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Substation Attacks: An Ominous Warning for Infrastructure Security

A target has been painted on one of the most critical pieces of America's power grid: electrical substations. And the recent attacks reveal a systemic problem with the way we secure our vital infrastructure.
Utility power station towers amongst a blue sky


The Story of Substations

Electrical substations were, up until recently, a relatively unknown piece of the intricate system that keeps the lights on and heaters heating in the homes of millions of Americans. Thanks to recent news coverage, most people have now been made aware of several attacks on substations in the United States in the late months of 2022. Locations in North Carolina, Florida, and most recently Washington state have been hit with damaging physical strikes, including instances of gunshots aimed directly at station equipment, that have knocked out power for thousands of people and caused untold amounts of monetary damage. The easily observable and highly disruptive nature of substation attacks have unfortunately made them a tempting prospect for bad actors.

The issue has grown in severity in the last few months, long surpassing being written off as simply isolated incidents of petty vandalism. Though investigations into the various incidents are still ongoing, energy officials fear that these attacks are being strategically planned and coordinated, tipping the phenomenon into the realm of domestic terrorism. With a strong likelihood of more attacks being perpetrated in the new year, it is critical for substation operators to secure the facilities that supply power to the country's citizens and businesses alike.


Despite their importance, utility substations unfortunately do not often boast the greatest security. And even with a greatly renewed interest in strengthening and protecting the nation's power grid, the actual task of securing substations is much more complex than simply installing gates or hiring a couple of security guards. In a country comprised of nearly 332 million people and spread across 3.8 million square miles of land, the electricity framework stretches far and wide, with lots of room for gaps in protection. Remote locations are particularly vulnerable; often secured with little more than a simple gate and warning sign, these stations are rarely staffed full-time. Their isolated nature makes them easy pickings for bad actors, who can trespass, vandalize, or even completely destroy equipment and infrastructure with little chance of being caught. The sheer number of electrical substations (over 55,000, according to the U.S. Department of Energy) means that a more effective approach to security has simply not been possible with conventional security measures. Add in the issue of aging infrastructure creating even more potential for failures and lapses in power supply, and it is easy to see the huge problem brewing on the underside of America's essential power systems.


Substation behind a gate with a voltage danger sign

Securing Substations in the Modern Age

Modern, technology-enabled security solutions show great promise in keeping electrical substations up and running, keeping sites protected at a higher level than is possible with traditional methods. Twenty20 Solutions provides the comprehensive security and monitoring solutions that providers need to keep their utility substations protected. Our video surveillance, monitoring, access control, and Active Shooter Location Identification solutions ensure that your sites remain secured at all times, no matter the time of day. With on and off-grid powers options available, as well as wireless connectivity options, our flexible hardware allows for installation in blind-spot areas and outer edges of your facility without power lines.


AI-enabled video surveillance paired with 24/7 live monitoring ensures that eyes stay on your substation at all times, substantially decreasing the risk of any unauthorized entry going unnoticed. Attacks can be prevented before they occur, with calls made to law enforcement the instant an intruder is detected. Artificial intelligence also enables the automatic detection of vehicles, people, gunshots, and more, providing footage with context which can be delivered to law enforcement assisting in both active response as well as investigations, substantially increasing the odds of a successful apprehension. Automated access control solutions allow the streamlining of entry by authorized staff and personnel, while blocking access to would-be intruders, whether it be in a vehicle or on foot.


Lastly, our Active Shooter Location Identification systems immediately trigger in the event of gunfire, with cameras swiveling to capture footage of the shooter(s) and logging the exact time, date, and approximate size of the firearm to better inform operators and first responders. Protect your critical infrastructure, save time and resources, and keep your people safe with Twenty20 Solutions.


References

Albeck-Ripka, Livia. “Attacks on 4 Washington Substations Cut Power to Thousands, Officials Say.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 27 Dec. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/27/us/power-substation-attack-washington-state.html.


Morehouse, Catherine. “Physical Attacks on Power Grid Surge to New Peak.” POLITICO, POLITICO LLC, 26 Dec. 2022, https://www.politico.com/news/2022/12/26/physical-attacks-electrical-grid-peak-00075216.


n.a. “OE Report: Solid State Power Substation Technology Roadmap.” Energy.gov, U.S. Department of Energy, 13 July 2020, https://www.energy.gov/oe/articles/oe-report-solid-state-power-substation-technology-roadmap.


U.S. Census Bureau. “Total Population in United States.” United States Census Bureau - Explore Data, 2020, https://data.census.gov/all?q=population.





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