November/December 2012

Standards update: Alarm management

Alarm management was a topic of great interest as automation standards experts from across the globe convened in Orlando, Fla. during ISA Automation Week 2012 for the IEC Technical Committee (TC) 65 plenary meeting. IEC TC65, Industrial Process Measurement, Control, and Automation, is the world's principal body for international standards used in industrial automation and control.

ISA has had a long and successful collaborative relationship with IEC TC65, through which several widely-used IEC standards have been based on original ISA standards in areas including batch control, functional safety, cyber security, and enterprise-control system integration. 

Alarm management is expected to join that list in 2013, as Nick Sands of DuPont, co-chair of ISA18, updated attendees at the plenary meeting on the ongoing IEC development of ANSI/ISA-18.2-2009, Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries, into standard IEC 62682. He also briefed attendees on work by ISA18 to develop a series of ISA technical reports to provide rationale, usage guidelines, and examples to support the application and use of the standard.

ISA-18.2-2009 addresses the development, design, installation, and management of alarm systems in the process industries. Alarm system management includes multiple work processes throughout the alarm system lifecycle. The standard defines the terminology and models to develop an alarm system, and the work processes recommended to effectively maintain the alarm system throughout the lifecycle.

ISA18 has completed three supporting technical reports this year, the most recent of which is ISA-TR18.2.5-2012, Alarm System Monitoring, Assessment, and Auditing. This technical report provides guidance and information supplementing ISA-18.2-2009 on the use of alarm system analysis for both ongoing monitoring and periodic performance assessment. Monitoring, assessment, and audit are essential to achieving and maintaining the performance objectives of the alarm system. These activities can identify improvement opportunities in the other lifecycle stages, such as philosophy, rationalization, detailed design, implementation, operation, maintenance, and management of change.

Alarm system performance analysis can also play a part in overall plant performance metrics and can be used as an input to process improvement efforts. This is typically in conjunction with process historian data and control loop effectiveness data. The focus of the assessment process is to apply engineering judgment and review to determine whether the alarm system is performing properly.

Earlier this year, the ISA18 committee completed two additional ISA technical reports:

  • ISA-TR18.2.4-2012, Enhanced and Advanced Alarm Methods, is intended to help people evaluate when to use enhanced and advanced alarming methods, what benefits they can achieve, and what challenges and costs to expect. Per ISA-18.2-2009, enhanced and advanced alarm methods typically go beyond the basic methods and techniques that are usually, or at least initially, applied. While significant improvement in alarm system function and performance can usually be made by following the basic alarming methods and principles, in some cases they may not be sufficient to achieve the goals for performance and operator guidance stated in the alarm philosophy. For example, due to changing process or equipment state, the alarms may not always trigger at the appropriate times for operator action, or may trigger at times when no action is needed.
  • ISA-TR18.2.6-2012, Alarm Systems for Batch and Discrete Processes, covers the application of alarm management principles in the standard to batch and discrete processes. The general principles and techniques described are intended for use in the lifecycle management of an alarm system based on programmable electronic controller and computer-based human-machine interface (HMI) technology. Use of the technical report should consider batch and discrete process alarms from all systems presented to the operator, which may include basic process control systems, annunciator panels, safety instrumented systems, fire and gas systems, and emergency response systems. Following the recommended guidance will help to identify and address alarm specification, design, implementation, and management opportunities that are important to batch and discrete processes. It can also help minimize the generation of nuisance alarms that could complicate and frustrate an operator's awareness, understanding, and response to abnormal situations.

Additional supporting technical reports being developed by ISA18 will cover alarm philosophy, alarm identification and rationalization, and basic alarm design.

For information about viewing or obtaining the ISA-18.2-2009 standard and the supporting technical reports, visit, select "18" from the first drop-down list, and scroll down.

For information on ISA Standards, visit or contact Charley Robinson,