Having alarm overload?

Have you ever turned down the radio in the car when you were lost?

Or when trying to navigate a tricky intersection?

Why do people do that? The answer is simple. Noise is distracting

This is why alarm horns or speakers in control rooms are disabled. Operators don’t want to be distracted when there is a flood of alarms. I don’t blame them, because no one likes alarm horns.

The intent of alarm horns is to draw the operator’s attention.

Alarm Flood

When you see an alarm systems with hundreds of alarms per hour it is obvious that the operators only have 3 options:

  1. Let the alarms blast them all day
  2. Wear ear plugs in the control room
  3. Turn off the Alarm Horn

This is an example of how a poorly performing alarm system hurts your operator’s performance and actually reduces their ability to respond to abnormal and safety related situations.

When nuisance alarms are sounding constantly, most operators will elect to ignore all alarms. They usually just turn off the sound rather than trying to interpret an endless sequence of nuisance alarms where only one in a thousand is beneficial.

As one operator so eloquently put it,

….monitoring alarms in this place can be a full time job.

Often instead of fixing the real problem, operators will request short-term fixes.

It may seem like a bright idea to put in place pop-up notifications or changes the alarm settings to use a new color, constantly flashing or playing a fancy new sound. They say these changes are for the

..really really important ones!

Instead of trying to draw more attention to real alarms, sometimes it is better to remove the meaningless alarms so that the current alarms will stand out. With so many colors, sounds, flashes and pop-ups, it makes the appropriate operator action less obvious. Occasionally new alarm colors are not visible to colorblind operators.

When the system is functioning properly:




  • Alarms are infrequent
  • All alarms require operator action.
  • Alarm priority is color coded and intuitive.

The best alarm systems have operator guidance built into the faceplate (Alarm Help).

The operators trust the alarm system and know if something is going downhill. This is their early warning system.

Imagine a control room operator monitoring one or two screens and not constantly feeling compelled to scan all of the graphics to keep ahead of the process and prevent upsets.

You probably have many reasons to improve alarm performance at your site. Some of the most important reasons are hard to quantify (i.e. preventing upsets, increasing operator effectiveness, etc.) Difficult to quantify, benefits are not funded unless they are mandated or have sponsors that recognize the intrinsic value beyond what is typed into a spreadsheet.

Does your site ignore the value of an effective alarm system?

Enabling operators to take quick action to prevent an out-of-control process from becoming a serious safety, environmental, reliability or quality problem is critical. A good alarm system is like an extension of the reliability program. It helps prevent safety, quality, environmental and reliability problems.

Are you responsible for improving the alarm system but are simply too busy?

You know it is important but you just don’t have time to investigate, design, and implement alarm changes in DeltaV.

The hardest part of any task is getting started. The first step is to quantify your system’s alarm performance. DeltaV Analyze is a software package used to generate alarm performance reports automatically.

Let us help you get started.

R.E. Mason can help you leverage a Free Alarm report from Emerson when you have Guardian subscription.

If a Performance Audit is included in your service agreement, you can request a free high level alarm site assessment and Alarm Report.

R.E. Mason also offers a range of alarm management services including:

  • Assistance in Alarm Remediation
  • Developing an Alarm Program, or
  • Executing a deeper dive into your alarm performance.

You have access to alarm experts at R.E. Mason who have had real, day-to-day experience.

We can help you get started by solving some of the common alarm problems.

  • Alarms from temporarily broken instruments
  • Alarms from out of service equipment
  • Alarms from equipment not needed in the process or during clean cycles or startup/shutdown sequences.

To learn more, call our office at 704-375-4464 or download Alarm Rationalization (1028 downloads) .

Pin It on Pinterest