Magazine article Security Management

Powerhouse Security

Magazine article Security Management

Powerhouse Security

Article excerpt

The Southern California Edison (SCE) Company in Redlands, California, is the nation's second largest electric utility, with a 50,000-square-mile service territory incorporating 4.3 million customers in the central and southern regions of the state. With an operation this size, routine maintenance checks as well as security monitoring of its thirty-two remote hydroelectric powerhouses becomes a costly and time-consuming endeavor.

The unmanned powerhouses are scattered throughout a 45-mile stretch from Ontario to San Gorgonio. Travel among them is not only difficult to coordinate but also slow going. Daily scheduled inspections can consume more than two-and-a-half hours of a technician's time in travel alone, making quite a dent in the company's bottom line.

Faced with a need to cut back on the overtime being shelled out for maintenance inspections and alarm responses, as well as a need for increased safety due to a growing crime rate and unpredictable environmental conditions, John R. Kennedy, maintenance administrator for the Eastern Hydro Region, looked to automation for a solution. Although the hydroelectric branch of SCE had been given a budget for automation, the utility industry's traditional computerized automation system - known as supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) equipment - was not economically feasible. In addition, the SCADA system would take several months to install and would require that an operator interpret mounds of computer-generated data to determine what was actually happening at a site.

After deliberating with other administrators, Kennedy decided that a remote monitoring system capable of delivering a visual picture of each site would provide the security and automation the company desired. While attending a security trade show, Kennedy came across three such systems manufactured by American Dynamics, Sensormatic, and Alpha Systems Lab, Inc. (ASL). Although all three offered a good video picture, a fast response time, and a reasonable price, only ASL's product, the RemoteWatch PRO, had the point-and-click, graphical-user-interface features he desired.

The system, which costs about $8,000, includes a transmitter unit at the remote site and a receiver unit at the control center in Redlands (both of which come in PC-based hardware enclosures), a built-in modem for connection to standard telephone lines, ASL's MegaMotion video capture board, a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and Windows-based telesurveillance software. Cameras, of which SCE purchased four, cost about $1,000 apiece. The entire system had a cost of about one-third of a SCADA system.

By June of last year, SCE had the system online as a pilot test at one of its remote powerhouses in San Bernardino. The powerhouse's switchboard has meters and controls that report the condition of the site, which basically consists of water running off a hill through a pipe that turns generators to produce electricity. Separate from the switchboard is an alarm panel that lights up if anything abnormal occurs such as a break-in or a malfunctioning generator. …

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