Make Some Alarming Moves

Tackle distractions that impair operator performance and process efficiency.

By Todd Stauffer, exida consulting, and Kim VanCamp, Emerson Process Management

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Create a strategy to manage moving the new alarm settings established during rationalization to the control system alarm configuration. You don't have to manually enter the settings — commercially available rationalization tools can transfer all parameters, including alarm limit, priority, deadband and on-delay, and automatically update the control system.

Before bringing the alarm system changes online, ensure that adequate testing and operator training has been carried out. This can include reviewing the online alarm response procedures, which the rationalization tool can create automatically.

Alarm management is a never-ending activity. Plan to spend some time every month reviewing alarm system performance, identifying new bad actors and evaluating how things have changed during the month. Work your way through the entire alarm configuration one subsystem at a time, starting with those most critical.

When designed and implemented properly, alarms can help operators keep your plant running safely and within normal operating conditions. However, if alarms instead serve as distractions or nuisances, then operator performance will suffer. Taking steps to ensure your alarm system performs well can lead to improved operational excellence and reduced risk that process abnormalities will escalate to major events. The ISA-18.2 alarm management lifecycle provides a framework for addressing common alarm management problems.

TODD STAUFFER is director of alarm management services for exida consulting, Sellersville, Pa. KIM VANCAMP is product manager, DeltaV abnormal situation prevention, for Emerson Process Management, Austin, Tex. E-mail them at and

1. "Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries," ANSI/ISA ISA18.00.02-2009, ISA, Research Triangle Park, N.C. (2009).
2. Sands, N.P. and T. Stauffer, "Avoid the Domino Effect," p. 16, Chemical Processing, (February 2010), online at
3. "Alarm Systems — A Guide to Design, Management and Procurement," 2nd ed., Engineering Equipment & Materials Users' Assn., London, U.K. (2007).

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