Alarm management is required by the PHMSA CRM Rule, which means that implementing and maintaining an alarm management program can quickly become a headache for pipeline operators.
The common issue that operators face is deciding on the right path to achieve effective alarm rationalization. If you take a wrong turn or select the wrong tools, you could end up over-spending, creating more headaches for your overall alarm management program.
The goal should be to create the most reliable system that ensures compliance, safety, and cost-efficiency. However, because an effective alarm management process requires universal agreement on alarm definition, justification, validation, and operation, many stakeholders need to be involved from control room operations, field operations, safety, and engineering, to name a few.
How can you get so many stakeholders onboard driving toward the goal of protecting the operation and staying within your budget? Let’s start at the beginning.
Evaluate Your Technology and Capabilities
Starting at the beginning of the process requires evaluating your technology and current capabilities. You need to take inventory of what your current technology is capable of (and not capable of). You should also evaluate the systems and procedures you have in place to rationalize the alarms in your operation.
If your technology is outdated or running on old software, then you could be incurring unnecessary costs. Likewise, if your policies and procedures are not aligned with the alarm configuration, then you are bloating costs from running an inefficient system.
If your operation is in a position to update technology, then you should first consider having internal conversations about an upgrade to ensure a more efficient alarm management process.
However, if you are not in a position to update technology, then you should undoubtedly evaluate how to improve your system to ensure that controllers are prepared to react and respond to each alarm.
Walk Through of Rationalizing and Configuring Alarms
A productive evaluation of your alarm rationalization process requires enough time and focus to evaluate your alarm philosophy and operating process to determine if your alarm management approach is optimal.
Ideally, during alarm rationalization you will capture the potential cause, consequences, corrective actions, and risk related to each alarm. When alarm rationalization is performed well — and information is made available to controllers — alarm response can be dramatically improved.
Of course, effective alarm response is only one factor to consider. The other factor to consider is the cost of your alarm management program. To drive toward the goal of cost efficiency, you may need to set aside a few blocks of time on your calendar to analysis alarm system performance and dive into the alarm configuration. This is not something you can evaluate on a Friday afternoon with limited mental capacity.
You may need to walk through alarm history, then evaluate the related alarm configurations to identify, verify, and authenticate the actions so that you can set the priorities to improve alarm system performance.
Without a structured analysis of alarm philosophy, alarm analysis, alarm configuration, and alarm response, you will allow inefficiencies to build up in your system. Then, when it’s time to evaluate system performance, you are unable to accurately evaluate your actual alarm management capability.
Improving alarm system performance requires a continual and thorough evaluation of how the alarm systems performs versus how alarms are configured. Then, you can evaluate the system’s true capabilities to determine how to equip your controllers with the right information to react to alarms.
Ensure That Controllers Have Proper Documentation
Another essential element of a cost-efficient alarm management process is ensuring that controllers are equipped with the information to respond to alarms.
How is this achieved? Pipeline operators should make alarm rationalization documents available to the pipeline controller when an alarm is annunciated, placing the alarm details at their fingertips to improve their response to alarms.
Without proper documentation, controllers often struggle to quickly and fully understand the alarm, decide what action to take, and then take the action with confidence.
This issue is compounded if you are running on old technology or software that does not put controllers in the best position to plan, do, check, and act. However, there is a solution to improve controller response time.
Cost-Efficient Alarm Rationalization is Possible With Software Support
ALMgr provides tools and documentation to manage the process, assist controller response to alarms with alarm response sheets, and generate analytical reports that help operators continually evaluate their processes to address inefficiencies and capitalize on efficiencies.
The overall benefit of implementing the ALMgr tool in your operation is reducing the cost of the alarm management process. Additionally, you will be able to analyze the results of each event to improve operational efficiency and create monthly reports that comply with the CRM Rule.