Project: IFE 07 — Situation Awareness in Process Control

Partner: Institute for Energy Technology (IFE), NSERC
Dates: March 2007 - August 2011
Participants: Jamieson, G., Lau, N.
Description: Situation Awareness (SA) is a theoretical construct concerning the knowledge of the situation that could impact operator decision-making and control actions. Although there are controversies in the theoretical basis of SA, it seems practical to assess operator SA as knowledge of the situation, which is intuitively necessary to operate systems effectively.

In a previous study [SRO 04], we found that existing SA models do not provide the foundation to formulate operational definitions and to derive measurements for the process control domain. These theoretical models, while useful to communicate high level findings, often exclude complexities and details pertinent to the domain tasks performed by operators. Moreover, they often include a host of cognitive aspects associated with tasks from unrelated domains. In effect, operational definitions based on such models cannot provide any precise descriptions of the cognitive processes engaged by process control operators in acquiring SA.

We examined the SA concept specific for process control based on (i) technical and operational properties of process plants, and (ii) field observations on situation assessment activities of control room operators. We described SA in process control as Process Overview, Scenario Understanding, and Meta-cognitive Accuracy based on plant operator monitoring, diagnosis, and self-regulating activities to acquire SA, respectively. The literature indicates that process operators engage in cognitive activities resembling problem solving (in contrast to information processing) to acquire SA.

Based on the SA descriptions for process control, we applied Process Overview to guide the methodological adaptation of two extant SA measures – Situation Awareness Global Assessment Technique and Situation Awareness Control Room Inventory – into the Process Overview Measure for assessing the knowledge product from monitoring process plants. The empirical basis of the Process Overview Measure is developed through two full-scope simulator and two controlled experiments. The empirical results of the four studies provide the most substantial evaluation for a single SA measure for process control, indicating that the Process Overview Measure is a valuable measurement tool for advancing empirical research on human performance related to SA and evaluation of control room technology and operational concepts.
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