Society relies heavily on utility infrastructure systems for the distribution of gas, water and electricity. Most of these distribution networks are located underground, meaning they are typically out of sight and out of mind. But utility providers across the country are becoming increasingly concerned about unauthorized access to their systems and equipment. Theft, disruption of service and acts of terror are all cause for concern, resulting in an increased need for more sophisticated counteractive measures.
Recognizing the vulnerability of our nation’s critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security united several government agencies, creating the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. The goal of the plan is to “build a safer, more secure, and more resilient America by preventing, deterring, neutralizing, or mitigating the effects of deliberate efforts by terrorists to destroy, incapacitate, or exploit elements of our Nation’s CIKR and to strengthen national preparedness, timely response, and rapid recovery of CIKR in the event of an attack, natural disaster, or other emergency.”
Access to underground vaults is typically available through a hatch or cover that rests in a frame on or in the roof of the structure. This is the location where the level of security, if any, is determined. Manufacturers of these hatches and covers offer several options to utility providers to limit access. Aftermarket products can be used in conjunction with existing covers for added security.
Manufacturer security features
Hatches can be provided with the option for using a padlock. Slam locks and pressure locks are also available.
Common practice for securing a manhole cover is to bolt the cover to its frame. Doing so with hex-head, penta-head or other specialty bolts offers varying levels of security. Existing manhole covers can be fitted with locking devices or be replaced with covers that have locking features.
Automated monitoring systems
Installing sensor equipment on the underside of manhole covers allows for monitoring heat levels, security and stray voltage in utility vaults. The technology helps electric companies, municipalities and communication carriers monitor dangerous activity in their utility vaults and identify any security breaches. The underground vaults – with assigned indicators – will trigger an alarm when an event occurs. Operators are then notified of the disturbance and can quickly dispatch crews to the site.
Some products are installed under the cover and rest on the seat of the frame. These locking systems can be installed in existing manhole covers and provide protection against unauthorized access with virtually pick-proof locks. Similar locking systems can be used not only to provide security, but also to prevent illegal dumping and inflow materials.
How do precasters get involved?
Many utility providers have controlled the level of quality and consistency of their utility vaults through certification and monitoring of qualified manufacturing facilities. This offers them additional control concerning how and when to deploy new technology and advancements in their manhole infrastructure. Working with their manhole cover and hatch providers, precasters can aid in the development of a more enhanced and secure underground utility infrastructure system.