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Alarm Management / Rationalization & Response Analysis

Beville Engineering, Inc., has been conducting alarm response analyses in the petrochemical industry for over 25 years. As such, we have developed a comprehensive approach and methodology to alarm rationalization that has enabled significant improvements in alarm systems for a variety of clients. The following highlight some of our results: 

  • A reduction of alarms per day from 300 to 100;
  • A decrease in emergency priority alarms from 40 to 13 percent of the alarm total;
  • A reduction of alarms "in" during normal operations from an average of 15 to 0;
  • An 80 percent reduction in the number of emergency alarm activations.

Alarm system management is universally recognized as essential to ensuring that processing plants are run safely and efficiently. Alarm system management is also universally recognized as being problematic. It is ironic that a system that is so essential is often the source of so many problems. Stories of operators missing or misunderstanding alarms and wreaking havoc on a process are all too familiar. There are tell-tale signs that an alarm system is poorly configured. Characteristics of systems that would benefit from an alarm management study include

  • Alarms that have no operator action;
  • Alarm conditions that have multiple alarms;
  • Alarms that are "in" during normal operations, violation of the "dark screen" principle;
  • Alarm actuation rates in excess of the operator's information processing capabilities;
  • Alarms with improper setpoints or deadband, causing alarm cycling;
  • Excessively high alarm-to-controller ratios; and
  • Alarm priority distribution that has too many emergency and high priority alarms and too few low priority alarms.

Although problems with alarm system management may be easy to identify, identifying the solutions to the problems is not so simple without a substantial amount of knowledge and experience. Conceptually, selecting alarms is not difficult: each alarm should prompt a unique operator action. If there is no action, there should be no alarm. If multiple alarms all prompt the same action, there shouldn’t be more than one alarm.

Systematic application of this principle is done through an alarm response analysis (ARA), or alarm rationalization. All of the pertinent data for each point to be alarmed is entered into a customized database form during the alarm rationalization. The data that is captured is then used to determine what points need to be alarmed, deleted or changed. This method of cataloging each point's data provides documentation for any changes that are made and works as a control for future alarm additions and rationalization. The alarm response analysis form becomes part of the management of change for alarms. 

Several rules-of-thumb exist for determining if the alarm management process was successful. The total number of alarms for a system should be a 2.5:1 ratio of alarms to controllers. For example, a unit with 200 controllers should have about 500 alarms. These alarms should have a priority distribution of the following: 

Level 1 - 10%
Level 2 - 35%
Level 3 - 55%

For further information, visit the links below.

| Alarm & Display System Analysis Overview | Display Design | Alarm & Display Design Seminar | Beville Shape Calculator -Excel download | Alarm Distribution Estimator -Excel download |


Article Published By
Consortium Reports New Findings on Alarm Rates Automation World
How Many Alarms Can An Operator Handle Chemical Processing
Impact of Alarm Rates and Interface Design on Operator Performance Automation World
Operator Interfaces: Moving from Comfortable to Most Effective Automation World
Operator Performance as a Function of Alarm Rate and Interface Design


This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 24-26 in Corpus Christi. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!


Our summer newsletter is now available. Click here!

Take our short survey on operator span of control. Click here (new window)

David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.

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