NERC CIP-013-1 sets sights on utility asset management security

When we talk about security in the 21st century, we’re referring to two different kinds—there’s physical security, as in protection against outside threats that might harm a facility or its assets, and there’s cyber security.
By Smartware Group March 28, 2016

In a Black and Veatch survey, 10.7 percent of utilities organizations said they weren’t prepared for security issues, and worse yet, 21.8 percent said they didn’t know. Courtesy: Smartware GroupWhen we talk about security in the 21st century, we’re referring to two different kinds—there’s physical security, as in protection against outside threats that might harm a facility or its assets, and there’s cyber security.

Both appear to be a source of concern to the utilities industry these days. The provision of North American Electric Reliability Corp. Critical Infrastrucure Protection (NERC CIP-014-1) became effective Jan. 26, 2015, providing a structured framework whereby utilities must identify their most critical assets. Utilities must document all potential threats and risks related to those assets, and then design and execute a comprehensive plan to safeguard the assets. Both the identified assets and protection plan are required to be verified by a third party.

Chip Handley, project manager for power–generation services at Black and Veatch, told Breaking Energy that the government regulations regarding utility asset management security are a step in the right direction, but it might be difficult for organizations to achieve the level of compliance they need.

Security for both large and small utilities

There’s been much more emphasis in recent years on ramping up security resources for the utilities industry. In a recent Black and Veatch survey about security, 10.7 percent of companies said they weren’t prepared for security issues, and worse yet, 21.8 percent said they didn’t know.

It was initially thought that only larger organizations could afford to invest in security, but that mindset is now beginning to change. In reality, utility companies of many sizes can invest at varying levels as they see fit.

"Security planning, both physical security and cyber security, is often influenced by the size of the respondent’s organization or customer base," Handley said. "Without a mandate in place, small- to mid-size utilities felt the combination of their limited impact to the grid and the lack of staff to address cyber security concerns justified implementation delay."

Compliance becoming a more serious issue

Under the new provisions handed down from Washington, utility companies are under a great deal of additional pressure to identify security risks and address them quickly.

"Greater awareness of system interconnection is forcing municipally-owned utilities and co-ops that previously had been outside the scope of NERC-CIP to evaluate their network to determine whether they are compliant," Handley said.

More companies than ever—including large, small, public and private utilities—are being forced to meet security standards that weren’t on their radar previously. It’s a frantic time for the industry at large, as many organizations are scrambling to audit their physical assets. This can require a great deal of money, manpower and logistical legwork.

Single system of record

When it comes to asset management documentation and audit preparation, utilities organizations typically have a ready-made solution at their fingertips with a modern computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Asset–management functionality, complete with configurable criticality, status categories, conditions and other attributes, can greatly assist with the critical asset–identification process for compliance. Communication is key, of course. By maintaining these attributes within the CMMS and delivering user access across the enterprise, all necessary personnel can best understand the type of security precautions designated for each critical asset—even highlighting these updates through CMMS dashboard messages for particular facilities, users, sites, or other filter options.

Audit capabilities prove useful for unaffiliated third party access, in which organizations can leverage an add-on occupational safety & health (OSH) CMMS solution to track date/time/user/modification logs, inspection schedules, and historical record keeping.

Every business these days needs to do something about security, and the utilities industry is certainly no different. By tapping into the go-to system of record, organizations can extend their well-designed CMMS beyond typical corrective and preventive maintenance to drive greater compliancy and build a safer structure for all stakeholders.

—This article originally appeared on the Smartware Group blog. Smartware Group is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Erin Dunne, production coordinator, CFE Media, edunne@cfemedia.com.