HomeNewsIntegrated solutions for the safeguarding of power plants

Integrated solutions for the safeguarding of power plants


Horst Kàƒ¶hler, head of utilities solutions at Siemens’ building technologies division, outlines the benefits of an integrated approach to ‘danger management’ in protecting continuity of power supply.


Horst Kàƒ¶hler, Siemens, Germany

Whether it is coal, gas (combined-cycle or open cycle), nuclear, hydropower, solar power, geothermal, wind power or biomass every power plant is different. From the way in which it produces electricity, its location, design, age and time of commissioning to national legislation, local regulations, regional fire departmental regulations and even insurance stipulations, all need to be recognized as factors that influence the demands of each site for security, fire safety and building comfort.

But they are all similar in that the commercial success of any power plant depends on its capability to manage operational risks and provide continuity of supply. Given that a power plant plays such a fundamental and critical role in a country’s infrastructure, supply disruption can have a significant effect ” economically and politically ” with even short-term interruptions leading to inconvenience on a massive scale, price increases and/or rationing for the areas supplied.

Power facilities carry inherent operational, security and fire risks, which can affect their day-to-day business
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But they are all similar in that the commercial success of any power plant depends on its capability to manage operational risks and provide continuity of supply. Given that a power plant plays such a fundamental and critical role in a country’s infrastructure, supply disruption can have a significant effect ” economically and politically ” with even short-term interruptions leading to inconvenience on a massive scale, price increases and/or rationing for the areas supplied.

Long-term supply reliability is therefore a crucial issue, which requires both short-term and long-term commitment and investment. Most importantly, it relies on protecting existing plants to help power producers reduce the risk of disruption, and in the event of an incident limit damage and restore supply as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.

Power facilities carry many inherent operational, security and fire risks that threaten their daily operations, from theft, vandalism and equipment failure to fires and leakage of potentially hazardous materials. And various political situations around the world, together with the volatility of energy prices, are provoking a new wave of terrorist threats.

Safeguarding power facilities against such diverse internal and external threats calls for an integrated risk management strategy with integrated solutions in electrical installation, fire safety, plant security and building automation.

Identifying the right approach

The sheer diversity of any energy-producing site means that the potential for say a fire hazard exists in both internal and external areas. The many diverse processes involved within the different production chains also mean there are often areas subjected to extremes of temperature ” high and low ” as well as areas with the potential to produce either steam or smoke ” during normal operation or when conducting maintenance work.

Environmental conditions will also contribute to fluctuations in ambient temperatures. These variations all call for different ways to not only monitor the site but also for detection techniques and the way in which the problem is tackled.

Early warning detection systems and constant monitoring are both vital. Plant operators have to achieve regulatory compliance with industry protection legislation. They also need to be constantly aware of the latest revisions and changes and the impact of these on their own protection strategy.

Plants should develop a comprehensive but streamlined protection strategy based on industry standards and best practice. This can be achieved by plants developing a risk quantification strategy to ensure a thorough and efficient analysis of the plant ” utilizing historical data wherever possible to improve the accuracy of forecasts, to understand ’cause and effect’ and its impact on plants. Then engineers can collaborate with risk analysts to transform risk quantification calculations, employing the appropriate electronic systems in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

By identifying and preventing the most common causes of fire, for instance, and by reducing the impact of multiple circuit faults (multiple spurious operations), plants can minimize downtime and repair costs, and prevent any incidents.

Cable systems and circuits should be designed in order to prevent multiple spurious operations and any resulting fires. Cable tray design, layout and implementation can help minimize fire risk, with the latest coverings, solid bottoms, cable jackets, intumescent or endothermic fireproofing and retardants all contributing greatly ” along with regular cleaning and inspection.

Indeed, tidiness and good operational procedures all around the site can help minimize the risk of combustion. By implementing additional inspections and preventative procedures, such as limiting the accumulation of combustible debris ” dust and litter ” as well spillages of volatile liquids, and by training staff on the importance of limiting the likelihood of ignition via regular cleaning, the risks of fire can be greatly reduced. All staff should also be encouraged to be aware of hazards and to report them whenever and wherever they occur.

But we all know that no matter how well maintained a site is and no matter how alert workers are all power plants need the support of modern, electronic systems to ensure real safety and security. So how do you select the right detection systems to safeguard your facility? Or how do you bring existing and ageing facilities up to standard?


An effective safety and security system needs to be modular, scalable and adaptable in order to cope with changing requirements. The risks and threats facing any power plant can include major events resulting from a terrorist attack ” arson, malicious damage, sabotage and data theft ” to normal ‘everyday’ problems such as internal theft, industrial accident and leaking of hazardous materials.

Such a system needs to cater for a large number of staff, visitors and contractors, as well as multiple buildings, which on a power plant can often be far apart. Critical functionality includes the flexibility to be able to set or unset alarms locally while allowing for central monitoring, ease of identification of the origin of an alarm and reliable alarm verification to ensure adequate and appropriate responses.

A ‘multi-layered’ safety and security strategy, which involves a range of systems and capabilities ” physical and electronic ” is the best way to keep the sites of our power plants safe and as secure as possible; from the perimeter fence to the turbine room.

Protection of external fences and perimeters

External fences or walls are the first line of defence against unauthorized intrusion, so the monitoring and surveillance of perimeters is vital for large and complex sites such as power plants. External motion detectors have an important role to play in the necessary, multiple-layered approach to plant security. These systems offer versatile alarm transmission methods, as well as the capability to integrate with danger management stations and video surveillance systems.

When used in combination with video surveillance, external detectors can offer proven reliability and high effectiveness in pro-active surveillance, even in harsh, fast-changing environments. They can also support remote maintenance and alarm status verification. They will normally trigger an alarm as soon as an intruder sets foot inside a restricted area, allowing for real-time verification and response before access to critical areas has been gained. Intelligent alarm verification processes also ensure a high detection accuracy and unparalleled false alarm immunity.

Sites such as power plants are usually large and complex with an extended perimeter. Ensuring their integrity can require a large number of security personnel either patrolling the site or watching images and data transmitted by a significant number of surveillance cameras and other alarming/sensor devices. Research however, has shown that observers find it impossible to concentrate sufficiently or for long periods of time to monitor even a modest number of video screens effectively, let alone the large number needed to cover the surveillance systems of extensive sites.

Integrated intelligent video security solutions, based on a combination of risk-appropriate protective measures, can assist in the protection of life, assets and critical infrastructure with accuracy, reliability and short response times. Video sensory analysis is a technology that is able to gather and filter available data to an extent that a single operator can handle and manage all available information without fatigue, allowing security personnel to focus on critical situations. It supports their decision-making by providing the critical information required to detect, manage and prevent potential security breaches in real-time. The efficiency of the system can be further enhanced by policy-based alarming, object identification, automatic flagging and preventive risk indication.

Open systems architectures again allow the surveillance systems to link to other electronic equipment, such as access control and intruder detection solutions.

Providing Secure and authorized access

With the perimeter patrolled by guards out of hours or in high risk plants, fences electronically monitored and external areas filmed by surveillance cameras for attempted break-ins and other potential problems, outbuildings and storage areas are the next level that requires protection.

Provided these areas around the site are secured with strong defences and reliable locks electronic systems can provide secure and authorized access. These access control systems ensure that only people with pre-arranged clearance are given physical access to controlled buildings, rooms and offices on the site, and more importantly that unauthorized people are kept out.

A diagram showing what form of security and fire prevention/suppression measures can be applied to safeguard a power plant
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Fully integrated access control systems can provide high levels of security and convenience, while at the same time offer freedom of movement in a secure environment for workers, management, contractors and visitors alike. From outbuildings to offices they enable entry to the restricted areas in power plants, including access to sensitive computer data, to be controlled at all times.

They allow staff or visitors to be issued with an access card that determines areas to which they can gain access and the times at which they can do so. Plants running multiple satellite buildings benefit from central management of access rights, allowing staff to access any building with a single card. The same card can be used for realizing a ‘time and attendance’ solution ” checking employees in and out and registering their hours.

With advances in technologies, video surveillance can be set to record upon an alarm being generated at an access control point, in case of forced entry for example, and video cameras and recordings can be accessed and managed remotely over the network from a central control room.

Access rights are managed via a central database and can be tailored to suit the access requirements of each member of staff, based upon seniority or working hours. Doors are permanently locked unless a legitimate user presents an authorized card to a reader at the door or enters the correct code. Biometric technologies, such as fingerprint or 3-D face recognition systems or iris scanning can be integrated to reach an even higher level of security for special areas.

Control of office building systems

The offices and buildings on power plants are becoming increasingly complex and differ in many ways, i.e. use, size, operating hours, central heating, air conditioning, changing occupancy requirements and environmental conditions. But automation systems do not just control the basics. With appropriate system tailoring during planning, installation and commissioning, they are able to integrate common open protocol devices into a single, robust control system.

They can regulate air flow, monitor energy use and can now be called upon to integrate with security, lighting and other systems throughout a building to deliver comfort, safety and energy efficiency. And automation can make office comfort and security systems easier to manage and operate ” controlling everything through a single workstation with remote access from anywhere via secure networking technology.

Protection of processes and personnel

Customized security solutions for all plant types and their possible future development ensure rapid detection, fast and adequate reaction, and help to trigger the appropriate response against any incident. With wide-scale video surveillance of process areas and other sensitive locations, real-time verification of incidents can take place immediately an alarm has been triggered, either by a detector or a member of staff. This helps to protect personnel and assets, as well as improving operational efficiency and recovery times while reducing costs.

Protection against fire, heat and smoke naturally plays a key role in ensuring power plant safety, especially in potential problem areas like turbine halls and cable trays. Intelligent fire protection solutions offer the latest systems for the detection of fire, smoke and heat, even at the very earliest stages of combustion, tailoring detection to each specific area or environment and to spot dangers as soon as they occur before they have the potential to escalate.

But if through unavoidable circumstances a fire does take hold within the plant, various extinguishing methods are available depending on its location.

FIRE Extinguishing systems

Foam deluge systems are particularly suited to the power plant environment given its status as a high hazard application. Such systems are connected to a water supply through a deluge valve, which is opened via the operation of a smoke or heat detection system in the same area as the sprinklers ” as with conventional deluge systems.

When the detection system is activated, AR-AFFF foam is mixed with the water supply from a foam-bladder tank and discharges through all the sprinkler heads in the system.

Gas extinguishing systems would normally be triggered by heat or smoke detection systems to initiate early detection and rapid release of the gas agents to extinguish an electrical fire. They are typically used in critical areas of a plant’s operation such as computer/server rooms, telecoms and electrical switchgear rooms, and other high risk areas where water damage must be avoided.

Other areas where gaseous extinguishing is preferable include stores, laboratories, turbines, oil installations and generators. It is also employed where reliable suppression of fires is needed in hidden or enclosed areas such as control cabinet interiors.

There are various gases that can be used (commonly carbon dioxide, argon, argonite and other Halon alternatives) and the selection will depend on the application and the level of risk for personnel who may be operating in the area being protected.

The gas is stored in self-contained bottles and, when the system is activated, total flooding of the room with gas occurs to reduce the oxygen levels below those necessary for combustion, or it creates a chemical reaction to break the ‘fire triangle’ ” heat, fuel and oxygen.

When considering the installation of a gas extinguishing system, other factors need to be taken into account. The room’s physical integrity needs to be established to ensure that the gas can be contained in the area at the appropriate level and for the necessary duration. Some gas systems require room pressure relief to accommodate initial discharge pressure. Subsequent venting or extraction may also be needed to remove gases and products of combustion after discharge.

Whole site danger management

The growing need for plant security brings new solutions, systems and processes that facilitate the free, safe and efficient movement of people, commodities and information. Today more than ever with the risks and threats that exist making security decisions is not an easy thing to do.

Providing a plant safety and security solution that integrates different systems into one comprehensive administrative entity is not about just merging equipment, systems and technology. It is about putting into practice a design concept to support normal working life and business operations whilst ensuring fast and efficient response to emergency situations. Importantly, post incident reporting analysis ” a regulatory requirement ” provides data analysis should an incident occur, enabling the necessary procedures to be put in place to help prevent it happening again or to have a robust response if it does.

Integrated solutions for power plant monitoring utilize functional analysis and detailed design, taking the plant management’s operational concept and translating it into a technical reality. They detect incidents, trigger alarms and provide real-time information flow across wide areas. These comprise intricately combined technologies that gather the incident-related information necessary for effective decision-making, which enables consistent, decisive and corrective actions to be taken.

Protecting the energy chain

In conclusion, it is important to recognize that the requirements of no two power plants are the same. Appreciating those differences is crucial in securing an integrated solution that truly safeguards energy provision, from electricity generation to transmission to distribution. With the world focusing on providing continuous energy supply and the means through which we can meet the rising demand, protecting the infrastructure and reliability of supply is at its highest level of importance.

Horst Kàƒ¶hler has been with Siemens for over 30 years. In 2006, he was appointed head of Utilities Solutions in the Building Technologies Division, where he is responsible for international energy sector projects.


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