Alarm handling for health monitoring: operator strategies used in an electrical control room of a rail network

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Dadashi, Nastaran ; Wilson, John R. ; Golightly, David ; Sharples, Sarah (2016)

Alarm management is a key component of the successful operation of a prognostic or health-monitoring technology. Although alarms can alert the operator to critical information, false alarms and alarm flooding can cause major difficulties for successfully diagnosing and acting upon infrastructure faults. Human factors approaches seek to design more-effective alarm systems through a deep understanding of the contextual factors that influence alarm response, including strategies and heuristics used by operators. This paper presents an extensive analysis of alarm-handling activity in the setting of an Electrical Control Room on the rail network. The analysis is based on contextual observation, and the application of a time-stamped observation checklist. Functions, performance requirements, and general operating conditions that influence alarm handling are presented, delineating the typical operational constraints that need to be considered in the design and deployment of asset-based alarm systems. The analysis of specific alarm-handling incidents reveals the use of specific strategies that may bias operator performance. Implications for the design of health-monitoring systems are discussed.
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