An Alarm System for All Seasons

By Glenn Yancey, Applications & Systems Engineer, InSource Solutions

Here in the sunny state of Florida, hurricane season is never far from our minds. It signals an extended period of tropical storms, fully-fledged hurricanes and just generally more unstable weather patterns. For our larger water & waste water municipalities, having an alarm management system to triage their critical alarms vs nuisance alarms is absolutely essential during our stormy season.

We define “alarms” as abnormal conditions that occur in our processes.   The word alarm comes from the French and Italian meaning for “call to arms” (Old French “A l’arm” or Italian “Alle Armi”).   For our operators, the “call to arms” occur in the form of alarm annunciation by the SCADA system, to which the operator would then acknowledge an alarm and be expected to respond.   “Acknowledgement” means that the operator is letting the SCADA system know that they are responding to the enunciated alarm.  Alarms are often broken up into four levels of severity (Critical, High, Medium, and Low).

In my frequent conversations with control room operators, one constant that I hear is that they are doing their best to respond to the most critical alarms, and struggling to attend to the more lower level nuisance alarms.  SCADA systems provide us with an alarm database which gives us access to the alarms that have happened in the past.   But can our operators truly analyze in a timely manner which nuisance alarms may have been triggered by frequent electrical flickers that occur during this stormy season?   Lightning strikes and power interruptions may not always take a site down, but they can cause plenty of disruptions in the form of alarms. To analyze and rationalize these patterns of nuisance alarms can take a lot of time with the hundreds if not thousands of process alarms that come in daily.

Thankfully, with the new Wonderware Alarm Adviser from AVEVA, the compilation of this data for analysis is done for us.  Wonderware Alarm Adviser is a scalable, web-based alarm analysis tool that helps us rationalize and recognize these very nuisance alarms in our HMI/SCADA system.   The Alarm Adviser gives operators a holistic view of all alarms, which allows them to see patterns in these alarms to quickly make informed decisions.  The benefit for the engineers is less time troubleshooting, as the Alarm Adviser can correlate alarms and apply a degree of confidence to the correlation based on common symptoms.  There are also built in dashboard metrics to help facilitate compliance with alarm management industry best practice guidelines and regulations, including pre-set parameters and recommended targets.

Prior to Alarm Adviser, internal programmers in these municipalities and/or their System Integrators wrote alarm database queries to see the most frequent, fleeting (short duration) and standing (long duration) alarms, for the purposes of identifying alarms that should be acknowledged first.   Today, Alarm Adviser handles all of this for us!   It makes it so much easier to find the root cause of these alarms.   Plus, with the increasing use of mobile devices, Alarm Adviser is completely portable.  Clients now access current alarm priorities from any mobile device or any computer with an HTML5 browser!

In short, organizations using Alarm Adviser will see benefits through enhanced production efficiency & profitability as the engineers and operators are able to quickly discern top priority alarms.  When combined with a simple escalation and excursion action management program, Alarm Adviser (Powered by Wonderware) can help your team weather any storm.

Click on this link to see a demo of Alarm Adviser and more about InSource Alarm Management solutions.