Energy and utility companies are heavily investing in upgraded security solutions to maintain and secure the grid for optimal performance and energy distribution. Remote critical infrastructure sites are particularly vulnerable to disruptions from intrusions by humans, animals, natural events, physical attacks, or man-made accidents. As most electrical substation sites are spread far apart in remote areas with long response times, resilience and uptime are critical. Keeping these sites maintained and secured is of huge importance.
This process can be costly, time-consuming, and high-risk, as it involves contracting multiple security integrators to travel to remote locations for on-site walkthroughs and assessments or to quote and respond to RFP requests.
To reduce site visits and improve efficiencies in the security assessment and solution design processes, consultant Jon Polly, Chief Solutions Officer of ProTecht Solutions Partners, utilized a pre-existing 3D visualization of the site powered by Visual Plan software, SiteView, to serve as the foundational visual reference for a 100% remote assessment and security solution design of an electrical co-op in Southern USA. By utilizing the co-op’s existing virtual walkthrough powered by 360-degree imagery previously captured by Visual Plan, Polly was able to expedite the assessment and design timelines, increase client understanding of the findings, and extract additional value from the Digital Twin as a multi-disciplinary asset.
To conduct a thorough assessment and review of the substation site, Polly integrated several visual tools into the existing SiteView 360-degree imagery and 3D visualization to provide critical spatial context for the security system design:
- Google Earth satellite imagery for aerial context,
- diagrams built using SiteOwl depicting the security system design,
- existing single-line electrical site drawings,
- and the existing navigable virtual walkthrough built from 360 photos provided critical ground-view spatial context
Integrating these visual resources further enhanced the Digital Twin of the electrical substation site and enabled Polly to conduct the assessment 100% remotely, resulting in a 100% safe execution and decreasing the security assessment timeline from several days to several hours:
“By having Visual Plan SiteView for virtual access and 3D visualization of the site, this small site assessment was a 4-hour implementation of a design rather than a 3-day exercise (including travel) because I didn’t have to go out and do the site walk in person. With the visualization, I had all the tools there at my disposal and was able to get detailed information. More importantly to the customer was the elimination of on-site internal escort costs for 2 ½ days, significantly reducing customer operations impact.”
– Jon Polly, Chief Solutions Officer, ProTecht Solutions Partners
In addition to impacting design timelines, the integration of visual tools into a single data source allowed for more effective client communication, as well as an increased understanding of the assessment findings and proposed security solutions. Clear communication led to faster customer approval times and improved the quality of the overall project planning, design, and implementation.
Challenges: Financial, timeline, and safety concerns require virtual assessments and minimal site visits
As with most projects, the more individuals involved in the security design process, the higher the costs become and the higher the risk of on-site safety incidents. OSHA reports that fatal electrical events are 10x more likely to occur onsite than mechanical events, meaning every site visit carries a significant risk of injury or death: undetected ground faults, hot equipment, connection issues, arcs, direct contacts, falls and man-made incidents can cause safety hazards for anyone on-site.
Project timelines increase for every integrator site visit to accommodate travel and report review time, as each integrator utilizes their own method of documentation, site photography, assessment results, and solution details. For large organizations with many affected utility or substation sites, this can mean several months and several hundreds of thousands of dollars spent conducting site walkthroughs alone. Using a common platform and a more efficient design process, the consistency of designs and solution deployment results are a high-value byproduct.
For this electrical co-op, security assessments were required on several substation sites within the short timeline and limited budget afforded smaller utility organizations. Contracting numerous systems integrators to visit the site, requiring additional safety protocols, and generating incongruous proposals needing substantial internal review and analysis was unrealistic.
The end-user needed a solution that would allow for a 100% remote security assessment and system design, avoiding:
- safety concerns, long timelines, and costs of multiple integrators going to remote sites, resulting in multiple designs to review from each integrator/vendor
- a lack of singularity, consistency, and congruity of plans and proposals
- inconsistent photographs, drawings, or diagrams of the site that lack spatial context
- excessive security design solutions for the site need
- brand-specific security solutions that do not integrate well with established technologies
“The old statement that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ plays exactly true with Digital Twins. For any customer, if I’m going to be performing multiple assessments, Visual Plan is a tool that I employ along with my survey tools as part of my workflow. Not only is it an effective 3D visualization tool for my security assessment, analysis, and design workflow, but it’s also a deliverable that I can then provide to my clients at the end of a project for the deployment of their solution, ongoing site maintenance, and as a foundational tool for future annual assessments I may do on their site.”
– Jon Polly, Chief Solutions Officer, ProTecht Solutions Partners
Solution: Powered by 360-degree photos and 3D visualization, a virtual walkthrough serves as the foundation for 100% remote security assessment, design, and communication
Building a virtual site with 360 Imagery
Several months before the security assessment exercise, a single Visual Plan field operative traveled to the remote substation sites to capture the 360-degree photogrammetry required to build the initial 3D visualization and virtual walkthrough of the site. Using a hardhat mounted Ricoh Z1 360-camera, Visual Plan walked the substation to capture the as-built conditions, including access points, critical assets, and the substation control room. The 360 imagery was processed and uploaded into Visual Plan’s SiteView software the same day and delivered to the electrical co-op as an ongoing reliability maintenance management tool.
When the co-op was ready to proceed with a security assessment, they contracted Security Design Consultant Jon Polly to utilize this existing resource as a remotely accessible, walkable, and measurable 3D digital twin of the substation site from which he performed a 100% safe and 100% virtual security assessment.
Executing a 100% Remote and 100% Safe Site Assessment
As a consultant, Polly approaches each security assessment focused on maximizing security investment without sacrificing efficiency. He achieves this by focusing on the proper placement of the proper technology for the highest value without leaving gaps in security. This includes both working within existing security ecosystems or recommending a new security road map of systems that are already NERC CIP compliant, depending on the client’s needs. To perform the security assessments effectively, accurate site documentation and visualization of the as-is conditions are critical.
Polly worked with the co-op’s existing Visual Plan SiteView as a single-source, virtually accessible, visual record of the electrical substations’ as-is conditions and utilized it as a critical component for his assessment and design process, as well as supporting client communication.
In addition to the ground perspective provided by the walkable 360-degree virtual site tour, Polly imported Google Earth satellite imagery into the Digital Twin for an aerial perspective to aid in conducting a complete virtual assessment of the site for perimeter security planning. He then utilized security planning tool SiteOwl to design the security plan layout, and import those diagrams into the Digital Twin for a comprehensive and interactive visual representation of the proposal.
“With Visual Plan providing a 3D virtual walkthrough of the site, I was able to see all the detail without having to be there physically, which means a 100% safe execution. The 3D visualization allowed me to identify where and how to position access control devices, cameras, and alarm sensors for the perimeter of the facility. I was able to make a full vulnerability assessment of the perimeter, and put in security appliances to give the client the ability to cover the entire perimeter with as minimal security applications as the site needs.”
– Jon Polly, Chief Solutions Officer,
ProTecht Solutions Partners
In-Environment Annotations for Better Client communication
Using Visual Plan’s in-environment annotations feature, Polly showcased his security design proposal to the client within the walkable 3D virtual environment, including the placement of multi-sensor cameras at site access points to allow remote view and control, eliminating manual action on behalf of the user.
The remotely accessible Digital Twins and site assessment documentation allowed the client to have a full write-up of the security system needed at the site and the spatial context of the walkable environment. This process is delivering better client communication, understanding, and empowerment as they move forward in the integration process.
“As a consultant, I provide end-users the budgetary quote estimate and bill of materials as a tool for reviewing and comparing system integrator proposals, enabling customer confidence and more effective decision before an integrator even gets involved. Combining this benefit of using a consultant with the visualization and data management of the Digital Twin, end-users and facility operators can gain higher confidence in their decision-making and gain more accountability for project outcomes.”
– Jon Polly, Chief Solutions officer, ProTecht Solutions Partners
With Visual Plan’s SiteView, the bill of materials has improved context with proposed security assets geolocated to their specific locations in the walkable virtual tour of the site. This spatial awareness provides a higher level of understanding of the site and project needs, allowing both the end-user and integrator to know exactly what they need to do before they even get to the site leading to more efficient and effective pre-planning, coordination, and equipment management.
Critical Features for Success
Despite the inherently dangerous environment of an electrical substation, the use of Visual Plan software enabled a 100% virtual assessment, resulting in a 100% safe execution. For the security risk assessment and solution design process, visualization through Digital Twins assisted in eliminating assessment site visits, expediting the design process, communicating findings to the client, increasing client confidence, and reducing decision-making timelines.
These results were achieved because of Visual Plan’s innovative features and functionalities:
- Remote access and spatially accurate virtual walkthroughs
- The capital investment barrier to entry was low
- Visual Plan performed all capture, processing, and Digital Twin delivery
- Easy import, scale, and alignment of aerial site photography and site diagrams via Import Floorplan Wizard
- Intuitive organization of 360-degree images across areas and spaces (accelerated via the Visual Plan Capture App)
- AI spatially and accurately aligned the panoramas automatically
- In-environment asset tagging and documentation
- Sharing/Reporting via deep links and remote viewing
- Secure data hosting
“With Visual Plan SiteView, a single person can go on-site to capture the 360 photos and build the virtual walkthrough. Consultants or integrators can take that resource, identify which security design assets need to be replaced, implemented, or changed, and you can potentially now have that plan developed in under a day. By comparison, it takes some large organizations 6 months just to conduct multiple integrator walkthroughs.”
– Jon Polly, Chief Solutions officer, ProTecht Solutions Partners
About Jon Polly & ProTecht Solutions Partners
Jon Polly is the Chief Solutions Officer for ProTecht Solutions Partners, a security consulting company focused on smart city surveillance. ProTecht Solutions Partners is a physical security consulting company set to provide services to both public and private entities to protect people, freedom, and valuables through experience in Policing, Security, and Project Management.