Static security analysis is an important study carried out in the control centers of electric utilities. Static security assessment (SSA) is the process of determining whether the current operational state is in a secure or emergency (insecure) state. Conventional method of security evaluation involves performing continuous load flow analysis, which is highly time consuming and infeasible for real-time applications. This led to the application of pattern recognition (PR) approach for static security analysis. This paper presents a more efficient design of a PR system suitable for on-line SSA. The feature selection stage in the PR system uses many algorithms to select the optimal feature set. This paper proposes the use of Support Vector Machine (SVM), a recently introduced machine learning tool, in the classifier design stage of PR system. The developed PR system is implemented in IEEE standard test systems for SSA and classification. The performance of SVM classifier is compared with the conventional K-nearest neighbor, method of least squares and neural network classifiers. Simulation results prove that the SVM-PR classifier outperforms other equivalent classifier algorithms, giving high classification accuracy and less misclassification rate. The feasibility of SVM-PR classifier for on-line security assessment process is also presented. © 2011 Springer-Verlag London Limited.