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Automation galvanizes security.

Corporate security departments across the nation are being asked to do more with less. This is especially true in the electric utility industry, which is about to undergo a deregulation that will soon allow consumers to purchase their electricity from the lowest bidder - not necessarily the local power company. With this increased competition on the horizon, electric utilities are scrambling to cut costs and develop more competitive price structures, a trend that is having a big impact on security.

The Alabama Power Company has faced such a challenge. Over the past five years, the utility's security department has been under pressure to cut costs. In 1996, for example, senior management required the department to reduce its budget by about 15 percent. Because most of the security department's budget is taken up by salaries, this meant that staff cuts were inevitable. The department has had to cut eight people from its corporate headquarters' staff of thirty-seven since the early 1990s. Reductions have also occurred at the utility's other facilities.

But the security department has continued to fulfill its mission by phasing in new electronic security systems that allow a smaller staff to handle the job. Among the systems added have been new alarms, access controls, CCTVs, automated gates, telephone entry systems, and intercom systems.

The project was coordinated by the electronic security group, one of three divisions within the security department (the other two are investigations and uniformed guards). Drawing on the expertise of in-house staff in this manner, rather than hiring consultants, helped to hold down the overall cost. In addition, Alabama Power - which is part of the Atlanta-based Southern Company - was able to get competitive prices by coordinating its electronic equipment purchases with its sister companies in the utility conglomerate. (The Southern Company is also the owner of Georgia Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power, as well as other utilities in the Southeast.)

The security team determined the company's security needs by meeting with other employees and understanding each function of the power company. The department then designed a security plan and began the bidding process. Ten to fifteen vendors were contacted and invited to submit a bid for each piece of equipment. When equipment was purchased, the three-member electronic security group did most of the installations in-house. This process will also be used for future purchases.

The company now coordinates its electronic security from a central monitoring station at its corporate headquarters in Birmingham. The center monitors access control, alarms, CCTV, and intercoms for the headquarters building. It also monitors alarms at all company sites around the state. In addition, the central station monitors CCTV cameras for about thirty remote facilities.

Each security technology runs off of its own standalone system. For example, officers are responsible for monitoring four PCs at the central station - one that oversees the HQ's access control and alarm system, a second that runs the CCTV cameras at headquarters, a third that is used to monitor alarms from remote locations, and a fourth used to monitor CCTV images from remote sites. (The intercom system is a standalone system as well, but it relies on traditional two-way communication and is not run from a PC.)

The company maintains a handful of remote monitoring stations that monitor surveillance systems in certain regional areas. In addition, each company facility monitors its own access control system. (Over the next year or so the company plans to centralize its access control database so that the Birmingham station can monitor access control at all company sites.)

Headquarters. The headquarters building has an access control system that is currently being updated. There is also an intercom system that allows employees to talk directly with officers at the central station and a surveillance system, which is also being updated.

Access control. The company has used Wiegand insertion card readers for several years but has been slowly phasing in proximity cards and readers, a project that should be complete before the end of 1999. The proximity cards were chosen by the Southern Company, which has decided to standardize its access control at all of its utility companies. Proximity technology requires little training and is more convenient for employees, who only need to hold the card close to the reader to access a doorway or gate.

About 100 card readers are used at Alabama Power headquarters. The readers control access into the building, sensitive office areas inside the facility, and the site's two parking garages. As the new proximity card readers are installed, employees are required to carry two cards until all the Wiegand units have been replaced.

The proximity access cards also double as photo IDs. They are made in the security department using a video imaging system. The cards are printed on an adhesive material using a dye sublimation printer and then applied directly onto the proximity badge. Images of each employee are also stored in the access control system's database so that they can be called up by security to verify the identity of someone who has lost his or her badge.

All badge transactions are stored in the access control database. If an unauthorized user attempts to access a doorway or if someone forces open a door without a card, an alarm signal is transmitted to the central station and a report comes up on the access control system's PC. Security knows the exact door where the alarm has occurred and can send an officer to the scene.

Intercoms. There are thirty-six intercom stations located throughout the employee parking garages and vehicle entry lanes. Each unit is hardwired to a master unit at the security console, which allows officers to talk to anyone who activates one of the field units. The intercoms are used in the event that an employee has misplaced an access card and needs assistance entering the garages. They can also be used if an employee is in distress and needs help from security. When an employee activates the intercom system, the security officer at the monitoring station can call up a corresponding CCTV camera and visually verify the employee's identity before granting access.

CCTV. There are twenty-eight CCD surveillance cameras in and around the headquarters building its well as its two parking garages. Twenty-two cameras are fixed and six have pan-tilt-zoom capabilities. The cameras transmit images to the central station via a coaxial cable. There are sixteen monitors at the station and a matrix switcher, which is wired to all cameras. The matrix switcher, which in this case is a PC. is used to program camera tours and sequence images from the various camera views onto the CCTV monitors. Digital recorders are used to record images from cameras.

At least one security officer is at the console at any given time to monitor the surveillance system. Officers are rotated in and out of the station every hour to keep them fresh.

Until recently, all the cameras were black and white. The company has replaced seven of these devices with nine-inch outdoor high-resolution color cameras with dome housings. The cameras have auto focus and 360-degree pan capabilities. They also have a 48:1 zoom lens, which allows them to record a license plate number from 100 yards away. The color cameras make possible more detailed descriptions of suspicious persons or vehicles. The company plans to eventually replace the other twenty-one black-and-white devices with color cameras.

The company has installed two new twenty-inch Sony high-resolution color monitors that are used to view images from the color cameras at headquarters. The monitors can be split into sections to view images from up to sixteen cameras. A sixteen-camera duplex color multiplexer has also been installed as well as a high-density S-VHS recorder. which can record up to sixteen cameras on one tape. The older video recorders could only record images from one camera at a time.

Remote monitoring. In addition to corporate headquarters, the central station in Birmingham monitors all alarms and some CCTV at remote sites around the state.

Alarm monitoring. The software and database used for monitoring alarms at remote locations is run off of a file server located in the company's computer room. The file server's database contains such information as telephone numbers and contact names for local police departments and corporate personnel at the remote facilities, along with security personnel and key contact people in each facility. It also includes instructions on how officers in Birmingham should respond to various alarms.

The file server is connected to a PC located at the central station's console. The PC is the workstation that displays all incoming alarms and instructions to the attending security officers. The security staff also uses the PC to access the file server and update its database whenever numbers or instructions need to be changed.

In addition, the PC acts as a backup should the file server ever go down. The PC contains copies of all the software and database information. The database is downloaded into the PC each night to ensure that it has a record of all alarm conditions that occurred that day as well as any telephone number or contact name changes.

The monitoring station uses a digital alarm monitoring receiver that receives signals from alarm systems throughout the state. Under this system, all door contacts, motion sensors, glass-break units, and emergency panic buttons in the remote facilities are connected to a central alarm panel at each of the individual facilities. When one of these devices is activated, it sends a signal to the alarm panel, which transmits the alarm to the Birmingham station via telephone lines.

The receivers get the signal and pass it through to the file server, which interprets the alarm and displays it on the PC's screen with the appropriate instructions and telephone numbers. The officer in the monitoring station can then see which alarm has been activated, along with its location.

Remote CCTV. Each of the utility's remotely monitored sites, depending on its size and needs, has between one and sixteen cameras. The cameras are monitored using an over-the-phone-line video transmitting and receiving system. The system allows the monitoring officer to control all pan-tilt-zoom operations, open doors or gates, and even turn on lights from Birmingham. Unlike the headquarters' surveillance system, which is displayed on traditional CCTV monitors and recorded on digital recorders. the cameras at remote locations transmit their images over the telephone lines to a PC at the central station in Birmingham. This PC can be split into quadrants so that four different remote sites can be viewed at once. The PC also records images from these remote sites onto its hard drive. The system consists of software that resides on the PC in Birmingham and hardware (cameras, cables, and panels) that have been installed at each remote site.

The surveillance systems at these sites are integrated with the alarms so that the central station receives video images from the site during alarm conditions. These images can be seen live on the PC and are automatically recorded and stored on its hard drive. This setup allows security to verify visually what is happening before notifying police or company authorities about the problem.

The integration was achieved by connecting the central alarm panel at each remote site with a panel that controls the facility's CCTV cameras. When a motion sensor trips, for example, it sends a signal to Birmingham via the alarm control panel while at the same time transmitting a signal to the CCTV control panel. The nearest camera is then activated and begins transmitting video images to Birmingham via a second telephone line. The alarm signal from the remote site is displayed on one PC; images from the CCTV system at that same site appear on another PC.

The company also installed an over-the-phone-line audio talkback system at each location where a camera was installed. If the officer in Birmingham sees an intruder via the CCTV system, he or she can verbally challenge the intruder and order him or her off the property. The officer can also talk to the police when they arrive. The intercom system's speakers are wired to a third panel, which is connected to the alarm control panel. Speakers are activated automatically when an alarm occurs.

During normal conditions, the Birmingham security station uses the CCTV receiver software to connect to and monitor the remote sites on a rotating basis, with each rotation covering four different remote locations at a time. The system dials in to four sites and receives video images on the PC, with video from each location appearing in one of the quadrants. The system allows the operator to remotely control the outdoor domes. Officers choose which sites to monitor at various times during the day.

Remote stations. The company maintains three auxiliary monitoring stations at remote facilities that are responsible for monitoring surveillance cameras at their own site as well as at two to three other sites that are within a few miles. These locations include a steam plant, a hydroelectric facility, and the utility's western division office. In addition, five other steam facilities monitor their own CCTV cameras. (The seventh and final steam plant is not automated at this time.)

This approach was taken for two reasons. First, security felt that it made more sense for on-site officers to monitor these sites since they were more familiar with who was authorized to be there and could more easily recognize trespassers. Second, by having a remote monitoring station watch over the facility, officers could be dispatched much more quickly when an incident warranted such a response.

Results. The remote surveillance has helped the company reduce its officer staff at several sites around the state. For example, one of the first remote video surveillance installations was at one of the company's smaller hydroelectric plants located about 120 miles from Birmingham. Like all other Alabama Power generating plants, this facility had always relied on a contingent of armed, uniformed proprietary guards. The facility eliminated all guard coverage by installing five low-light, high-resolution CCD cameras that were monitored from the central station in Birmingham. The cameras take black and white images and have pan-tilt-zoom capabilities.

One camera was installed near the main entrance gate, one was installed below the tailrace of the dam, one each was placed on the West and East headworks of the dam, and one was mounted inside the building overlooking the generator floor. An intercom speaker was installed at each camera location.

Intrusion detection at this site was handled by installing outdoor dual photoelectric beams around the perimeter of the facility. Security stacked two sets of beams, one over the other, to get the desired protection. Motion sensors were installed inside the office areas and on the generator floor. Alarm relay outputs were connected to an alarm panel, which was connected to the CCTV panel.

The company was also able to eliminate one guard shift at six of its seven steam generating plants by automating their main entry gates. These sites now have heavy-duty hydraulic gate operators that use an aluminum rail and pinch rollers to open and close the gate. This device eliminates all of the problems associated with chain-drive operators. Safety loops and photoelectric beams are installed on all automated gates to prevent the gate from closing on a pedestrian or a stalled vehicle.

In addition, the company installed a card reader, a color camera with a wide angle lens, and a telephone entry system at the entry and exit gate of each steam plant. When there is no guard on duty, employees must use their ID cards to get in and out of the facility.

If an employee does not have a card, he or she must push the call button on the telephone entry system. Doing so causes the system to auto-dial a phone in the plant control room, which has a color monitor that allows the operator to see who is at the gate. If the person is authorized to enter, the operator presses a digit on the telephone keypad and the appropriate gate will open.

Most of the steam plants have more than one gate. In these cases, all of the gates are automated but only the main gate has a telephone; the other gates have intercom communication only. The video and intercom are connected to a fiber optic transceiver that sends the video and intercom signals to the guardhouse via fiber optic cable. This approach was a less expensive alternative to using regular telephone connections at each gate.

At each gate security also installed a pole-mounted camera that gives an overall view of the gate area. The cameras at these six steam plants are monitored by staff at each individual facility. All of the cameras are monitored at the guardhouse via a sixteen-position, color duplex multiplexer with one monitor displaying all cameras and a spot monitor displaying a full-screen view of any desired camera. The video from all cameras is recorded on a high-density S-VHS recorder. The output from the multiscreen monitor is connected to a fiber optic transmitter and sent to the control room monitor at the individual facilities.

Nonsecurity benefits. The remote surveillance systems installed throughout the state have also brought some nonsecurity benefits to the company. For example, the company operates a hydro operation center in Birmingham from which operators can (using a PC) control such things as the opening and closing of dams, the generation of steam at steam plants, and other nonsecurity functions.

Since security surveillance cameras were installed at the hydro facilities, the company decided to give the hydro operator console use of these cameras when they are not being used by security. The Robot HyperScan Ultra RX-50 receiver software was installed on a computer at the hydro operator's console so that the operator can use the security cameras for public safety purposes, troubleshooting, and generator alarm verification.

For example, before starting a generator, an operator will now call up the camera looking at the tailrace of the dam for any fishermen who might be fishing in the area. Even though the company has hung huge signs warning of dangerous water, the fishermen bring their boats right up to the dam. (Fishermen love to fish in the areas just below the dam because fish are drawn to the cool oxygenated water in this area.)

The problem is that when a generator is put on line, it causes a surge of water to be expelled below the dam. This sudden release of water can overturn a fisherman's boat. In the past, the company would sound a loud siren before putting the generator on line. Now, in addition to the siren, the operator can visually inspect the area and verbally warn any fishermen that the generator is about to be activated.

Just as consumers have come to appreciate the need for energy efficiency to conserve power and save money, the security department at Alabama Power is learning the utility of efficiencies that can be gained from automating security functions. The new electronic security systems are expected to help the company save money well into the future, while keeping its staff and facilities safe.

Redundant Backup

The utility's central station in Birmingham is backed up by a hot site in Atlanta. Located in the Georgia Power Company's monitoring site, the hot backup has all the same monitoring equipment as the station in Birmingham. In the event that a disaster strikes Alabama and leaves the Birmingham monitoring station incapacitated, security personnel for Georgia Power can monitor all electronic security in Birmingham and the other sites in Alabama until Alabama Power's staff arrive to take over the backup station.

The monitoring computer in Atlanta is on the same network as the computer in Birmingham. Every night, security officers in Birmingham download information from the alarm monitoring software on the file server to the hard drives of the backup PCs in both Birmingham and Atlanta.

Bill Quinnelly is the electronic security coordinator at Alabama Power Company, Birmingham, Alabama.
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Alabama Power Co.'s security system
Author:Quinnelly, Bill
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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