Effective alarms are one of the most important elements of a safe plant. However, setting up an effective process alarm solution is a stumbling point for many teams. There are ways to create better alarm management, but they aren’t always intuitive. Fortunately, experts like Emerson’s Asad Malik and David Lee are ready to help, as they have done in their recent Control Engineering article, Key Strategies for Improving Alarm Design and Management.
Designing effective alarms, Asad and David explain, comes down to three main strategies,
“First, ensure operators are not overwhelmed by the sheer number of alarms. Next, prioritize and contextualize alarms to help operators know where to direct their attention. Finally, focus on visibility, ensuring operators have instant awareness of any alarm states, no matter where they are.”
But, as anyone who has tried to create alarms knows, following those three strategies is often easier said than done. Fortunately, Asad and David are well aware of this conundrum, and they break the idea down into five additional criteria that can help engineers identify whether or not an alarm should exist at all—a critical step for alarm management.
Before any alarm is created, the engineer should ensure it meets all of the following criteria:
- Abnormal – The alarm is not planned or expected and is a surprise to the operator.
- Actionable – Operator action in response to the alarm is required and available.
- Consequence – If no action or incorrect or insufficient action is taken, an undesirable result is likely to occur.
- Unique – Only one alarm sounds to announce an abnormal deviation.
- Relevant – The alarm is understandable to the operator and needed in the current operating state.
Integrated and dynamic
Following the rules of creating high-quality alarms is a critical first step to good alarm management practices. However, today’s technologies empower engineers to push even further, creating alarm policies that actively help operators better perform their jobs and stay safe.
Asad and David explain that today’s best alarms are both dynamic and integrated into the distributed control system. Dynamic alarms, like those available in Emerson’s AgileOps™ Operations Management, actively monitor process states and vary alarm rules according to what is happening in the process. This dynamic management helps avoid nuisance alarms that distract and confuse operators. And when teams integrate alarms into the distributed control system (DCS),
“alarm information is populated from the master alarm database and available for use [in the DCS]. These contextualized alarms make it easier to deliver actionable alerts to the right people at the right time.”
These integrated alarms need to be available wherever operators are. The most advanced alarm management tools untether operators from the control room, allowing them to monitor alarms on mobile devices so they can always receive the alerts they need in real-time.
Emerson’s tools for improving alarm management rely on patented PeakVue™ Plus analytics, which translates complex analytics data into easily understandable information. Using a common-sense color scheme of green-yellow-red, PeakVue helps operators and technicians of any skill level easily identify when and where problems occur.
Asad and David share more strategies for effective alarm management, as well as real-world examples in the complete article at Control Engineering. Read the article in its entirety to gain process safety insights you can use in the plant today!