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Introduction to Alarm Management

Maybe you’re looking for legal justification before you decide to develop a philosophy:

• OHSA and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have an agreement whereby ANSI will develop national consensus standards for occupational safety and provide accreditation.

• The International Society of Automation follows ANSI processes for developing standards. ANSI has accredited the ISA 18.2 Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries.

• The ANSI accreditation implies that process industry enterprise has been given the opportunity to participate, and provided equity and fair play in the development of a standard.

• Regulatory agencies will recognize the elements of alarm management as RAGAGEP. In a court of law you could be held accountable for not applying the standards to your alarm system design.

Figure 1 ANSI/ISA 18.2-2009 Alarm Management Lifecycle

Figure 1 ANSI/ISA 18.2-2009 Alarm Management Lifecycle

Maybe you’re looking for an “operational” argument for the creation of a technical guidance document.

Allow Marcus Dudoit, Partner at SYCON International, to paint a picture for you:

“Imagine constructing a new manufacturing facility where the process engineers followed no standards or guidance documents. Instead, they relied simply on their own knowledge and experience. Is this a good idea? Of course not! The complexity and level of detail required to design and engineer an entire facility demands standards and best practices be followed for safety, reliability, and cost effectiveness. Why would you treat something that is so critical to safe and reliable operations any differently than you would any other engineered system?”

Phil. Art. cartoon

An alarm philosophy serves as a platform for agreement within operations and across the site. Mike Lyssy of aeSolutions, explains:

“The alarm philosophy enables support for the alarm system from the management level, the engineering level, the operator level, and the safety team level…Without an alarm philosophy, consistency from site to site, or even unit to unit, is not achievable…the alarm philosophy requires buy-in from all stakeholders.”

However, an alarm philosophy is not just for a green field plant. Automation professionals should undertake the development of a philosophy for alarm systems which are already operational, says Consultant Dr. Joseph Alford:

“For existing plants that already have an operational alarm system, an alarm philosophy is still a valuable document to develop, as existing plants still require the pursuit of several activities described in a philosophy such as audits, maintenance, and monitoring (e.g., to ensure “key performance indicators” are maintained).”

A philosophy also supports systematic evaluation. Consultant  John Bogdan recalls a time when the development of an alarm philosophy for an existing facility had a very significant impact on operations:

“A pipeline company’s sales and marketing team was selling space in their storage tanks. Prior to philosophy development, they would routinely sell the tanks to or above the high-high alarm limit. However, as the engineering team developed the philosophy, they realized this was unsafe, and set alarm limits that gave the controller time to respond. The sales and marketing team then had to change the amount of volume they could sell in the tanks.”


Maybe you need to link alarm management to human behavior to support philosophy development:

Production facilities present potential risk of grave injury without the use of special skills and technical guidance. Engineers who must configure the systems which operators use to run plants must know and understand the expectations for their performance. In an inherently dangerous place, documentation gives credibility to policy, guidance on proper procedure, and a basis for training and discipline. An alarm philosophy with the topical areas recommended in ISA 18.2 is the document necessary to guide the behavior of console operators, automation engineers, and operations management, and can create a positive impact. 

Trust in the system is a tangible positive impact that Darryl Eager of Icon Water has experienced:

“A common situation is that of “false alarms,” which leads to complacency among operators, and often the ignoring of actual alarms.  An alarm philosophy provided clear guidance during a rationalization of a hydroelectric facility and governed the selection, design, and configuration of new alarms.  Operators and engineers gained confidence in configuration practices and more readily accepted the information that the DCS alarm system provided.”

The alarm philosophy has legal, operational, and behavior reasons for existence. With the proper guidance, a philosophy can be developed in a cost effective manner and within a short time frame. If you would like to speak to a Subject Matter Expert about guidance on developing an alarm philosophy for your facility, click here to send an email to our sales team.