This ISA author Q&A was edited by Joel Don, ISA’s community manager. ISA recently published Situation Management for Process Control: Decision Making for Operators in Industrial Control Rooms and Operation Centers by Douglas H. Rothenberg, Ph.D., a leading expert in alarm management and operator support technology for enterprise-wide industrial automation and control. In this Q&A feature, Rothenberg highlights the focus, importance, and differentiating qualities of the book. To download a free 122-page excerpt from the book, click this link
Q. Could you first define “situation management”?
Situation management is the competency, ability, and willingness of the human operator to properly and successfully manage the enterprise or activity under his or her charge. It is the end-game role for all operators responsible for effective real-time management. Success requires the ability to recognize the current environment of operation, the ability to develop appropriate and accurate assessment of that environment, the ability to transform that assessment into needed action for proper management of abnormal situations, and the ability to validate the effectiveness of the action. Situation management is the sum total of the decisions and actions that the operator makes that determine whether or not the enterprise operates safely and productively.
Q. Please briefly explain the objective of the book as it relates to situation management?
A. The book explains how to deliver real value to control room operations in industrial plants, specifically in improving safety and effectiveness. It advances a firm technical framework that ties together all of the traditional individual aspects (e.g., procedures, the human machine interface, control room design, and more) into a technology to understand and design effective control room management operations for enterprises. It’s a unified approach with explicit tools to deliver situation management to control room operators. An important new contribution is the concepts and technology of “weak signals” and their use to supplement alarm systems and cover situations that alarms are not intended or able to manage.
Q. Why do you believe the book is so beneficial and valuable to read?
A. The book builds on strong concepts and best practices to weave a comprehensive understanding of situation management. It covers the entire discipline, filling in gaps, extending understandings, and describing new competencies. It leverages an extensive body of knowledge in an informed narrative. Taken as a whole, it enables both novice and seasoned practitioners to grasp the big picture and at the same time acquire core concepts and practical tools. Every segment of the book is rooted in existing practice and experience. This is clearly evident in the extensive references and explanations of published material.
The content of the book can be categorized into two broad areas:
- Concepts and technology that should be used and properly integrated into the appropriate enterprise infrastructure (specifications and design, implementation, MOC, training, and all the rest).
- Concepts and tools that are consistent with existing enterprise infrastructure and could be used better to be make things more effective.
Q. Could you shed some light on the concept of “weak signals”?
A. Weak signals is a very new concept. This book introduces it. They provide a tool for operators to detect early or subtle problems in the making. Each weak signal is what we might call a small indicator of something that doesn't appear quite right. Treating them as weak signals offers an important methodology operators can use to understand and decide what they mean. They are part of a planned activity operators use to see if something odd might bear fruit if explored more carefully. They can be discovered everywhere; processing them will lead to valuable clues and then confirmation of something going amiss. The technology is an important way to "fill in the cracks" of every operator's tool kit.
Q. Who could benefit most by reading the book?
A. The book is an important read for managers, supervisors, operators, engineers, safety personnel, and technicians in industrial enterprises and operation centers. It’s also highly pertinent for regulators, specialists, engineers, system designers, and trainers at commercial firms (controls equipment manufacturers, A&E firms, systems integrators) who provide monitoring and controls hardware, software, and technology to end‑users. These professionals have a unique understanding of the needs and requirements of the control room. Without their care and innovation and attention to purpose, effective operator situation management wouldn’t be possible. They are the enablers, champions, providers, and deliverers of the technology.
Q. How does your book differ from other books written on the topic of situation management?
A. The unique value of this book is how it weaves the myriad of individual components of control room design, operator interface design, operational protocols, and operator support technology into a coherent and useable methodology. The book makes all the tools and processes explicit where before they were either implicit, missing from the control room operator tool kit, or not included in the operating culture (qualifications, procedures, training, and the like). The book enables readers to clearly recognize what the operator is responsible for and how it can be provided to assist in meeting the responsibility for successful operation.
Many of the individual tools and methodologies are currently in use in one industry or another. But their use might be haphazard and fragmented. Until now, it was difficult to fully understand how each might be used to bolster the other. This comprehensive treatment exposes a better basic understanding of each tool and methodology. And, more importantly, it demonstrates how they fit together in ways that significantly improve the ability of operators to successfully manage and execute their responsibilities.
About the Author
Douglas H. Rothenberg, Ph.D., is a leading expert in alarm management and operator support technology, possessing in-depth experience in developing innovative solutions, technologies, and concepts for enterprise-wide industrial automation and control. As a globally recognized consultant and trainer in state-of-the-art alarm management technology, Douglas pioneered the design for industrial distributed control system (DCS) alarm management technology now accepted as international best practice. He has been awarded patents in alarm management, process control, and instrumentation, and his works have been published and presented broadly in the field. He is the author of Alarm Management for Process Control, a best-practice resource for the design, implementation, and operation of industrial alarm systems. Since 1999, Douglas has served as president of D-RoTH, Inc., a consulting firm serving leading industrial manufacturing and technology providers in the areas of alarm management, design innovation, process safety management, process control technology, plant operability, and smart field actuators. Douglas earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech, a master of science degree in electrical engineering from Case Institute of Technology, and a doctorate degree in systems engineering from Case Western Reserve University. He has been an active ISA member and contributor for many years. He currently serves as a member of the ISA 18.2 Alarm Management Standards Committee, and is a former president, vice president and secretary of ISA’s Cleveland Section.