Reliably and safely supplying the water, gas and electricity we depend on - with a constant awareness of both employee and public safety – is a tough task. Doing so with an increased threat of disruptive attack and a long list of regulatory requirements is even tougher.

It’s no surprise that technology is playing a key role in helping the utilities sector meet these challenges. Increasingly, integrated surveillance solutions are top of that list. Here are five reasons why.

1. They make monitoring multiple systems simpler

Integrated surveillance command and control solutions allow cameras, intruder alarms, fire detection, access control, critical asset tracking and building management systems to be monitored and managed on a single-user platform from one location – an alarm receiving centre (ARC), for example. Combined with improvements in camera technology, the potential to capture and easily manage operational data from disparate sources has been dramatically enhanced.

2. They help detect threats that might be missed

A unified system of this nature means utilities companies are better equipped to quickly detect and respond to threats.

Take the movement of cable drums as an example. This might be considered a ‘normal’ occurrence on-site and could easily be dismissed as such, but in conjunction with unusual or unauthorised staff ID access, the movement of such assets could indicate a potential issue. An integrated system can be set to detect data correlations of this nature and alert operators – immediately streaming live video from cameras nearest the cable drum location and at the ID breach, preventing potential theft and associated service disruption.

3. They suit large estates and multi-site organisations

An integrated solution ensures video, audio, infrared motion detection, and other alarm inputs can be viewed by a team based on-site and streamed via a wired or wireless network to a central command base for remote incident detection and response. Managing multiple sites is, therefore, no issue.

The ‘response’ element is important to emphasise here. As well as detecting and alerting operators to threats – accompanied by live visual and audio feed – these systems can be programmed to trigger automated workflows that guide operators through ‘next steps’. This enables remote actions to be taken such as immediate area/perimeter lockdown, process/supply shutdowns (for example, if tampering is detected) or ID card cancellation.

4. They support reliable service delivery

In many countries, utilities companies are fined for every minute that supply is disrupted or down. The ability to mitigate risk and speedily resolve issues that may cause network problems – from mechanical failure or equipment damage to fire or flooding – is, therefore, hugely important and easily achievable with an integrated surveillance solution.

To illustrate, imagine a storm has damaged site infrastructure. In this situation, an integrated surveillance solution would enable operators to place potentially dangerous areas on lockdown until a visual sweep, using standard/thermal cameras, has been conducted to identify specific issues. Engineers could then be notified of exact hazard coordinates and dispatched to perform maintenance as quickly as possible.

Many utilities businesses are also now integrating data from drone technology to identify potential infrastructure issues, such as overhanging trees, and deploy maintenance teams before an actual problem has even occurred. Even better for avoiding damaging service downtime.

5. They keep sites and people safer

Integrating access control and associated systems, with camera monitoring and control, provides a much clearer picture of who is on-site at any one time, what their status is and how that relates to site processes/events. Data signifying threats or incidents can also come in a wide variety of forms, meaning there is greater scope for protecting lone workers (no overreliance on visual evidence).

Staff could be issued with lone worker sensors which help track the GPS location and status (e.g. horizontal or vertical, static or moving) of individuals. These sensors can feed directly into the system and, should well-being be at risk, alert control room operators. Integrated workforce management solutions can then be used to dispatch teams or individuals to help those who are closest and have the most appropriate skills needed.

Alternatively, integrating with telecommunications solutions would enable an organisation to set up pre-programmed codes that workers can text to automatically update control teams to their status from both a safety and operational perspective.

And there’s more to come…

Ultimately, the biggest potential lies in taking interoperability ‘beyond the sector’ and using it as a connecting force to enable collaborative working between the key public and private organisations critical to our towns and cities – utilities, transport, emergency services, hospitals etc. It’s what Smart Cities are all about, authorities and agencies adopting a connected approach to data to improve the efficiency and efficacy of our urban infrastructures.

This won’t materialise immediately, but progress and interoperability is happening now. In the meantime, utilities providers have a huge opportunity to streamline and secure operations on their estates by adopting an integrated approach.