ARE ALL MY ALARMS ALARMING ME?
Alarm optimization is a practice that we use to help determine what alarms are critical and what alarms are just reminders. Some alarms are often ignored or put off for days, some require you to drop everything and get to site immediately. If alarms are prioritized they can notify you in a way that matches their criticality. For example, if you have a chlorine gas leak you will want to be onsite ASAP and in some cases, alert emergency crews. On the other hand, if one of your air temperature transmitters are faulted at midnight in August, it can probably wait until the following morning.
The first step in alarm optimization is ensuring you know what all of your alarms are, and what each one represents. This can help with troubleshooting, and give you the peace of mind to know you will be alerted when it’s most important. This list is an important piece of documentation and should be updated as alarms are added or modified. Depending on the type of alarm system you have, this would best align with what you receive from the alarming provider. For every alarm you can receive, having documentation for the conditions that trigger that alarm can help operations personnel and integrators who support your system determine what the issue is in an efficient manner. This is increasingly important for alarm systems that are split into zones, rather than individual alarms. For example, Zone 1 alarm might contain a list of 10 alarms with varying importance. Without a list of the alarms contained in this zone, an operator may have to drive to site to look at the local HMI before finding out what the specific issue is.
Once you have a list of alarms, breaking them into priorities can help ensure you only get notified if you need to be. This typically can be split into low, medium, and high priority. For example, low priority can mean it is something that should be looked at but can wait until morning. This would be displayed on your SCADA system to be viewed by operations personnel the next day. Medium priority can involve a text or a notification via an app. This is something that should be dealt with sooner than later, but may not warrant a phone call in the middle of the night. High priority typically initiates a phone call to different personnel until someone picks up the phone. This is an event that requires immediate attention regardless of time of day.
The final step is to ensure alarms are notifying the right people. Sometimes people leave or get promoted, but can stay in the alarm queue for months or years. Even if their phone is no longer active, this can delay the time from initial alarm, to when you get notified to act. The list and order of who an alarm is called out to should be readily available to management, and updated immediately when there is a change in staffing.
When followed, these steps can help ensure you have a full understanding of what you will be notified for. It will help you direct your attention to potential issues in areas that are not monitored by your operations personnel daily. It can help identify areas from which additional instrumentation or feedback would be beneficial to your operation and allow your team to take a more proactive approach to breakdowns and maintenance issues overall.
Do you have a complete and updated list of your alarms and understand how and when you’ll be notified?