Metal theft, especially of copper, is a shared threat of many remote critical infrastructure sites. A solution can integrate thermal cameras that are networked. Photo courtesy of Axis Communications

With the region facing challenging economic times and the value of recycled copper rising, copper theft at Springfield, Mo.’s unmanned electricity substations was starting to rise at an alarming rate. In just the first two months last year, City Utilities (CU) recorded 17 incidents of copper theft from its power substations. It was obvious that the seven-foot chain link fences topped with strands of barbed wire and the random patrols by CU’s contract security service were hard pressed to deter losses.

Such a threat is common among many critical infrastructure sites.

But CU decided to install an array of thermal and pan/tilt/zoom network cameras (Axis Communications) to detect break-ins in real-time and track intruders until local law enforcement could apprehend them. The cameras at each of the 47 unmanned substations stream video to the company’s central security office that is manned 24/7. Through motion detection alerts, security staff members are notified to monitor specific cameras. If the heat signature indicates that the trigger is human, staff verifies whether the individual is a CU employee or an unauthorized intruder before calling the local law enforcement or its own contract security service to investigate.

In addition to eliminating a rash of false alarms, the thermal and PTZ network cameras help CU mitigate the risk of trespassers tampering with live ground wires and creating the potential for electrocution, both of the intruders and unsuspecting utilities employees who might be coming onto substation property after an event. The real-time alerts have also helped local law enforcement respond to incidents more quickly, causing suspects to flee or be caught before they can cut wires and interrupt the delivery of electricity to residential and commercial customers.       

“Given that copper thieves generally hit our substations under cover of darkness, the thermal cameras help us detect suspicious movement and the PTZ cameras give us enough detail about attire to help law enforcement apprehend intruders,” says Nick Rasey, manager of physical security for City Utilities of Springfield, MO.