Pipeline controller using pipeline alarm management tools in the pipeline control room

Alarm Management: Optimize the Human Element Through Tools

There are many software tools available for pipeline operators to support Alarm Management for their pipeline operation. However, not all tools are built for purpose for the human element of Pipeline Alarm Management.

Many tools on the market are reporting platforms that were designed for the process industries and are focused on capturing what was done, which is important, but it is only a part of effective Alarm Management. The goal of effective Alarm Management is to proactively prevent an abnormal operating condition and to prevent escalation to an emergency. Effective Alarm Management equips the controller for effective response.

Why a Proactive Approach to Alarm Management?

Think about the role of a fire station. The primary function of a fire station is not to put out fires; the primary function is to prevent fires from happening. This is a completely different line of thinking.

At EnerSys Corporation, we believe the most effective way to optimize Alarm Management and accomplish business objectives while doing no harm is to focus on implementing systems that equip controllers in advance to respond to alarms. Ultimately the goal is to continually improve operation, abnormal operation identification, and alarm response.

By providing controllers and support personnel with the necessary support in advance of being placed in the position of responding alarms, then your operation will be better equipped to operate safely and in a naturally compliant way with PHMSA regulations.

This can be achieved when your control room has the right pipeline alarm management tools. Specifically, our ALMgr software module provides operators with the tools to safely operate a high-performance pipeline. Before implementing ALMgr, however, there are a few critical steps to complete.

Start With Training and Feedback Loops on Alarm Management

On the Pipeliners Podcast, I recently had the opportunity to talk to Doug Rothenberg, a subject matter expert in alarm management and control room management technology and training.

In our two-episode series on Alarm Management and alarm rationalization, Mr. Rothenberg made the key point that operators need to translate the desire to accomplish business objectives and do no harm into operational instructions for the controller to be able to identify alarms and manage upsets before they escalate.

Operational instruction is critical to provide controllers and support personnel with the necessary information and guidance to perform the full Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and achieve situational awareness in all operating conditions. Said another way, this fulfills requirements in the PHMSA Control Room Management (CRM Rule) to provide adequate information and training to controllers to support safe pipeline operations.

Review Your Pipeline SCADA System to Support Controllers

There is another key piece to the puzzle to proactively prepare controllers to respond to alarms. Operators need to be able to identify abnormal situations and plan for the controller’s intervention. This should be achieved in such a way that operators take the collective knowledge of a SCADA system and present this information to the controller when the controller needs it and in the form that a controller needs it.

This step requires strong feedback loops to gather input from controllers to understand how best to present information to them. It’s not good enough to simply have the latest and greatest SCADA for pipeline operations. Pipeline control systems need to be optimized for the human element so that controllers can be effective in their use of the SCADA system to perform duties.

This means gathering input from controllers on key elements:

  • What is working in the Alarm Management program.
  • What is confusing (e.g. bad actors generating false alarms).
  • What triggers an alarm (e.g. the alarm activation steps).
  • What is not clear when responding to each alarm (e.g. alarm floods).
  • How to understand the alarms priority sequence.
  • How alarm response is being recorded in the background as controllers perform actions.

Then, operators should continue to refine their presentation of alarms to controllers. In addition to completing this review of the Alarm Management system to support safety, there is a compliance element.

– In the 2020 PHMSA Enforcement Actions related to the control room, there was one documented Alarm Management violation that related to an operator failing to regularly identify the points in the SCADA host that generated false alarms, and, therefore, had a negative effect on safety.

PHMSA cited that the operator only reviewed the highest volume of alarms for a given period, but did not capture all the false alarms that could be occurring on the pipeline system and affecting safety.

Therefore, the operator was found to be non-compliant with Section E of the CRM Rule (Alarm Management – 192.631 Control Room Management for gas pipeline operations) for a control room that monitors and controls all or part of a pipeline facility through a SCADA system.

This could have been prevented by having the right pipeline alarm management tools to proactively prepare controllers for their duties and to proactively perform a review of false alarms to continue optimizing the human aspect of alarm management.

Implement Tools to Support Alarm Management

As mentioned before, our software module, ALMgr, provides pipeline operators with the necessary tools to achieve pipeline operations excellence.

ALMgr provides tools and documentation for managing the alarm rationalization process, assisting with real-time controller response to alarms, and generating analytical reports that exceed CRM Rule requirements.

After implementing ALMgr to support the control room, your operation will be able to:

  • Reduce alarm frequency and floods.
  • Generate alarm response sheets to guide controller response.
  • Improve response time to Plan, Do, Check, and Act.
  • Cut the cost of the rationalization process.
  • Analyze results of each event to improve operational efficiency.
  • Create monthly reviews and reports that comply with the CRM Rule.

ALMgr is the ideal software solution for pipeline operators to support their Alarm Management processes and to proactively prepare controllers to perform critical duties in a safe and compliant manner.

We are currently scheduling educational demos of ALMgr. To schedule a demo, call us at 281-598-7100 and ask for Ross Adams to set up a preliminary consultation.

Alternatively, complete our contact form or email us at sales@enersyscorp.com to inquire about ALMgr to optimize the human element of Alarm Management.