Managing the pipeline control room has proven to be a challenging task in 2020 due to the interruption of the COVID-19 global pandemic. At the peak of the pandemic in March and April, we took a deep dive into health and safety precautions for the control room, specifically the challenges of managing the 24-hour control room during this year’s environment.
Now, six months after the initial disruption, we are prepared to share key lessons learned. From our conversations with pipeline operators, control room managers, and other pipeline personnel, these lessons learned should prove to be valuable to your operation as you look to support pipeline safety, compliance, and efficiency in 2020 and beyond.
Lessons Learned from the Control Room Experience
We have summarized the individual experiences of each pipeline operator we talked to into three main categories of lessons learned:
- Strategizing how to separate the physical locations of shifts.
- Needing to gather feedback about work-from-home/remote set-up.
- Addressing cybersecurity challenges in remote work scenarios.
1. Separating Physical Shift Locations
A primary lesson for the control room is the importance of physically separating shifts. In the case of COVID-19, this was necessary to help prevent the spread of coronavirus between teams.
The supervisors that we talked to reported different scenarios that worked for them such as running one shift at one location and running another shift at a secondary location. For example, when supporting the 24-hour control room, this could look like having Shift A at the main control room and Shift B at the redundant/emergency location to optimize the 12-hour shift schedule.
Physically separating teams also created the opportunity to perform a thorough, deep clean of the control room, break areas, and other shared or common areas to prevent the spread of the virus. For the 24-hour control room, there would not have been an opportunity to perform this necessary deep clean if teams were coming in and out of the same physical space. Therefore, splitting up the teams created real value reducing the risk of infection and preventing a costly reduction in staff availability.
Moving forward, control room managers will have to think through how long to continue physically separating teams. Perhaps this is just a temporary move until there is an “all clear” from government health officials. Or, the lessons learned from physical separation could lead to a permanent move to reduce the risk of spreading common types of bacterial or viral infections in the future.
If deciding to make a permanent move, pipeline operators and control room managers will need to think through the cost and requirements to update secondary control room locations. This way, the additional control room location will have the same capabilities as the main location so that teams can maintain vigilance and perform tasks efficiently.
2. Understanding How to Support Remote Work
Many smaller operators that we talked to created a set-up for controllers to work from home or remotely during the pandemic. The goal was for controllers to be able to perform their tasks as usual and make clean, compliant handovers to the next shift.
Working from home comes with challenges, though. It’s difficult for controllers to maintain vigilance throughout a 12-hour shift when working from home. Understandably, there are distractions, family conversations, personal phone calls or texts, knocks on the door, and other interruptions that are difficult to prepare for.
The lesson learned for control room managers is to constantly gather feedback from controllers on the condition of their work-from-home set-up. Managers that proactively sought input were better able to help their controllers maintain vigilance, perform tasks in a naturally compliant manner, and support pipeline safety during challenging circumstances.
Remote work set-up also introduced a critical lesson learned on the importance of digital security.
3. Focusing on Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is increasingly critical for pipeline operators. As we recently covered, the cybersecurity threat to pipeline operators increased during the peak of the pandemic as cyber attackers sought vulnerabilities to exploit.
This scenario required pipeline operators to put in new infrastructure and system support to ensure that controllers could continue to perform their work from remote locations. The lesson learned for many operators is to always be ready to allocate more resources to cybersecurity to thwart potential threats and address vulnerabilities.
During the pandemic, this meant that some operators decided not to make any changes to existing systems. Because of individuals operating from different locations, they decided to focus squarely on how to optimize the security and capabilities of existing systems. It was simply not the time to try to manage the complexities associated with introducing new systems in the middle of a transition period.
Now, though, it may be time to acquire new systems or perform upgrades to existing systems. This way, operators can build a robust network security infrastructure that can support the next major interruption, whether because of another pandemic, a major weather event, or a cyber attack.
Share Your Lessons Learned With EnerSys
Our goal with sharing these pipeline control room lessons learned is to provide information and education to the industry. We believe that these lessons from COVID-19 could impact how you navigate the pandemic recovery period to safeguard your control room in the future.
We also want to hear directly from you. If you have your own lessons learned or additional insight on the lessons we shared in this article, please share with us. If you believe your perspective would help the industry, we would like to incorporate your information in this article.
To contribute your lessons learned in the control room, contact our VP of Business Development Dale Schafer at firstname.lastname@example.org or our Regulatory and Software Support lead Ross Adams at email@example.com with your input. You can also reach our team directly by phone at 281-598-7100.
We look forward to hearing from you and incorporating your input into this article.