Keeping Substations Secure - How Utilities Benefit From an Asset Monitoring Service

Substations are critical to the reliable operation of the electric grid, providing the interface between transmission and distribution systems to deliver power to customers. 

Despite their importance, many of these sites are operated remotely and left unattended and undefended for long periods of time. Physical security measures, such as fences, barbed wire, and other barriers provide some level of protection, but substations remain vulnerable to intruders or other malicious actors who can gain access and cause damage without being detected. 

Some of this is due to the sheer number of facilities. North America is home to more than 35 percent of global substations, with more than 75,000 spread across the far reaches of Canada and the United States. In most cases, it’s simply impractical to continuously staff these sites, especially for small and medium-sized utilities.

Instead, utilities can leverage an Asset Monitoring Service for continuous, 24/7 security monitoring. 

The Threats To Utility Substations

Utility substations are hazardous environments that should only be accessed by trained personnel in controlled circumstances. But substations remain attractive targets for malicious actors. 

Copper theft, for example, is a common occurrence, especially when copper prices increase. Similarly, vandals can damage high-value assets, graffiti buildings, or destroy security measures, requiring workers to travel to the site and conduct repairs. Finally, even seemingly innocuous incidents, such as a child hopping a fence to retrieve a lost ball, can have tragic consequences if not prevented. 

What Is an Asset Monitoring Service?

To protect substations, some utilities may engage with a traditional security company. However, many of these companies are unfamiliar with both the utility industry and the specifics of the substation environment. They don’t know what it is, cannot explain the situation to law enforcement, and do not speak the same language as the utility. When a security incident occurs, this lack of understanding can make the situation worse. 

Instead, utilities can leverage the capabilities of a specialized Asset Monitoring Service. By integrating directly with utility-grade sensors from Systems With Intelligence, the service provides 24/7 security monitoring of remote substations. 

Advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and video analytics continuously monitor camera feeds and automatically alert agents at a centralized Security Operations Center (SOC) if a security threat is detected. Agents immediately have access to a live view of the site as well as a customized Action Plan based on the utility, the substation, and the specific scenario. 

The incident is automatically recorded and a report is immediately generated for the utility, police, or prosecutor if required, reducing paperwork and ensuring an accurate account for future follow-up and analysis. 

How Does an Asset Monitoring Service Work?

The Asset Monitoring Service provides an escalating level of response following a Deter, Detect, and Defend framework. 


Deterrence is designed to mitigate a threat before it occurs. It includes physical security barriers as well as lights, signage, speakers, strobes, beacons, or other measures to warn people away before they enter and cause damage. 


Cameras and AI software are programmed to look for specific objects, such as a person, car, truck, or animal, and create an alarm if they come into view. Agents at the SOC immediately start monitoring the site, initiate the Action Plan, and contact local authorities. Inclusion and exclusion zones can be set up to reduce false positives, especially important in urban areas where substations may be located next to a busy street or sidewalk.


Once alerted, agents can take up defensive measures until law enforcement or the utility’s security team arrives on site. In one common example, an intruder was detected on the monitoring system probing a substation and cutting the fence to gain access. Agents took up deterrence and defensive measures, turning on lights, sounding alarms, and speaking to intruders over the loudspeakers to encourage them to leave the area. 

The Benefits of an Asset Monitoring Service 

A specialized Asset Monitoring Service offers numerous benefits over a traditional security company. First, agents are fully trained in the utility industry and understand the equipment, the needs of the utility, and the potential risks of unauthorized access. Second, because agents can monitor multiple substations from a centralized SOC, utilities achieve lower costs than having a physical presence or conducting the work in-house. 

Beyond cost, an Asset Monitoring Service enables quicker response times and real-time intervention to security threats. Staff spend less time on security, freeing them up to focus on operating electrical infrastructure. 

Finally, multiple protective layers and advanced AI secure the facility against malicious actors to deter intruders, increase uptime, and reduce repair and maintenance costs. 

Improving Security at Remote Substations

Utility substations are difficult to secure with a physical presence, but utilities must ensure that intruders and other members of the public are not able to gain access to these hazardous and critically important facilities. 

A specialized Asset Monitoring Service provides continuous, 24/7 monitoring and real-time incident response. Through deterrence, detection, and defense, utilities can reduce unauthorized access, improve safety and reliability, and reduce the overall cost of maintaining and managing remote substations.