ComEd looking to make security enhancements at Elgin substation, attempting to align with federal guidelines

ComEd plans on making security upgrades at its substation on National Street in Elgin to meet federal regulations created to protect critical infrastructure sites, officials said.

The electricity utility company is replacing a 6-foot fence with an 8-foot one that has a foot of barbed wire, installing new gates and new security lights, and installing cameras, city of Elgin Senior Planner Damir Latinovic said at a recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.

ComEd also planning to install 28-foot light poles that would be activated by motion detectors. The additional security will be added to the substation located north of National Street on the west bank of the Fox River.

“ComEd is making these enhancements in order to secure critical infrastructure sites such as substations,” said Will Otter, an attorney representing the utility company. “Substations are obviously a key part of the electric grid.”

The company is doing security updates to substations throughout its territory, Otter said. “This is in line with the federal directive to protect against attacks,” he said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission established guidelines in 2013 following an attack on the the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Metcalf substation in Coyote, California, where a team of gunmen took down 17 transformers.

At the time, federal authorities required companies to do a risk assessment and develop standards to reach security goals, Otter said. ComEd identified six standards: deter, delay, detect, assess, communicate and respond, he said.

Replacing the fencing at the National Street substation meets the first three standards, Otter said.

Christina Deuchler, infrastructure manager for ComEd and a former Aurora police officer, said there have been other attacks on substations, including two late last year.

One was in Moore County, N.C., where a targeted gunfire attack on two substations left 45,000 residents without power for up to five days. Vandals damaged four substations in Tacoma, Washigton, and left up to 14,000 utility customers without power on Christmas Day, she said.

Locally, there have been burglaries, suspicious persons, explosives and thefts at substations in the Chicago area over the past 12 months, Deuchler said.

While the most recent attacks have involved gunfire, ComEd’s improvements aren’t directly related to stopping gunfire attacks, Deuchler said.

But the company is expecting more federal regulations to address those types of incidents, she said.

“We are actively looking at add on features that will address ballistics, vehicle rams and drones. I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet,” Deuchler said.

For now, ComEd is installing the fence, thermal analytics cameras and motion detectors, Deuchler said. She said the higher fence means attackers would have to spend more time onsite, giving authorities a chance to catch them.

“I know it’s just a chain link fence,” Deuchler said. But “there’s technology being placed that was never there before.”

ComEd needs the city’s approval for the upgrades.

Planning and Zoning commissioners voted to recommend the enhancements proposal to the City Council.

Gloria Casas is a freelancer.

Caption: ComEd is making security upgrades at the substation located at 70 National Street in downtown Elgin. Photo credit/Gloria Casas.

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