Securing critical national infrastructure

The utilities sector is responsible for the critical elements of our everyday life such as the water and electricity supply, gas and oil. However, changes in the social and political environment, as well as the growing scope and impact of the sector in almost everything we do have increased its vulnerability to threats such as terrorism and vandalism. With the eyes of the world turning to the UK this summer, keeping the sector secure becomes a particularly important issue, with threat of terrorism attacks putting everyone on high alert

In July 2011, the disclosure of the Department of Homeland Security’s warning of a potential threat to utility facilities in the US served as a further remainder of the ongoing vulnerability of infrastructure in the utilities sectors across the globe. Utility companies have in fact never been more exposed to risks than in today’s climate, where threats include terrorism, natural disaster, theft and internal crime. Being part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, utilities play a vital role in a country’s ability to sustain itself, and therefore the protection of key facilities such as water treatment works, power plants, remote sites and network infrastructure (particularly electricity substations) has become not only essential, but also high on the political agenda.

To this end, the government has already taken specific actions to ensure the safety and preparedness, for example, of the nation’s water supply in the event of terrorist attacks, by enacting laws, developing guidelines and providing financial assistance to tighten security across the government and the private sector. Moreover, by integrating effective security measures with the day to day running of the operations, utilities companies can further guarantee the protection of their sites.

Securing remote sites
The utilities sector is characterised by its large number of remote locations as well as multi-site offices and production facilities that are used by a variety of people on a daily basis.

Remote locations have to be secure yet accessible 24 hours a day. With maintenance visits being irregular and often conducted by different staff, keys constantly change hands, increasing the security risk and potentially resulting in theft, vandalism or even acts of terrorism. Therefore, reliable and professional security companies will understand that, due to the nature of many of the remote sites in the utilities sector, there is a requirement for robust solutions, with security systems offering physical security as well as flexibility in terms of access control. Products should offer temporary access to mobile employees whilst balancing the need for high security, the ability to withstand attack and cope with potentially corrosive conditions due to extreme weather.  Nowadays access control products such as readers can offer temporary PIN access via SMS or card-based access assigning user rights via GSM systems, ensuring the sector’s need for flexible and secure solutions can be met.

As mentioned, the integration of access control systems with sturdy physical security equipment can also prove valuable, with the market continuing to become highly dependent on CEN-rated padlocks and, indeed, alternatives to padlocks that offer specially designed shields to prevent attack to the cylinders within.

Multi-site offices and production facilities
Although administration and production facilities do not have the same issues as remote locations, they do still require protection, high security and management of access. In some cases, facilities managers or security managers are based on site, but a physical security presence is not necessarily the norm. This makes the definition of user groups, security zones, access authorisation profiles and a suitable access control system a necessity. Security door systems are typically used in perimeter security, and online access control systems offer the ability to centrally manage access at multiple sites nationally. Whether owner-occupied with long-term requirements or sales offices rented on a short-term basis, office spaces need a flexible access control system, where users can be given right of entry depending on their job role and areas that they need to access.

Seeking reliable security providers
In many new-build developments, architects look for hardware that blends into the design of the building. Meanwhile, occupants look for effective security measures that are easy to operate and cost effective. Expert access control manufacturers and integrators are able to advise on solutions that will take in consideration both requirements, and can offer flexible concepts based on intelligent, electronic access control systems. These systems are often also combined with a mechanical master-key system and revolving security doors or turnstiles that, as an add-on benefit, provide excellent thermal insulation whilst regulating the throughput of employees or authorised visitors into main reception areas. When approaching security providers, utilities companies should therefore seek suppliers able to offer solutions with longevity, and with plenty of experience working with the sector, understanding its needs and priorities. Members of the BSIA’s Access Control system have extensive experience providing access control measures to the utilities sector, and have joined forces in putting together a useful guide for the sector. Entitled ‘A Guide to Access Control for the Utilities Sector’, the document brings useful insight into what utilities companies must take into consideration when looking at procuring or updating access control systems, providing also ample examples of BSIA members’ work within the sector. The guide can be downloaded by visiting and searching for form 119.

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