Skip to content

Illustration by iStock, Security Management

Utility Streamlines Perimeter Monitoring with Integration

As the largest electricity transmission and distribution provider in Ontario, Canada, Hydro One Limited has a lot of ground to cover.

More than 110 years ago, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario approved the Power Commission Act, providing for the creation of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario—a publicly owned power utility for the province. The electrical generation and distribution company was later broken into five different businesses in 1998, when legislators approved the Energy Competition Act. Out of those businesses, Hydro One emerged.

Today, Hydro One distributes electricity to roughly 1.4 million residential and business customers, many of them rural, accounting for 98 percent of the province’s transmission capacity. Included in this coverage is power generation and distribution to 22 remote communities in the northern region of Ontario.

The power provider is in the process of making various investments in its electric transmission systems throughout the province. As the company made plans to update components of the grid, it also looked at improving other assets, including its physical and cyber perimeter defenses. Enhancing perimeter security would help protect not only an asset for the communities it serves but also the 8,700 employees that build and maintain the system.

“Prior to the upgrade itself, Hydro One’s physical security system was nearing end of life and was non-integrated, predominantly an analog-based physical security system,” says Ben Blakely, chief security officer and vice president of security operations for Hydro One.

Blakely adds that while the legacy systems included proprietary access control, the lack of integration meant that it was separate from video, intrusion detection, and intercom systems in Hydro One’s facilities, forming gaps in situational awareness.

While the previous program could use several data points to trigger incident alarms, the unintegrated state of the system meant experienced operators with a comprehensive understanding of the individual systems and the company’s standard operating procedures had to interpret the information to effectively respond to one or more alarms. All of these factors could potentially slow and complicate incident response.

We were looking to modernize the infrastructure in a way that will help us protect the communities that we operate in. 

“We were looking to modernize the infrastructure in a way that will help us protect the communities that we operate in. Should there be events, we need to adequately respond, and put the right protections in place to secure our infrastructure in...those communities we operate in,” Blakely says.

Besides a search for a more efficient and intelligent system, another reason Hydro One was looking to move on from the older systems was because of newer requirements levied by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC)—a not-for-profit international regulatory body that crafts and enforces reliability standards for power companies, users, and grids throughout Canada, the United States, and the northern region of Baja California, Mexico.

Essentially, the company needed to ensure that physical security systems would be effectively installed, monitored, and maintained.

Hydro One landed on a Genetec solution partly because the Canada-based corporation was already familiar to the transmission company, having worked together on previous technology projects.

It also didn’t hurt that the Genetec Security Center’s centralized monitoring format allowed Hydro One to encourage proper incident management and a more proactive approach to security.

With the solution’s open architecture and various technology partnerships, Hydro One was able to combine input from across all other security components, from overarching programs, plans, technologies, and processes to more granular elements, such as perimeter alarms, surveillance cameras, and check-in points. Leveraging Hydro One’s existing security elements lessened the financial lift for the company, and it used some new Genetec devices and applications to integrate into the updated system.

Blakely adds that a significant benefit of working with Genetec, including using the company’s Mission Control system, was that it gave Hydro One access to a large channel partner community, which could help streamline the integration and installation process.

Given the scale of the project, a multiphase format was used to integrate the solution, while ensuring that customers would only experience minimum service interruptions. Establishing a preproduction environment allowed installers to test the solution and work out any kinks before taking it online.

“By taking that staged approach, rolling it…to production, allowed us to reduce risk and manage those broader business concerns,” Blakely says.

“It offers a single unified platform to manage all aspects of our physical security system, with a strong component of cybersecurity, which I think everybody understands is a fairly significant risk that many of our organizations are managing,” Blakely says.

The data that’s pulled from across the field is generated through a unified security system that provides line of sight into the performance of the system. 

Cybersecurity breaches are a rising risk for organizations that rely on computer systems. As a power transmission system, however, physical protection of its assets will always be a top concern for Hydro One—especially given the breadth of both the network and the customer base.

The system helps the organization keep tabs on activity along a spread-out infrastructure footprint. Hydro One maintains approximately 124,000 circuit kilometers of low voltage power lines, making the Security Center product useful for remotely monitoring alarms set up along the network.

Meanwhile, monitoring access safeguards the security of the power grid and local communities, helping minimize theft and vandalism, discouraging sabotage, and deterring other kinds of harmful activity. The use of Genetec Mission Control in the company’s security operations center (SOC) helps ensure consistency in response management, essentially reducing the overall risk for Hydro One.

For example, the system gave Blakely’s team the ability to shift from the previous format of individual alarm management—where multiple alarms or indicators related to a single event were investigated as separate incidents—to a more proactive, overarching approach to incident response.

Following the integration, when a physical access breach is detected by perimeter alarms or indicators it is displayed to an operator in the SOC. All related information is funneled from numerous sources into a visual site plan, including relevant video feeds and priority alarms. After analysis of the feeds or other alarms to determine the nature and other details of the breach, an operator is empowered to notify local police about the intrusion or take other appropriate action to address the situation.

“The data that’s pulled from across the field is generated through a unified security system that provides line of sight into the performance of the system, events that are happening across the field, and allows us to respond appropriately and deploy resources to those key areas,” Blakely says.

Combining physical and cybersecurity fronts with advanced reporting features provides the company with an improved quality of data from the system. With the solution, Hydro One can better analyze system performance and trends, triaging to determine if equipment or a component of the infrastructure will likely soon need fixing or replacing.

The holistic project has taken multiple years to integrate and implement, but Blakely says the final phases will be completed by the end of 2021.

For more information about Genetec, contact Greg Kemper at [email protected].