Why Choose TiPS?

LogMate is the most reliable, proven software solution since 1990

    • Leadership Participation in Alarm Standards Committees
    • Dedicated Alarm Management Focus
    • Comprehensive Alarm Management Software Solutions
    • Adaptable Services Model
    • Flexible and Extensive Software Connectivity Portfolio
    • Broad Industry Experience

Introduction to Alarm Management

It’s a no-brainer – when people miss alarms, bad things happen. The likelihood of a human being missing an alarm increases when operations continue at a rate above the maximum number of alarms that a human being can handle. It is your responsibility as the manager to set alarm performance targets and to make sure your organization is hitting them or working to meet them.

Who on Earth sets the rate at your facility? You have the authority and are responsible for setting the safe operational limits and the conditions under which your staff has “permission to operate” (Rothenberg p150). You have choices on how to exercise your authority:Article #1 Pic #1

• One choice is to “wing it”: You wing it by counting on human beings to come to a consensus and in the spirit of unison go forward and correct problems in early stages. Most times winging it is fraught with pitfalls.

• Document tribal knowledge: Documenting knowledge is usually good, but if members of the tribe have already led you to a less than optimum situation, why would you expect them to pull you out of it?

• Rely on extensive Human Factors studies documented in best practices publications: Alarm Management best practice metrics have been available for some time. Best practices metrics are recommendations. They can be your benchmark or your adopted KPI, or they can be the starting point by which you and your Alarm Management consultant can set rates that are good for your facility.

Bob Weibel, President of TiPS, shares some insight into goal setting considerations and ISA best practices:

“In most cases, the 18.2 Alarm Management performance metrics should be used. However, there are exceptions:

• When current alarm activation rates are so far out of the best practice recommended range, conformance with the standard may not be achievable overnight. Gradual improvement, governed by a schedule and milestones, may be the more reasonable course of action. Intermediate alarm performance goals can keep an alarm initiative process from overwhelming personnel.

•Alarm performance metrics may not be applicable across all industries. For example, chattering alarms for chemical plant environments are usually 3 alarms in 1 minute. For liquid and gas transmission pipeline SCADA systems, the duration may need to be increased to factor in the SCADA poll time (i.e. average poll time could be polling once a minute).

•Unlike alarms for continuous processes, batch processes metrics should be measured while the process is running.”

How do other facilities use KPIs to manage behavior and prompt action? You have choices. Most sites will present “average alarm rates”, “end of shift reports”, and other metrics to drive action. Please note that functionality to create average alarm rates and other metrics is already part of your LogMate system if you own an ACE license.

One polymer manufacturer periodically brings facility managers in a conference room or in an internet meeting to present site performance ranking based on Average alarm rate per operator console (ISA 18.2, § 16.4.2) and Peak alarm rate per operator console (18.2, § 16.4.3).

For this particular enterprise alarm rates found in the ISA 18.2 serve as the bench mark and all sites understand this. Group meetings to compare performance are not always fun but they are effective for capturing the attention of facility management. For the managers whose unit operations are doing well, the meeting is cause for celebration. For the others, the meeting is typically upsetting, but might just be the kick in the pants they need.

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When do I set the rates? One option is to use the philosophy development stage. One facet of the alarm philosophy is establishing methods for monitoring performance. The team that produces the philosophy can develop a consensus for the alarm rates and other key performance indicators for the facility. In some cases, a corporate level team can set KPI definitions within an enterprise level alarm management framework. This framework can be handed down to the site level for inclusion in the site philosophy.

Do the rates ever change? As your performance improves, you may want change your targets to drive more improvement. If the rates set did not reflect the operation (e.g. default to ISA 18.2 recommendations) you may want to revise rates to maintain interest and motivation within the organization.

For liquid and gas transmission pipelines, DOT PHMSA Control Room Management rules require an annual review of the Alarm Management Plan (philosophy). Examining historical performance each year provides an opportunity to assess the metrics for the organization and consider revisions to alarm rates every twelve to fifteen months.

How do I use the alarm rates to help manage the alarm system on a regular basis? LogMate users can have alarm rates and other selected metrics forwarded to appropriate personnel by email. Alarm rates presented at shift change and regularly scheduled maintenance or operations meetings increase visibility into the system and accountability for maintenance.

What are the implications of calculating and internally publishing alarm rates down the line? There is no hiding. The targets you set will be the foundation for rationalization procedures and will drive organization behavior. The typical engineer will not accept status quo or just ignore a KPI that identifies a problem. A manager of a unit operation will not stand for alarm system poor performance when statistical evidence makes potentially bad situations clear to the organization.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” is a quote commonly attributed to the late W. Edwards Deming, a leader in the field of quality improvement. Although this quote is well known, folks still avoid measuring and instead argue and cherry pick anecdotal experience or lean on “common sense” to prove a point.

Article #1 Pic #3You’re the boss.  Poor alarm performance may not be your fault, but alarms are your problem. If you own LogMate, you have the vigilance tool to increase visibility and assign accountability for alarm system maintenance. With LogMate the alarm management discipline has created excellent metrics by which you can reduce risk to your facility and get closer to the Engineer’s goal of creating a better facility.

You already own the tools necessary for a healthy alarm system. Make sure you know how to use them. Click here to schedule a training course today.


David P. Garcia, TiPS, Inc.

Kelsey R. Wright, TiPS, Inc.