Improving Control System Alarm Effectiveness for Operators

During the week of July 29 through August 3, I’ll be attending the Ovation Users’ Group Conference in Pittsburgh. This users’ group is composed of people working in the power, water and wastewater industries. If you’re in one of these industries and an Ovation distributed control system user, I look forward to seeing you there.

Emerson's Ben Poskie


Emerson's Dustin Beebe


One of the critical parts of an effective control strategy is to get the alarm design right. Flooding operators with alarms in abnormal situations can worsen these situations and delay finding the root cause and solution. At this year’s conference, Emerson’s Ben Poskie and Dustin Beebe will present, Simplifying Alarm Management in Your Plant. Dustin joined Emerson as part of the Prosys acquisition where he served as president.

I’ll highlight a few things that Ben presented at last year’s Ovation Users’ Group conference regarding alarm management to give some flavor for what you might see—and in case you can’t join us. His presentation covered the key objectives of alarm management, the alarm management process, alarm terminology, to IEC 62682 and ISA 18.2 (which were advances from the precursor standard EEMUA 191) alarm system benchmarks, alarm design, and the Ovation Alarm Health Advisor.

There are many key objectives in effective alarm management. Some include building operator confidence and trust, reducing and eliminating non-value alarms, organizing/classifying/prioritizing alarms, eliminating chattering and frequent alarms, and managing alarm floods and root-cause data.

Alarm management is a continuous improvement process that begins with an overall philosophy of how the plant will be operated. It then goes through the steps of identification, rationalization, design and implementation. From there, the alarm strategy is put into operation and ongoing maintenance. Periodic monitoring and assessment of how these alarms are performing for effective and prompt operator actions helps to identify changes that need to be managed and made.

Like so many other areas of process automation, alarm management has its own set of terminology. Some of the frequent terms and phrases include alarm rationalization, alarms & alerts, alarm classification, grouping by plant areas, regulatory notifications, alarm prioritization, alarm limits, deadband, off-delay, on-delay, standing/stale alarm, alarm flood, and first-out.

Many of these are defined with associated metrics by the alarm management standards described above. The Ovation Alarm Health Advisor examines alarm data, collected by the Ovation Process Historian, and provides the user with information necessary to minimize unnecessary alarms. This, in turn, enables plant operators to more effectively address real, high-priority issues and focus on actionable items.

If you’re not able to join us in Pittsburgh, make sure to follow @OvationUsers on Twitter to get the latest news and trends on alarm management, ICS cyber security, power plant simulation, microgrid controllers, gas/steam/wind turbine controls and more. You can also connect and interact with other experts on the Ovation Users’ Group site or in the Ovation group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

Update: Updated post to reflect IEC 62682 and ISA 18.2 standards.

Posted Friday, July 20th, 2018 under Event, Power, Water & Wastewater.