Integrated solutions for the safeguarding of power plants

By Horst Köhler, Head of Power Utilities Solutions, Siemens Building Technologies

Coal, gas, nuclear or hydro-power, solar power, geothermal, renewable energy, combined cycle or biomass – every power plant is different. From the way in which it produces energy, its location, its design, age and time of commissioning, national legislation and local regulations, to regional fire departmental regulations and even insurance stipulations – all need to be recognised as factors which 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 significant effect both economical and political with even short-term interruptions leading to inconvenience on a massive scale, price increases or rationing for the areas supplied.

Power facilities carry many inherent operational, security and fire risks that threaten their daily operations, from fires and leakage of potentially hazardous materials to theft, vandalism and equipment failure. Fire has been quoted the largest cause of loss at fossil power plants, responsible for approximately 50 per cent of all losses, with some 30 million dollars lost at power plants where fire protection systems were absent or failed.


Also various political situations around the world, along with the volatility of energy prices, are provoking a new wave of terrorist threat.


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


A multi-layered approach – from the outside inwards 
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 terrorist attack, fire, industrial accident, arson, malicious damage, sabotage – to normal “everyday” problems such as trespassing or political activists, vandalism, internal theft, data theft or leaking of hazardous materials.

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

A multi-layered safety and security strategy, which involves a range of systems and capabilities both 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 unauthorised 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. 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 support remote maintenance and alarm status verification, for cost-effective monitoring and speed of intervention. They will normally trigger an alarm as soon as intruders set foot on restricted areas, 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.

Patrolling and video surveillance of outer areas

Power plant sites are usually large and complex with an extended perimeter. Ensuring their integrity can require a large number of security staff, either patrolling the site or watching images and data transmitted by a large number of surveillance cameras and other alarming or sensor devices. Research 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 efficiently, 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, technology able to gather and filter available data to an extent that a single operator can handle and manage all available information without fatigue, allows 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 and fire threats in real time. 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, intruder and fire detection solutions.


Secure and authorised access to site buildings and offices

With the perimeter patrolled by guarding staff for 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 needing protection.


Provided these areas around the site are secured with strong defences and reliable locks, electronic systems can provide secure and authorised access. These access control systems ensure that only people with pre-arranged clearance are given physical access to controlled buildings, rooms and offices within the site. And, more importantly, that unauthorised people are kept out. ‘Prevention is better than cure’ is an old adage but nonetheless very true. If somebody intent on committing arson, for example, is unable to gain access, then the incident has been prevented.


Fully integrated access control systems can provide high levels of security and convenience at the same time, offering freedom of movement in a secure environment for workers, management, contractors and visitors alike. From outbuildings to offices, they enable entry to the many restricted areas in power plants – including access to sensitive computer data and systems –, 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 realising a “Time and Attendance“ solution, checking employees in and out and registering their hours.


With the advance in technologies, video surveillance can be set to record on alarms 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. Returning to the example of the would-be arsonist, even if access is gained, the alarm can provide sufficient time for intervention before the act is committed. And, even if not, it provides information and data that could prove invaluable as part of any post incident analysis. 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 authorised card to a reader at the door, or enters the correct code. Biometric technologies such as fingerprint, 3D face recognition systems and iris scanning can be integrated to reach an even higher security level for special areas.


As already mentioned, they can be integrated with other security and building management functionality e.g. video surveillance, fire safety, intruder detection or management stations for added flexibility and control over the site’s management.


Control of office building systems

The offices and buildings on power plants are becoming increasingly complex and differ in many ways: Use, size, operating hours, central heating, air conditioning or 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 regulate airflow, monitor energy use and can now be called upon to integrate with fire, security, lighting and other systems throughout buildings to deliver comfort, safety and energy efficiency. And automation can make such systems easier to manage and operate, controlling everything through a single workstation with remote access from anywhere via secure networking technology.


Protection of power plant processes and personnel

Customised security solutions for all different plant types – and their possible future development – ensure rapid detection, fast and adequate reaction, and help to trigger the appropriate response against all type of incident. With wide-scale video surveillance of process areas and all other sensitive places, real-time verification of incidents can take place immediately an alarm has been triggered either by a detector or a member of staff. In fire terms, there is an increasing trend towards visual verification of an alarm. In the UK, for example, under the recently implemented Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) policy, some fire brigades will not respond to an automated alarm generated through an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC).


They require confirmation that someone has seen smoke or flames. Integration of video surveillance with the fire detection system can therefore play a vital role in providing the means to confirm to the brigade that it is a real fire and not a false alarm. 


This helps to protect personnel and assets, as well as improving operational efficiency and recovery times, while reducing costs and downtime.


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


But if, through unavoidable circumstances they do and a fire takes hold within the plant, various extinguishing methods are available depending on its location, including foam deluge systems and gaseous extinguishing systems.


Danger management of the whole site

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 safety and security decisions is not an easy thing to do.


And 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.


Protecting the energy chain

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


The case of Emile Huchet Power Plant

An example of how fire safety plays an integral role in a comprehensive and robust risk management approach is given by the Emile Huchet power plant. The plant, located in the Lorraine region of north-eastern France, went into production in early 2010 as France’s largest combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) facility. With an output capacity sufficient to supply up to one million households, ensuring continuity of that supply was obviously a critical consideration.


As with any power plant, Emile Huchet deals with very heavy power loads and any defective equipment can quickly lead to overheating or short circuits. A fire could typically occur following a long period of overheating and smoldering erupting into flame. On the Emile Huchet site Sinteso S-line detectors from Siemens were installed to provide the very earliest, essential ‘aspirating’ detection of smoke. Through Advanced Signal Analysis, they provide accuracy in detection and rapid notification through signal evaluation, even under the difficult detection conditions caused by frequent deceptive environmental phenomena such as dust, steam or welding fumes that occur on parts of the site. In addition to a network of detectors and alarm sounders, there are hard-wired command points and manual extinguishing units for those areas designated as particularly vulnerable.


For extinguishing purposes, there are thirteen fire hydrants at strategic locations around the perimeter of the site connected to a 2,500 metre ring-main system and a large water tank with back-up connection to the existing water main. The tank holds 750 cubic metres of water reserves – sufficient to meet the demand of any outbreak by providing 120 minutes’ supply to the generators. The pump room houses a timed electric pump, a diesel pump – in case of large fire incidents – and a jockey pump to maintain a fixed pressure of 9 bar in the main ring system. There are fifteen indoor fire hydrants, again strategically located in various buildings around the site. All of the extinguishing measures were developed in consultation with the local fire service to ensure that, in the event of a fire, they have the optimum means to tackle it.


The main control room, the transformer station and other small transformer buildings are protected by fire detection and Siemens’ Sinorix gaseous “deluge” extinguishing systems. Sinorix extinguishes flames without harming people, assets or the environment, safely and reliably. It does so by utilising innovative technology such as CDT (Constant Discharge Technology) or the combined gas/water Sinorix H2O. CDT is based on using natural agents under controlled and constant gas discharge – that allows a reduction of overpressure flaps by up to 70 per cent – to extinguish fire. Sinorix H2O Gas is an efficient extinguishing solution for protection of the power supply rooms through the combined advantageous use of nitrogen and water. Nitrogen displaces the oxygen and the water mist lowers the ambient temperature, therefore resulting in reliable extinguishing and effective prevention of re-ignition.


The system is individually tailored to bring the exact amount of water for the specific risk of fire.

Each main turbine building has its own dedicated fire extinguishing panel and the large open areas of the turbine hall are protected by a spray-deluge, sprinkler system, which is capable of delivering 4,000 litres of extinguishing agent per minute. The areas of the turbine building, in which oil is used, such as the pump and motor stations, are covered by a system of foam/water mix. All cabling is carried out in anti-smoke pairs (“low smoke” and “fume”) and all cableways are also protected by detector and sprinkler systems.


Along with systems giving the earliest possible, reliable, error-free detection, alarm notification and the activation of pre-programmed control functions, fast and effective evacuation can be covered by the integrated solution. Pre-defined configurations of Siemens’ E100 Voice System allows the appropriate announcements to be made in an evacuation scenario depending on the situation, the risk and pre-determined, phased evacuation schemes.


About author:

Horst Köhler has worked for Siemens for over 30 years, the last six of which have been in his role as Head of Power Utilities Solutions in the Building Technologies Division where he is the global contact for international energy sector projects. Amongst his key accounts are many of the world’s leading energy providers where he has acted as liaison to Siemens’ extensive expertise in this sector.



The Siemens Infrastructure & Cities Sector (Munich, Germany), with approximately 87,000 employees, offers sustainable technologies for metropolitan areas and their infrastructures. Its offerings include integrated mobility solutions, building and security technology, power distribution, smart grid applications, and low- and medium-voltage products. The Sector comprises the Divisions Rail Systems, Mobility and Logistics, Low and Medium Voltage, Smart Grid, and Building Technologies. For more information, visit

The Siemens Building Technologies Division (Zug, Switzerland) is the world leader in the market for safe and energy-efficient buildings (“green buildings”) and infrastructures. As a service provider, system integrator, and product vendor, Building Technologies has offerings for building automation, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), fire protection and security. For more information, visit


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