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How to Create an Alarm Management Policy

Alarm Management is probably one of the most written about topics in control theory and one of the best-documented methodologies covered by International and local standards and guidance documents, yet, still many companies do not know where to start or how to get a handle on a bad alarm management system.

The problem stems from years of doing lip service to alarm management and not treating it with the seriousness and urgency it really demands.

An alarm management policy should state what the current problem is and what the desired outcome of an alarm management project should be. Within the EEMUA 191 Guidance document clear alarm KPI’s are defined and it is recommended that a company should initially benchmark and determine how they stack up against the benchmark.

The Benchmark consists of five performance channels together with KPI’s that help you determine how you are doing against these KPI’s. The performance levels are divided by the following definitions:

  1. Overloaded
  2. Reactive
  3. Stable
  4. Robust
  5. Predictive

Each channel contains characteristics of the alarm system under review, Typical KPI figures from alarm statistics such as average alarms per 10-minute interval, the maximum number of alarms within that 10-minute period and the percentage of alarms when there were more than 30 alarms. Typical description operator interface, typical alarm system functionality, comment, typical focus for further improvement.

An operator questionnaire is also provided to capture insight from the operator about working with the alarm system.

Having assessed the current alarm management system and identified which of the five channels your company and your plant are best described by the performance channel. Next, the management team must set a target for improvement and obviously the further you are away from “Predictive” the desired goal the harder and more consuming will be the alarm improvement project.

The management team must take into consideration resource requirements, the size of the problem, the size of the alarm system and the desired improvement process. Some companies may set a 5-year target to be Predictive in that period. Other may determine that this is a difficult task and only so much internal resource can be dedicated to the alarm improvement process and targeting a goal of being Stable may be the best that can currently be achieved given resources and budget. The management team would review progress in the planned time frame and adjust their goal after seeing improvements to their alarm system.

Once the gap has been determined the next thing that needs to happen is to establish a formal project with Project Manager, project reviews and accountability, resources, budgets, identification of capital required for success and a budget and maintenance planning to correct instrumentation problems.

All this information needs to be incorporated in an alarm policy document and should also contain a list of milestones identified in the project plan and what documents will be required to start the project such as a Master Alarm Database, an Alarm Philosophy, an Alarm Rationalization Procedure. The policy will clearly state the companies Commitment, Roles & Responsibilities with Accountability and direction for acceptable Performance expectations.