The Threat Against Utility Substations
Last year, two people broke into an electrical substation in Bakersfield, Calif., run by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), and cut several transformer wires.
The following night, critical equipment and alarm wires were cut.
In 2013, a group with firearms attacked another PG&E facility, the Metcalf transformer substation in San Jose, Calif., disabling 17 transformers that power Silicon Valley. Multiple individuals outside the substation shot at the HV transformer radiators, causing them to overheat and become inoperative. This same high-voltage substation was attacked again in 2014, when intruders damaged and stole various equipment, staying for as long as four hours without being noticed.
These attacks represent just a few of the dozens of utility attacks that occur in the United States every year. And despite rules issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2014, most transformer sites and substations are protected by little other than chain-link fence.
In today’s tumultuous geopolitical climate, firearm attacks are of mounting concern. In a Congressional Research Service report published in 2014, our power grid — its high voltage (HV) transformers in particular — was identified as a likely terrorist target. Though making up only 3% of the hundreds of transformers in the grid, HV transformers carry as much as 70% of the nation’s energy.
Lax security measures for HV transformers leave the whole grid vulnerable to destabilizing attacks. To ensure the security of our national utility substations, efforts must be made to effectively deter intruders and reduce the risk of break-ins.
Expanded Metal: Superior Fencing Protection & Ballistic Resistance
Most of our nation’s transformer substations are physically protected by chain-link fence and nothing more. Substation security occasionally includes security cameras and alarm systems, but, even then, they’re usually not regularly monitored.
Physical security, therefore, remains the ideal first line of protection; it is passive and relatively inexpensive. But standard chain-link fencing is notoriously weak, easily able to be cut or otherwise compromised. Expanded metal security fencing is a much more reliable solution.
Expanded metal security fencing provides a number of benefits over traditional chain-link fencing, all of which satisfy recommended best practices for substation security perimeters. The smaller openings and rigid design make it extremely difficult to climb and also act as an added visual barrier to protect HV transformers from becoming targets.
Expanded metal security fencing is also much stronger and thicker than chain-link. Chain-link fencing can be cut with standard bolt cutters with relative ease, while expanded metal cannot. Expanded metal also resists bending and fraying and is physically unable to be taken apart, unlike chain-link. Added thickness allows the fence to shatter and deflect small caliber bullets, further protecting the substation.
Metalex has been designing and manufacturing reliable, high-quality security fencing and other expanded metal products since 1962, and is proud to be at the forefront of enhanced substation security.