Industry best practices call for pipeline operators to define a clear alarm management plan that helps avoid controller overload and ensures alarms are accurate and support safe pipeline operation. Review of controller workload is key in this program, as it can provide the most critical information on how to improve the performance of an alarm system and the controllers monitoring it. Controller performance can be impaired when deluged with too many SCADA alarms, a significant increase in the number of points being monitored and alarms related to communications, which all add to other attention-demanding activities not directly related to alarms.
Developing a program to analyze and continually improve the alarm system includes identification of the operator’s Alarm Philosophy: identifying what constitutes an alarm, who manages it, how it is managed and how training and change of management are carried out. Other best practices of an alarm management program include benchmark and performance audits; rationalization to determine which SCADA alarms warrant response; and implementation, in an auditable manner, of actions defined.
When implementing an alarm management improvement program, the highest benefit is realized through strategies that involve little advanced technology. These high benefit strategies include alarm storm reviews, tuning alarm settings on nuisance alarms and fixing known issues; adjusting deadbands of repeating alarms; and eliminating alarms with no defined response. Strategies of medium benefit include suppression of alarms from ‘out of service’ stations; replacing absolute alarms with deviation alarms; and filtering, de-bouncing, or suppressing repeater alarms. Other advanced alarm improvement strategies that can provide additional benefit after initial strategies have been implemented include use of dynamic alarm thresholds, operator-set alarms and operational mode suppression. Tracking improvement in the alarm program after modifications are made is important, especially as operations bring in larger point counts.