What Is Situation Awareness (SA) and How Can It Improve My Job?

By Greg Alvarado, Chief Editor at Inspectioneering. August 25, 2014
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This blog post is the first in a series about situation awareness.

After spending decades in plants and assisting operators in developing mechanical integrity programs, something has become very apparent to me; owner-operators face serious challenges with situation awareness (SA). What do I mean by SA? I mean gathering and utilizing data in real-time and using it to:

  • Resolve surprises/problems quickly;
  • Mitigate and eliminate inefficiencies as they occur;
  • Reduce dead time wasted by delays in reporting; and
  • Replace serial work paths with parallel work execution.

This post is the first in a series that will address ways in which owner-operators can begin to tackle the “800 pound gorilla” that is SA.

There are numerous areas where real-time knowledge would be beneficial to improve operations (e.g. maintenance, inspections, etc.), but this post only addresses one of the most critical: planned and unplanned turnarounds. As you are well-aware, there can be thousands of tasks spread across multiple contractors and managed by different owner-operator departments for one single turnaround. This makes coordination and execution of turnarounds a daunting challenge. These challenges are compounded by the pressure that one day of lost production opportunity (LPO) can result in millions of dollars in lost profits. But these are things you already know. What happens when we run into surprises during the turnaround? How do we resolve them quickly without adding additional time?

The good news is that SA can, in fact, be achieved during turnarounds -- not to mention other maintenance, inspection, construction, and operations activities, but we’ll save those for later posts. The even better news is that achieving awareness is not as difficult as it may first appear. SA tells us not only how we are doing, based on real time information, but it should also enable us to immediately assess a new situation, with all of the data needed (historical and current) and resolve it without lapses or redundancies in communication or work. This results in everyone having the data they need to get the job done on or in advance of schedule -- even when turnaround surprises rear their ugly heads.

The first step to achieving SA is to understand your turnaround objectives and create a holistic framework of the processes necessary to successfully satisfy these objectives. Let’s work through an example. Imagine you are taking a crude unit down for a scheduled turnaround. Now ask yourself these essential questions:

  • What departments must be involved (e.g. maintenance, inspection, operations, HSE) in upfront turnaround planning and execution?
  • What are the various work processes?
  • What vendors must be retained and managed?
  • What tools must be utilized?
  • What procedures must be followed?
  • What data must be readily accessible and ready to share/transfer to other departments?
  • Are any other pieces necessary to successfully complete the turnaround on time or ahead of schedule?

Now take all of your answers and create a framework that maps out the crude unit turnaround from planning to completion. By creating this framework, you have identified most or all of the complex interactions between the various work processes that must occur in order to achieve a successful turnaround. Did you notice any tasks or processes that could be automated? Did you identify any overlapping processes that could be combined? Can you build more efficient work processes through automation, whether by software, spreadsheets, or other systems? These are the kinds of questions that you should be asking, and must be answering, if you are going to achieve optimum efficiency at your next turnaround.

Congratulations! You have just completed a major step that will have you on your way to SA, resulting in optimized man-hours, increased turnaround efficiencies, and ultimately, a positive contribution to your company’s bottom line.

In the second blog post of this series, I will take the crude unit example a step further to demonstrate how SA can be applied, effectively, in a turnaround.

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