Situational Awareness is having all the necessary data about the key elements within a system to respond appropriately and predict the consequences of actions. A fiscally embarrassing example of a lack of Situational Awareness happened on December 8th, 1998. The Pacific Gas and Company placed a sub-station online while the station was still grounding following maintenance. As a result, 25 sub-stations in San Francisco shut down, resulting in approximate economic costs of tens of millions of dollars and affecting 350,000 customers.
A lack of training, awareness and communication affected the Bulk Electric Supply system in the area. Situational Awareness (SA) is a responsibility of all the people and teams within an organization in order to prevent outages and resulting damages.
Proper NERC Training
Proper training is needed for all employees so they would know that appropriate courses of action to take. This awareness is heightened when teams collaborate in developing procedures to handle situations. Clear communication and expectations are necessary components that reinforce the support of situational awareness in multi-person operations. Proper readings of data from devices— designed with SA-oriented principles in mind— make seeing and understanding important information easier.
The human mind can only process so much incoming data at a time. Data overload occurs when there is a tremendous volume of information with a swift rate of change coupled with a limited bandwidth for input. Make certain that the right salient data is being accessed and understood by the human component within the organization.
Information Gap Affects Reliability
A gap exists when data is gathered and presented in different systems and forms but is not integrated and doesn’t address the actual needs of the user. New systems are added on to the old. Users need to invest time and energy interpreting all of the data coming in. They prioritize the most important aspects and respond to issues when automated functions from various systems that don’t speak the same language do not function properly.
Reliability cannot be guaranteed and time is lost while people are shuffling around trying to switch from automated functions to manual and address maintenance issues and other concerns. The system is not optimized and this oversight can affect the bulk electrical supply system and all who depend upon it.
Design Incorporating SA-Oriented Principles
When systems are designed around key principles of SA, there are a number of enhancements that can be seen within the construct. Five observations below are based upon the first principles of SA-oriented design.
- There is a centrally organizing feature that is flexible enough to meet the changing objectives of the operator (Principle 1).
- The system is organized to integrate information and support comprehension (Principle 2).
- Level 3 Projections are supported as the process can be complex and difficult for the less experienced (Principle 3).
- There is support of Global SA in that the status across goals can be easily accessed (Principle 4).
- The system avoids attentional narrowing and there is a balance between goal driven and data driven processing (Principle 5).
NERC training and situational awareness education creates an environment that enables people to function better within their respective roles, contributes to faster troubleshooting and an operational emergency preparedness program with enhanced communications.