Puget Sound Energy Nips Copper Thefts With A Video Verified Security System

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In 2011, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) faced a serious problem: 117 distribution substation break-ins, cost the Washington utility close to $500,000. While part of those costs included replacing stolen copper wire, the utility also had to pay for the labor to make the repairs plus the costs when substations had to be taken off-line. In addition to the monetary issues, in two different incidents, a thief made contact with a transformer and sustained severe burns while attempting to steal copper wire.

The following year, PSE decided to face the problem of its copper theft problem head on. The solution was deploying RadiusVision’s wireless, battery-powered motion detection camera security system that features a video verified confirmation. The wireless video verified security systems were installed at 140 of the utility’s most highly targeted distribution substations. Because the cameras are so portable, the utility also uses the systems to monitor the construction of a substation or protect the valuable assets at a job site.

When an individual passes in front of the wireless camera, day or night, it activates the system and sends a 10-second video clip to a third-party monitoring center, along with the PSE corporate security team. If the security team determines that the photo is of a person and not an animal or a blowing tree leaf, and there is no work scheduled at the substation, the police are immediately notified that a break in is in progress. Police give video verified break ins a “Priority One” response, meaning that officers are immediately dispatched to the break in location.

Even though the video verified system can also have an audible alarm attached and can light up the area when an unauthorized person triggers the camera, PSE’s approach is to try to send the thieves to jail. If the audible alarm and lights were activated, then it may scare off the culprits, who would only return and try again later. The utility’s message is that anyone who breaks into the substation will get caught and go to jail. The thieves who often commit the copper theft crimes are a small group who share information about which substations to target. Since they’ve learned that if they break into a PSE substation, they will likely go to jail, the number of thefts plunged.

While PSE is currently only using the video verified system primarily at its distribution substations, the utility’s transmission substations have full intrusion detection security systems in place such as access control, intrusion detection and CCTV. Because these substations are more of a critical asset with tie-ins to other utilities, it could cause a significant problem if one went offline. By deterring copper theft at its distribution substations, however, the utility is able to protect people and assets, minimize power interruptions and reduce the late-night calls to technicians to get a substation back on-line.

If you want to eliminate copper theft at your substations, call RadiusVision at (800) 448-6140 or email us at info@radiusvision.com