Audible Alarming for Multiple Central Energy Plants
In 2016, a large hospital system in the Southeast with multiple Central Energy Plants (CEP) chose Affinity Energy to implement an audible alerting functionality into their previously existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. While the "main" CEP, which is staffed 7x24x365, already had the ability to view alarms at remote and unmanned CEP locations, it was imperative to the customer that critical alarms were not missed when local operators were away from the control room performing maintenance or working on other tasks.
A large Southeast hospital system has three central energy plants within a 50-mile radius, but only one is manned 24/7. Due to lack of staffing across multiple sites, they lean heavily on their main control room SCADA system integrated by Affinity Energy for performance information about all plants, including critical alarms.
In the past, two operators at the 24/7 CEP would swap the responsibilities of monitoring alarms in the control room and maintenance in the boiler room, chiller room, or electrical room. Due to attrition, the 24/7 facility only has one operator challenged with monitoring onsite SCADA, keeping an eye on remote facility alarms, and conducting the constant maintenance necessary to run a facility with five boilers, seven chillers, and eight emergency power generators.
The problem is, critical alarms occur even when an operator is conducting maintenance throughout the plant, making it impossible to know when critical alarms are annunciating on the screen back in the command room.
The hospital system’s main CEP needed a way to maximize operational efficiency and ensure a quick response in the event of a critical alarm, without hiring additional plant operators.
Affinity Energy proposed a solution that would enable a technician to hear if a critical alarm occurred at any of the three plants. No matter what he was doing, an audible alarm system with strategically placed workstations around the CEP would allow for fast alarm acknowledgement, more efficient decision making, and better issue resolution, without the need to return to the control room.
Affinity Energy installed and programmed a wireless audible alarm system that can be heard throughout the three-story CEP whenever a critical alarm occurs at any of the three remote locations. For shifts when operators are at remote facilities, the operator at the main control room can manually disable the audible alarms system.
It was important to choose an audible alarm level that could be heard over the PPE ear protection used by technicians when working in the boiler, chiller, and electrical rooms. Affinity Energy determined through a series of tests that the audible sirens need to produce an audible alarm greater than 110 decibels so operators could hear alarms no matter where they were in the facility.
When implementing the audible alarm system, one of the biggest technical hurdles was bringing alarms from remote CEPs into the main CEP control room infrastructure. Affinity Energy used the hospital’s IT infrastructure and network along with a standard application program interface to monitor critical alarm status at the remote CEPs and activate audible alarming locally.
On a prior project, Affinity Energy integrated pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) web cameras at the remote plants to enable control operators to remotely view critical equipment after hours. Now, after responding to an audible alarm, an operator at the main CEP control room has the option to visually verify conditions at the remote locations.
Affinity Energy was able to complete the audible alarm integration at all three facilities in two weeks.
Now, due to the audible alarm system that is an integral part of the SCADA system, operators are able to quickly respond to critical issues, even if they’re not in the control room. The cost-effective solution that Affinity Energy provided has allowed the owner to maintain situational awareness with fewer personnel.
The hospital system believes the system is so effective, they’ve asked Affinity Energy to integrate two nearby facilities into the audible alarming system.