9 SCADA Alarm Management Best Practices That Will Improve Your ROI

By June 4, 2019 August 19th, 2019 Blog, RTUs, SCADA
SCADA alarm

There’s no room in business for the unknown when revenue is on the line. When your day-to-day operations impact the daily lives of your community, and people are counting on you to have 100% uptime, the last thing you want to see in a meeting is shrugged shoulders.

You have to know which equipment may be on the brink of breaking down, or if someone has hacked into your network. This is especially critical if your organization depends on operations at remote sites. You also need to know that implementing remote alarm management procedures will provide cost-savings for your company. In other words, you want to know what the ROI on your investment will be.

That’s where a SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system comes in. SCADA enables intelligent interfacing devices that automate industrial processes. SCADA helps you manage, monitor, and control remote equipment and operations quickly, and cost-effectively, in real-time. It cues you into any potential problems and helps you direct resources to fix them. And, if you follow SCADA alarm management best practices, it can very easily pay for itself. Advantages of SCADA include preventing costly equipment repair and replacement, thus producing long-term ROI and growth for your company.

The Importance of SCADA for Your Bottom Line

SCADA’s ability to measure and control your critical company processes quickly alleviates costly threats by detecting, correcting, and preventing major equipment breakdowns, failures, and penalties. That why it’s so important for your bottom line. Problems and breakdowns can be proactively avoided by continual, automated remote monitoring.

The costs, fees, and penalties listed below are just a snapshot of potential cost-savings areas for your remote sites. These can be positively impacted by implementing SCADA alarm management:

  • Operations and Maintenance Costs: Staff, vehicles, computers, and other maintenance costs range from $100K into the millions.
  • Equipment Repair and Replacement Costs: Equipment malfunction repairs and equipment failure replacements range from $10K-$50K+.
  • Asset Management and Monitoring. Management and monitoring costs range from $125K into the $2+ millions.
  • Power Failure and Multiple Days of Outage. For example, Emergency service delays, food spoils, dangerous temperatures affecting the elderly with illness or death, etc. There’s simply no price that can be placed on health or lives.

If you’re an operation that has many facilities across multiple locations, you know that things can go wrong at any time. A high-efficiency SCADA system can help you avoid hefty costs while improving the bottom-line profitability of your company.

SCADA Alarm Management Best Practices Tips and Tools

Want to boost the ROI of your SCADA deployment? Follow these best practices:

Use More Discrete Monitoring Points Than You Think You Need

Underestimating how many things you have to monitor–equipment alarms, environmental, conditions, power failures, and other concerns–will force you to pick and choose whether something is “important enough to monitor” later. This will leave you with an incomplete picture of the status of your operations.

Do a full evaluation of your equipment and systems to ensure you get the count right, then add at least 15% additional capacity to allow for future growth.

Create Alerts with Appropriate Urgency For Every Situation

A SCADA system enables you to create alerts and transmit details via SMS text message, email, alphanumeric pager, phone call, or a blinking icon on-screen indicator. This occurs for any change of state events, from power supply problems in a telecom network to rising humidity levels at an unmanned substation.

We recommend creating alerts for anything that can go wrong, choosing the “urgency” of the alert based on how serious the situation would be. You might want a simple email for a minor alarm, however, a critical power failure might demand that 5 people on your team get an automated phone call in the middle of the night. Creating customized alerts like these will help prevent costly breakdowns.

Gradually Migrate to LAN

It’s true that placing LAN connections at very remote sites can be costly, and that’s a reason some businesses avoid making the jump. But LAN connections can be installed gradually over several budget cycles at remote sites while increasing security. The right system will support your legacy network and LAN at the same time, allowing for a gradual and manageable transition.

The right system will support your legacy network and LAN at the same time, allowing for a gradual and manageable transition.

Conform to Standard Communications Methods

It’s your SCADA system, but you don’t need to create your own language. Using standard communications methods and common computing languages (protocols) can be less expensive since there is no need for custom programming, licensing, or hiring a skilled programmer at $150 per hour. You’ll want something that any technician can install, set up, and program. Using standard practices keeps this in-house as much as possible.

Use RTU Qualification Timers

Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs) are a crucial part of any SCADA system, gathering information from the sensors and communicating it to control units. Look for a system that can program soft minor alarms and enable soft controls (or controlled responses) to your system’s sensor inputs.

RTUs are a crucial part of any SCADA system, gathering information from the sensors and communicating it to control units.

Don’t Let Alarms Vanish Until They Clear

That said, alarms shouldn’t just vanish until a problem is resolved. Whether a problem requires manual intervention or resolution can be handled automatically, every alarm should be stored until it is cleared. You don’t want to lose information or the opportunity to recognize patterns before they become an expensive problem.

Document Everything

Proper documentation is key to solid SCADA deployment. Document your plans so you can build a good trial system. Document all your screen setups. Record any questions people have. Document flaws that you see. Create a process to fully understand your SCADA system.

Proper documentation is key to solid SCADA deployment.

Plan for Scaling

Your operations may change and grow over the next decade. You might be able to reduce the number of plants you have to move to a smart grid. You may change your supply lines or introduce greater automation to your facilities. Whatever adjustments you make, your SCADA system needs to accommodate them. That’s why you want a system that is designed not just for the moment, but for the long-term needs of your organization.

Choose a Proven Partner

There can be a lot of pressure to install a SCADA system in-house. That’s understandable. But it can also lead to what we call an “in-house solution stack hack,” an unwieldy pile of short-term solutions that stack on top of each other, creating a mess and making it difficult for new engineers to understand.

That’s why people like working with a proven partner who understands SCADA and knows how to create scalable systems with effective technology, producing benefits such as:

  • Full Support. A SCADA system, among many other things, prevents downtime. A proven partner keeps your system running seamlessly and quickly troubleshoots any potential problems to improve productivity.
  • Experience. These are complex systems, and while your engineers are excellent at what they do, they might not be SCADA experts. Working with a partner allows you to focus on your operations without having to build or support a full control system.
  • Service and Implementation. Implementation of SCADA can be a long, highly-technical, and complicated process. Sometimes you just need a solid customer service provider so you don’t have to worry.
  • A Comprehensive Guide. This is an under-rated aspect of working with a partner. When a system is built through a proven process with custom technology, a standard language, and a well-defined set of rules, it works better. A SCADA guide that ensures everyone clearly understands how to work the SCADA system eliminates a lot of problems.

SCADA systems can save your organization millions of dollars over a lifetime. SCADA helps you avoid reputation-damaging failures, and can even save lives. That’s why following SCADA alarm management best practices offers critical cost-savings for your organization—and why it’s similarly critical to choose the right partner when installing and operating remote alarm management tools.

DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help deploy best practices for any SCADA alarm system. Our technicians work with you to design and develop the best SCADA systems and hardware. If you’d like to inquire about pricing, get a quote today.


Image courtesy PixaBay, Geralt

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson has been building remote monitoring systems for his clients since 2006, both in the United States and internationally. He has been a featured speaker at a variety of national telco, utility, radio, and rail conferences.

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