22 sept. 2020

5 daily struggles control room operators know all too well

EXAMEN FUTUR 5 min de lecture

The high stakes nature of the control room environment requires the staff to work well under pressure and quickly adjust to change when situations get critical. Control room operators need to be flexible and productive in periods of high stress. Technology can help alleviate those daily struggles, but at the same time, technology can also contribute to stress. Here is a look at 5 struggles control room operators deal with on a daily basis and how technology can relieve those struggles.

1. Coping with high workload

Operators often need to monitor several processes at the same time. When alarms suddenly start to activate, they may need to navigate through multiple sources and data streams to determine where the problem lies. The sheer amount of information that an operator needs to process in real time can then be overwhelming. When the workload becomes too high for an operator, it can reduce vigilance and increase stress levels. That’s why control rooms are designed to reduce workload as much as possible through ergonomic initiatives around alarm rationalization and visual overviews. Improved interfaces and workstations need to make sure that the content is well presented, making it easier and faster to switch between content sources or applications.

Staffing has a big impact on workload as well. As companies reduce staffing levels in order to respond to global economic conditions, there is a risk that operators become overloaded and more duties are attributed to one operator. The recent spread of COVID-19 hasn’t helped to alleviate this problem either. In order to avoid exposure to COVID-19, shifts are being reorganized, making it even more challenging for both remote and on-site employees to get their control room operations under control.

A well organized, ergonomic workplace can be a life saver for today’s overstimulated operator. With operator workplace solutions, such as Barco’s OpSpace, critical information is presented in an uncluttered way and it becomes easier to interpret. But also streaming solutions, such as Barco’s SecureStream, can make it easier and less time-consuming to share information with external stakeholders or control room operators working remotely, thereby significantly reducing the operator workload.

2. Making collaborative decisions during times of crisis

On the other end of the spectrum, the control room can also be a crowded place at times: operators, managers, field engineers, visitors… This can be a distracting environment. The key for operators however is to be able to focus on and collaborate with only the necessary people in moments when things get critical. Most life- or business-critical situations are solved in a collaborative way.

Ultimately, successful collaboration depends on:

  • How fast operators can recognize a problem
  • How fast they can collectively see all the necessary information
  • How fast they can decide based on this information

The overview display is an essential and probably the most recognizable piece of technology to facilitate the decision-making process. A large video wall (LCD, LED or rear-projection cubes) can make the most critical information immediately visible for a group of decision makers and, as a result, increase the shared situational awareness, and speed up the detection of threats.

Configure your video wall here

But the personal operator space is just as important to make sure decisions can be taken as fast as possible in a collaborative way. Bringing sources onto the video wall screen from the operator desk needs to be done swiftly. Operators cannot afford to have lagging time while switching between applications and logging on to different systems, especially in mission-critical environments such as security monitoring and first-responder applications.

3. Monitoring control room KPIs

Operators are expected to deal with trends and analyses, especially when there are no dedicated analysts in the control room team. As in any business, the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the control room operations need to be monitored and reported to upper management. In a control room environment, these KPIs can be anything ranging from how well a process is managed, how many hospital beds are occupied, and how well unexpected malfunctions are predicted, to how well an incident or a shutdown is resolved.

Monitoring KPIs is an extra responsibility that comes on top of the operator’s task package, and it’s one that comes with high expectations. A convenient display wall and an operator work area where all overview information, trends and KPIs are easily consultable can help the operator to maintain the overview, and relieve some of the stress that goes with that task.

4. Collaborating with field operators

In order to solve problems in the field quickly and efficiently, control room operators need to maintain continuous collaboration with remote stakeholders, be it field engineers, maintenance operators, or first responders. But getting the right information across to the field teams can be hard. Control room operators need to make sure that field teams understand what they are saying, that field operators can see the bigger picture and can respond accordingly.

But apart from working with field operators, control room staff are already becoming used to working in a hybrid workplace. Just like with other professional office environments, on-site experts need to collaborate with home-office workers or other remote stakeholders. In such a hybrid workplace setup, it is critical to get the right information to the right people at the right time, whether they are located inside the physical control room or at one or more of the multiple remote locations.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this phenomenon. Operators may need to work from home to adhere to social distancing policies, but they still need to have a view on what’s going on in the control room. Fortunately, there are ways to do this, for example through control room solutions such as Barco SecureStream, which allows remote operators to securely access control room sources via a standard web browser.

5. Fighting operator fatigue

Operator fatigue is another critical issue in keeping operations running safely and efficiently. By working long shifts and monitoring content continuously, operators can get physically drained, and arrive in a state of impaired alertness, which may result in slower reaction times. Especially during long shifts without specific incidents or work interruptions, it can be challenging to keep operators engaged constantly.

In addition to correctly managing the amount of working hours, creating an ergonomic operator workspace is the best way to fight operator fatigue. Workspace ergonomics is a broad field of expertise, and entails many different facets, including display quality (uniform colors, brightness, no flickering), but also the way a workspace is digitally organized.

With operator workspace solutions, such as Barco OpSpace, operators can call any application into a work area positioned in front of them and interact with the application while maintaining an overview of the other applications still present in the peripheral vision. As such, OpSpace offers a more ergonomic and intuitive way of working, contributing to lower stress levels and better decision-making.

Technology – a two-edged sword

Technological advances have completely altered the way control rooms work today. Thanks to technology, it has become possible to collect and combine more information sources than ever before. While the goal of this increased flow of information has always been to make better decisions, there is always the human aspect to reckon with. Operators need to be able to manage the information overload and communicate information swiftly to external stakeholders.

Fortunately, technology can help to alleviate this problem, for example by making remote collaboration and communication easier, and by making sure that information is presented in the most convenient and operator-friendly way.

Need to discuss your daily control room struggles with a Barco control room expert? Then get in touch with us.


About the author

Jordan Heldrich
Segment Marketing Manager of Control Rooms

Jordan focuses on control rooms at Barco utilizing her multi-industry knowledge and experience in sales, product marketing and strategic marketing to bring dynamic strategies to control rooms.  She is based in Atlanta, GA.