Conference Paper

Situation Awareness-Oriented Alarm Visualizations: A next Step in HSC Environments

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Due to their effective capability to fix the attention of control room operators to such conditions that require some kind of response, alarm visualizations have become key control artefacts in Human Supervisory Control environments. Nevertheless, the increasing complexity and interconnectivity of controlled processes highlights the necessity of new control artefacts that support both identification and diagnosis tasks. In this line of work, this paper posits the need of redesigning alarm visualizations in order to assist not only the real-time detection of failures but also the achievement of Situation Awareness by control room operators. Based on dynamic interaction and exploration capabilities, this new design perspective for alarm visualizations may improve the operator’s ability to diagnose the causes of abnormal situations.

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Alarm flooding is the phenomenon of presenting more alarms in a given period of time than a human operator can effectively respond. Past Abnormal Situation Management® (ASM®) Consortium research on the use of alarm system rationalization and configuration methodologies have demonstrated significant reduction in the probability and extent of alarm flooding. However, despite these effective alarm system design and configuration efforts, the occurrence of alarm flooding has not been eliminated. As a consequence, the ASM Consortium 1 conducted a research project to develop and evaluate alternative design concepts for presenting alarm information to enable operators to more effectively handle abnormal situations that produce alarm floods. This paper will present the alternative alarm presentation concepts and discuss the study findings on their impact on operator performance. The use of a logical processing technique to modulate the presentation rate of alarms in the alarm display improved operator performance. In addition, the results showed that console operator performance improved with the use of all alarm presentation techniques in combination with the use of a formal alarm response strategy. Specifically, the study demonstrates that operator performance under alarm flood conditions can be improved if the operator interface enables the operator to strategically view subsets of the alarms associated with specific equipment areas rather than a list containing all of the alarms.
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The use of alarms in process control is a complex affair, because alarms can have many different functions over and above that of alerting the operator to a new event. Alarms are potentially a rich source of information that can be used in all phases of responding to a disturbance and should therefore be considered as an aspect of the general process information. From the point of view of cognitive systems engineering, alarms provide information that enables the operators to maintain control of the process and to be proactive as well as reactive. An important issue is the time and effort needed to evaluate events and new information (time to evaluate: T E) and the time and effort needed to select an appropriate response or line of action (time to select: T S). The former (T E) can be supported by more effective presentation of information, specifically a more comprehensive presentation of alarms. The latter (T S) can be supported by various kinds of computerized support, ranging from planning systems to adaptive and computerized procedures. The choice between alternative representations of alarm information should be based on the principles of function congruence, to ensure that control of the process is maintained under all conditions. This can be done by using robust performance indicators to determine the current control mode of the operators and the current state of the process. Once the control mode has been established, the presentation of alarm information can be adjusted to enhance the opera-tors' comprehension of the situation. Alarm displays usually only show the status at the current time, and one obvious improvement is therefore to provide information about the temporal distribution of alarms over the immediate past. This can be done either by showing the distribution of alarms over groups (referring to the existing alarm tiles) or by using various types of temporal distributions, illustrated by examples.
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The goal of the research described in this paper is to develop an application-independent presentation tool that automatically designs effective graphical presentations (such as bar charts, scatter plots, and connected graphs) of relational information. Two problems are raised by this goal: The codification of graphic design criteria in a form that can be used by the presentation tool, and the generation of a wide variety of designs so that the presentation tool can accommodate a wide variety of information. The approach described in this paper is based on the view that graphical presentations are sentences of graphical languages. The graphic design issues are codified as expressiveness and effectiveness criteria for graphical languages. Expressiveness criteria determine whether a graphical language can express the desired information. Effectiveness criteria determine whether a graphical language exploits the capabilities of the output medium and the human visual system. A wide variety of designs can be systematically generated by using a composition algebra that composes a small set of primitive graphical languages. Artificial intelligence techniques are used to implement a prototype presentation tool called APT (A Presentation Tool), which is based on the composition algebra and the graphic design criteria.
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This paper presents a theoretical model of situation awareness based on its role in dynamic human decision making in a variety of domains. Situation awareness is presented as a predominant concern in system operation, based on a descriptive view of decision making. The relationship between situation awareness and numerous individual and environmental factors is explored. Among these factors, attention and working memory are presented as critical factors limiting operators from acquiring and interpreting information from the environment to form situation awareness, and mental models and goal-directed behavior are hypothesized as important mechanisms for overcoming these limits. The impact of design features, workload, stress, system complexity, and automation on operator situation awareness is addressed, and a taxonomy of errors in situation awareness is introduced, based on the model presented. The model is used to generate design implications for enhancing operator situation awareness and future directions for situation awareness research.
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Sensemaking, which can be defined as the way people make sense out of their experience in the world, is a motivated, continuous effort to understand connections, which can be among people, places, and events, to anticipate their trajectories and act effectively. Sensemaking serves several functions such as it satisfies a need or drive to comprehend, or guides the exploration of information. Sensemaking helps to test and improve the plausibility of person's explanations and explain apparent anomalies. Sensemaking, which has become an umbrella term for efforts at building intelligent systems provides an empirical base that anchors the theoretical ruminations in concrete examples and findings. These findings serve as a rationale for questioning some assumptions that underlie the drive to make intelligent sensemaking systems.
This is the book form of the Research and Development Agenda for Visual Analytics to be published by IEEE in 2005.
Conference Paper
With increasing complexity and interconnectivity of the electric power grid, the scope and complexity of grid operations continues to grow. New paradigms are needed to guide research to improve operations by enhancing situation awareness of operators. Research on human factors/situation awareness is described within a taxonomy of tools and approaches that address different levels of cognitive processing. While user interface features and visualization approaches represent the predominant focus of human factors studies of situation awareness, this paper argues that a complementary level, sensemaking, deserves further consideration by designers of decision support systems for power grid operations. A sensemaking perspective on situation awareness may reveal new insights that complement ongoing human factors research, where the focus of the investigation of errors is to understand why the decision makers experienced the situation the way they did, or why what they saw made sense to them at the time.
Current software tools for visualization of spatio-temporal data, on the one hand, utilize the opportunities provided by modern computer technologies, on the other hand, incorporate the legacy from the conventional cartography. We have considered existing visualization-based techniques for exploratory analysis of spatio-temporal data from two perspectives: (1) what types of spatio-temporal data they are applicable to; (2) what exploratory tasks they can potentially support.The technique investigation has been based on an operational typology of spatio-temporal data and analytical tasks we specially devised for this purpose. The result of the study is a structured inventory of existing exploratory techniques related to the types of data and tasks they are appropriate for. This result is potentially helpful for data analysts—users of geovisualization tools: it provides guidelines for selection of proper exploratory techniques depending on the characteristics of data to analyze and the goals of analysis. At the same time the inventory as well as the suggested typology of tasks could be useful for tool designers and developers of various domain-specific geovisualization applications. The designers can, on the one hand, see what task types are insufficiently supported by the existing tools and direct their creative activities towards filling the gaps, on the other hand, use the techniques described as basic elements for building new, more sophisticated ones. The application developers can, on the one hand, use the task and data typology in the analysis of potential user needs, on the other hand, appropriately select and combine existing tools in order to satisfy these needs.
Graphics have been used since ancient times to portray things that are inherently spatiovisual, like maps and building plans. More recently, graphics have been used to portray things that are metaphorically spatiovisual, like graphs and organizational charts. The assumption is that graphics can facilitate comprehension, learning, memory, communication and inference. Assumptions aside, research on static graphics has shown that only carefully designed and appropriate graphics prove to be beneficial for conveying complex systems. Effective graphics conform to the Congruence Principle according to which the content and format of the graphic should correspond to the content and format of the concepts to be conveyed. From this, it follows that animated graphics should be effective in portraying change over time. Yet the research on the efficacy of animated over static graphics is not encouraging. In cases where animated graphics seem superior to static ones, scrutiny reveals lack of equivalence between animated and static graphics in content or procedures; the animated graphics convey more information or involve interactivity. Animations of events may be ineffective because animations violate the second principle of good graphics, the Apprehension Principle, according to which graphics should be accurately perceived and appropriately conceived. Animations are often too complex or too fast to be accurately perceived. Moreover, many continuous events are conceived of as sequences of discrete steps. Judicious use of interactivity may overcome both these disadvantages. Animations may be more effective than comparable static graphics in situations other than conveying complex systems, for example, for real time reorientations in time and space.
This paper deals with selected problems of human factors in the design of process control systems. The argument is that although there are already some legal obligations to take human factors into account, practical experience shows that this is not done adequately and sufficiently. Two types of human–machine interfaces are distinguished, i.e. the task interface and the interaction interface. The design philosophy of process engineers seems to aim at automating all safety critical functions, which is called into question based on the available ergonomics evidence. For the interaction interface examples are presented, showing a further substantial neglect of basic human factors principles, which in turn results in increased operator strain during system failures.It is argued that there is a demand for immediate action, i.e. for the application of existing human factors knowledge in process control system design, for a professional evaluation of human factors in process control systems, and for research on possibilities of using new technologies that assist the operator in controlling the process control system.
Conference Paper
In a number of incidents and accidents, the alarm system has been identified as a contributing factor to the escalation of events from upset to worse. This paper will discuss the alarm system from the operators perspective. An alarm should reflect the state of the process, and the alarm list in fact be a prioritized action list. The system should automatically adapt to the process state, and the operator should not be presented with alarms that are not relevant to the current operating state. This can be done if the alarm system more resembles the process; e.g. if the process has sections like feed section, heater section etc. then the alarm system can be designed in a similar way, so that when disturbances occur in the process, that very same alarm “module” for that part of the process should be activated
The task of diagnosis is a very important topic in many different contexts. In highly complex technical installations involving high hazards, such as process plants, diagnosis is a crucial part of disturbance control; in technical maintenance, diagnosis is necessary to locate the root cause of system failures; and in medicine, diagnosis is the basis for any patient treatment. The paper presents a discussion of the basic nature of causal reasoning as applied for diagnosis and the mental strategies applied when diagnosis is viewed as an integrated part of “natural decision making” for interaction with the environment. A typology is suggested to characterize diagnosis in different domains such as process control, maintenance and medicine. In addition, an attempt is made to distinguish between the features of diagnosis depending on the ultimate aim, whether it is explanation, compensation, repair, or punishment and the difference in the context of the task, “the causal field,” related to the mental model involved in the different cases is outlined
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