Oak Ridge National Laboratory

 

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Media Contact: Morgan McCorkle (mccorkleml@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations
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Clamping down on copper theft

ORNL experts helped install a cost-effective security system to guard a utility substation against copper thefts.
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 30, 2011 — Upswings in the price of copper have inspired thieves across the country to steal any amount of the valuable metal, widely found in applications from catalytic converters to HVAC units. In addition to the high costs of replacing the stolen material, hastily attempted copper thefts can result in utility blackouts and deaths by electrocution.

In 2009, an attempted theft of copper cable at a Power Marketing Administration substation sparked an explosion and fire that tripped three transmission lines offline. Although the utility recovered by rerouting the substation's power, other power providers have experienced blackouts and loss of service from similar copper theft attempts.

The 2009 incident resulted in more than $1 million in damages. As part of the response efforts, the Department of Energy's Office of Health Safety & Security collaborated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and multiple subcontractors to help assess the substation's vulnerability and implement cost-effective security measures to prevent future theft attempts.

"ORNL's expertise in systems integration and vulnerability assessment gave us the requisite knowledge to help this site with its security upgrades," said project manager Brigham Thomas of ORNL's Global Nuclear Security Technology Division.

A team including representatives from ORNL, DOE, the utility and several subcontractors installed a comprehensive and affordable perimeter security system consisting of energy efficient lighting, surveillance cameras that operate in a high voltage environment and an anti-cut, anti-climb fence system with integral intrusion detection cable. Engineers from ORNL's facilities and operations directorate helped ensure safe construction practices. The complete system protects a perimeter area of 3600 linear feet.

"This security system will deter future vandalism attempts, allow security officers to conduct surveillance remotely and will automatically alert security officers of an attempt to breach the perimeter so the officers can enact a proper response," Thomas said.

The security system installation, calibration and performance testing were completed in early 2011. Since the implementation, the substation has not reported any security issues. Thomas says the utility is now looking at funding projects to replace fences at similar sites that could be attractive to copper thieves.

"The utility has made this type of fence their new standard," Thomas said.