In my last post I discussed the importance of defining the roles, responsibilities and authorities of control room personnel.  And, in my view, it is equally important to provide the necessary information and tools based on that definition.  This view is obviously supported by section (c) of the PHMSA CRM Rule. 

So – based on your comprehensive, detailed definition of what you need your Controllers to do – have you asked yourself, “WHAT do they need – and HOW should we provide it?” 

I hope you will agree that, at a minimum, your Controllers will need: 1) the policies and procedures that establish what they are to do and how they are to do it; and 2) the processes they will use to do what you need for them to do – including a well-designed SCADA system.  Am I right so far?

But, when we’re talking about a SCADA system – and particularly the HMI used by Controllers – the term “well-designed” is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.  Of course, your SCADA system must be reliable and secure – those elements are given.  But is your SCADA system as effective as it can be for its primary users?

For SCADA to be effective, we must go back to our question again, “What do they (our primary users) need – and how should we provide it?”.  The answer to the WHAT part of the question is conveniently found in your definition of the users’ roles and responsibilities.  To meet their defined responsibilities – to gain the necessary situational awareness and to make appropriate operational decisions, for example – what information is needed by your Controllers and other key operational personnel?

I know that it can be tempting – especially if you’re not developing a new SCADA system from scratch – to just take all the available operational data you have and try to figure out where to display it.  But, I would humbly suggest that, when it comes to control room SCADA, more data does not necessarily provide more useful information – and can, instead, serve to hide or obscure what is essential information for your Controllers.   

An exercise I have employed (with some success) is to start with a blank sheet of paper (or clean dry-erase board) and a simple, bulleted list of the primary users’ role and responsibilities.  Not yet worrying about the HOW part of the equation, I read through the list and (for each item) ask, “What information is needed to fulfill that role or meet that responsibility – and what operational data best provides that information?”. 

Once you have figured out what operational data provides the information your Controllers need, it’s time to get to work designing your HMI – answering the HOW part of our question – deciding where each tag should reside, how it should be portrayed, and so on.  Fortunately, for these decisions there is a lot of help out there – e.g., API RP-1165, ANSI-ISA-101 and others that describe the key elements of a “high-performance HMI”.  I recommend that you choose one that works best for you and for your Controllers – while remembering that adherence to elements of the API recommended practice is specifically mandated by the PHMSA CRM Rule.     

Note: This is the fourth in a series of blog entries on gas and hazardous liquid pipeline operations and regulatory compliance. If you have any questions or comments about this blog or would just like to talk about anything related – please feel free to reach out to me at: