The primary means of security at the meter is a security seal that typically costs less than 25 cents.
You may ask how much security a 25 cent seal can provide. The answer is a lot, or a little – it is up to you. Seal selection, and the thoroughness and frequency of on-site interrogation, are important components of meter security. But between the selection and application of a security seal there is a critical component that is often short-changed – control!
Unique decoration or stamp
You have to start with a unique security seal; purchase your seals with your utility's name, logo or initials stamped on them. There is no extra charge for personalised stamping after the initial die stamp charge, which is typically less than $200. After you have paid for a die stamp, a reputable security seal manufacturer will not sell seals to anyone else with your stamp on them.
Packaging and distribution
No one wants to force personnel to carry seal presses with unique engraved dies. (If you remember these things, you are probably an old timer!) But they served an important security purpose – seals were traceable to the installer. The seal installer signed his work when he pressed his number onto the seal.
To replace this concept without the use of a press, you have to record the seal type, sequential number (s) and colour as they are distributed to your employees. The seals are then traceable and you can identify who signed for them. Your people are once again signing their work when they place a seal on a meter, and you should see greater care being taken.
To facilitate record-keeping, manufacturers offer security seals packaged sequentially in lots of 100, with the seal number marked or bar coded on each box. This extra packaging will add about a penny to the price of a seal.
Some utilities have baulked at implementing a meter seal management programme because it impacts on several departments and creates extra paperwork (minimised if using bar codes). If necessary, crew trucks and contractors can be given a temporary seal colour that is replaced after a complete inspection when the next authorised employee visits the installation. Each seal should be traceable to an authorised utility employee – not a truck.
Security for AMR
Security will be more important than ever when utilities stop sending employees out every month to read meters. Security safeguards built into AMR meters are not foolproof. To further improve the security of your meters, consider making the serialised seal number a part of your CIS records, and verify the seal numbers with periodic system-wide safety and security audits.
If you are implementing an AMR system, it is time to consider upgrading meter security. A barrier-type seal or a superior tamper-indicative seal should be employed in the absence of monthly visits to the meter. Barrier-type seals are inexpensive one-time-use padlocks that cannot be removed without cutters. If they're missing at the next inspection, it would stretch credulity to blame neighbourhood children!
At the very least, use of AMR dictates a change in seal colour, with tighter seal distribution controls. The new colours also offer quick visual evidence that the AMR install team has been to the installation.
Meter seal management is a vital component of security. In the digital age, there does not have to be a lot of extra paperwork to achieve the level of security that we used to get from a sealing press. Bar-coded packaging and seals simplify the process. RFID seals are on the horizon that can be encoded with installer information and date.
If you cannot trace your seals to an employee, it may be time to implement meter seal control measures and a wholesale inspection and re-sealing of your meters. With up to 3% being lost to theft, your effort is sure to realise a positive return.