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Protecting utilities with forward-thinking technologies

May 20, 2024 by Tom Clarke

The role of advanced security solutions to provide protection and commercial value.

Critical infrastructure, as the name suggests, is fundamental to the daily running of our society – our businesses, our schools, our homes, our utilities – and more. With so much at stake, how can we ensure that vulnerabilities – both physical and cyber – are reduced as much as possible?

As an example of when things go wrong, the hack of Ukraine’s power system in 2015 and 2016 impacted hundreds of thousands of people, cutting off power to many homes and businesses. The ‘European blackout’ that originally occurred in Northern Germany caused cascading power cuts across the Mediterranean and further afield – from Croatia to Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia – leaving millions stuck without power, trapped in trains and elevators, and businesses unable to run.

Falling victim to a security breach will have widespread consequences for citizens and customers, as well as your company’s reputation, brand and the safety of employees.

Increased complexity

However, the protection of such infrastructure has become ever-more complex and diverse, especially as more systems connect to the Internet, and automation is increasingly adopted by companies. Furthermore, protecting disparate assets that span an entire nation requires a well-planned and well-executed security strategy.

Physical and cyber-security are progressively intertwined and electronic security systems that are designed to protect the physical environment can, in many cases, be the ‘weakest link’ if they are not installed or maintained correctly. Similarly, no firewall will be able to keep out a nefarious player accessing equipment on-site.

The traditional ways of protecting utilities, therefore, are no longer fit for purpose. We must move away from the core ‘mechanics’ of creation-distribution-removal to consider the new threat areas of cyber-attacks, espionage (both internal and external), vandalism, trespassing, health and safety risks, and more.

Moving beyond traditional protection

In our four decades of experience, we at Reliance High-Tech have witnessed the security sector’s evolution, originally focusing on intruder detection and perimeter protection deployed along fence lines, seismic detection protecting hatches and tanks, and other physical measures such as locks, cameras, and electronic access control. This original strategy hinged on reactive, not proactive or integrated tactics and only provided a low level of intelligence.

New solutions for old problems

As technology progressed, new solutions to old problems were developed to enhance protection and integrity. These solutions are less costly to deploy and maintain, and, in most cases, provide valuable intelligence to a security team and wider afield.

For example, keys and padlocks were traditionally used to secure remote sites. This put a significant burden on the security team to ensure proper key management processes were adhered to, as well as required a degree of trust that lone workers had secured a site correctly and were, as reported, off-site when expected. This could be made more complex when an organisation used contractors, who may not have been vetted to the same standard and who increase security risks. Plus, there are increased costs involved in administration and key/lock replacement.

The rise of digital

Now, there are many digital solutions such as apps, mobile credentials, WiFi, network systems and ‘smart electronic padlocks’ that alleviate much of this friction. Furthermore, they can also provide real-time usage reports, one-time passwords for contractors, and enhance security levels through additional checks and biometrics. These intelligent access control solutions can also be integrated with HR and procurement systems to give further insights on who is accessing and exiting a site.

Automation adds intelligence

Automation could also allow or deny access to certain areas based on an individual’s level of access and credentials. Video detection could also scan for appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment) and deny access to anyone not wearing safety boots and a helmet, for example. Access control involves more than ensuring information or systems are secure – it also ensures workers are too. Only the right people can go on-site, in the right way, with the right equipment.

A similar approach can be taken with vehicle and number plate recognition (ANPR) where only authorised vehicles are allowed on-site. Their time on-site can also be tracked, as well as time taken to unload. This provides insights that can be used by management to improve unloading times, for example, or parking locations.

Potential trespassing or suspicious behaviour can be picked up by the system to alert a security team to take appropriate action. People climbing on structures that are unstable or dangerous can also be flagged for immediate review.

Tailored to each site

Critically, such technology solutions can be tailored to different site characteristics and challenges. Unmanned sites, for example, will require a different approach to one where many people visit daily.

The key to using today’s technologies is to understand how to implement each solution and how to integrate different systems with one another, ultimately to ensure infrastructure continuity.

Areas of focus

For critical infrastructure leaders, therefore, the focus must be on three areas:

  1. Ensuring the technology used is fit for each site’s needs, provides the insights needed to facilitate decision-making, and that each solution works cohesively with other systems.
  2. Aligning physical and cyber-security teams and best practice.
  3. Working with security specialists who can bring disparate systems together, who understand the symbiotic relationship between physical and cyber-security, and who keep updated with the latest threats and technologies.

How Reliance can help

Reliance High-Tech has vast experience in managing and mitigating the unique security risks posed to critical infrastructure companies. As the industry has involved, so too has our approach, moving from solely protecting a site to providing additional commercial benefits through intelligent solutions and strategies.

Such insights can assist with the profitable and smooth running of a business, from understanding bottlenecks and safety issues on-site to proactively managing vehicle parking.

Reliance High-Tech’s approach

Our approach is to help businesses undertake a medium to long-term security strategy with a sustainable security system that provides better results and lower cost of ownership compared to traditional deployments. We partner with each customer to understand their unique needs and business objectives, providing far more value compared to traditional procurement procedures due to our increased understanding and alignment of objectives.

Working with us, we will help you to create a secure, scalable and interoperable security system that encompasses both physical and cyber-security.

We fully understand the importance of security from the core all the way to the perimeter of a site. We recognise that a failure of critical infrastructure systems will quickly cause national implications, not to mention displace people from their homes and affect livelihoods. Therefore, helping organisations to protect their critical infrastructure is our top priority.

Why Reliance High-Tech?

Reliance High-Tech has worked with many leading critical infrastructure organisations including 4 out of the 11 companies providing water and sewage services in the UK, and one of the biggest network distribution operators (DNOs) in the UK.

Our work is certified with the highest accreditations available, to give you true peace-of-mind that your security system follows leading best-practice. This includes ISO270001 and Cyber Essentials and Achilles UVDB certification (where we scored 100% on our past two tests).

Working with Reliance High-Tech, you will also benefit from dedicated IT support and your own 24/7/365 monitoring centre.

Looking to the future

As we look at the coming years, one defining trend within security technology will be the shift from using information to inform security processes, to driving value for the wider business. Many of the solutions being used today will have applications far beyond security – and the events of 2020 have proved this. Cameras proactively alerted to overcrowding and aided with queue management, occupancy counters aided with social distancing, and so forth. Further applications will follow from this, as leaders continue to innovate with existing and emerging technologies.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will become more mainstream, taking over manual tasks to free up security teams for strategic and creative activities. Automation can, for example, continuously watch for potentially dangerous behaviour on-site, so a security professional doesn’t have to constantly monitor a video feed.

Smart city developments will add further opportunities for critical infrastructure security. Leaders will be able to harness data from their security systems and apply this to their smart city insights, to get a complete holistic overview of critical infrastructure operations across a city. Of course, to achieve this, organisations will need solutions that are designed to maximise the data obtained from them and that harness all the data available from existing systems.

This may feel like it’s veering into science fiction, but many established technologies are already viable for security applications. For instance, radar systems and thermal imaging systems are able to provide advanced perimeter protection, even when physical fences are not in place.

Our forward-thinking commitment

As a customer and partner of Reliance High-Tech, you’ll benefit from our forward-thinking approach to security implementation. We continually work with customers and partners to understand not only their evolving business needs, but also where emerging technologies can help them meet their security and commercial goals.

We work hand-in-glove with organizations to identify opportunities where security technology can be repurposed to provide other business benefits (and vice versa with other existing tools). We then use our global connections to build the right solutions for each organisation.

Key takeaways

The security landscape has fundamentally evolved – providing new opportunities and challenges. The technology needed to effectively secure a site has also progressed, to offer greater insights that deliver commercial value as well as security benefits.

Working with the right partner, you can ensure that your security strategy and technologies meet all of your needs, from security to the wider organisation. With Reliance High-Tech, you will gain the benefits of our 40 years’ of experience, our close alignment with your goals, and our forward-thinking, innovative approach.