into the MSU (from his kitchen table) and tracked the thieves in real time across the site. While the thieves were at work, mine security personnel joined local law enforcement to aid in the capture. A Deputy Sheriff arrested the two suspects and recovered all the materials targeted for theft.

How are Power Plants Kept Safe?

In response to the events of September 11, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), with support from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), developed guidelines to address the unique challenges of security events to existing Emergency Preparedness (EP) programs at nuclear power plants across the U.S. Recent NEI guidelines are encouraging the nuclear industry to conduct unevaluated Hostile Action-Based EP Drills at all nuclear power plant sites before 2010.
A Hostile Action is an act toward a Nuclear Power Plant or its personnel that includes the use of violent force to destroy equipment, take hostages, and/or intimidate the licensee to achieve an end. This includes attack by air, land, or water using guns, explosives, projectiles, vehicles, or other devices used to deliver destructive force. 
NEI said that even though the radiological consequences will be the same whether caused by a Hostile Action or a plant event, Hostile Actions “would provide unique challenges for emergency responders.” To prepare for challenges, the nuclear industry has begun conducting drills that use Hostile Action-Based (HAB) scenarios as initiating events. The drills demonstrate the licensee’s ability to coordinate onsite security, operations, and emergency response personnel with offsite organizations, such as State and local emergency management and law enforcement. The initiative is also being incorporated into the existing emergency preparedness program as part of proposed NRC rulemaking.