Situation Awareness

Situation Awareness, as the name implies, is the ability of the operator to be aware of the systems in their operating environment. They consist of the DCS Control and Instrumentation system that provides feedback to the console operator on the plant equipment, the process variables, and the instrumentation system.

The interface is usually via DCS graphics so the design of the User or Human Machine Interface (HMI) and the alarm management system is critical to successful awareness. If the HMI is not sharp and easy to navigate the overview and details will be lost. UCDS has developed the principles of High Performance HMI to provide the most proactive user interface. The role of the alarm system is to make the control operator aware of a problem they have not noticed on the HMI. It is a reactive action and has limits and, if not designed correctly, will overwhelm operators and compromise situation awareness.

The second system is communication with the unit field operators who are the eyes, ears and hands of the console operator. Communication is usually via radio, phone and sometimes face-to-face. It is important that the tools used are reliable, free from distortion and that the operators are trained in their effective use , such as proper use of radio protocols. It is also important to develop team building techniques so as everyone is aware of the needs of the team and not just personal goals.

The third system involves understanding what is happening on connected units or utility suppliers. This is achieved via monitoring their DCS data through DCS screens or large off-workstations in the form of Large Screen Displays (LSD) in the control room. Information is sometimes collected casually through overhearing radio conversations or discussion with supervisors, but ideally one-on-one between the operators. It is therefore imperative that face-to-face communications are designed using good control room layout that considers console adjacencies.

The fourth system is business information which consists of laboratory results of sampling, management communications through emails describing plant changes, operating targets and potential problems. This is normally delivered electronically through a PC located on the operating console but may also be communicated by line supervision.

UCDS Inc. provides services to promote good Situation Awareness and through our standard service offerings we address all of the systems mentioned above. The design of the control room, the console and the HMI is a specialist activity and should not be split between different disciplines. Designers should have industrial operations experience, engineering controls experience and a Human Factor/Ergonomic background.