Scenario Based Training increases plant operator preparedness
It’s your typical Sunday. People are watching football, the drinks are cold in the fridge – and the steam turbine generator at the local power station that makes all this possible is humming along.
Suddenly, there’s a problem. An electrical fault in one of the generator control systems causes a master fuel trip. As thousands lose power, the operators at the station detect smoke coming from the distributed control systems room.
The circuit breaker that connects the generator to the electrical grid fails to automatically open, but operators don’t notice. The generator, which remains electrically connected to the grid, starts to motorise the turbine.
The steam turbine starts overheating due to this motoring phenomenon and still, the problem remains undetected due to the numerous alarms and the operators’ focus on the distributed control systems room. After 10 minutes, the steam turbine starts to vibrate, quickly reaching alarm and trip levels. As the unit continues to motor, turbine blades fail, causing violent shaking of the rotor in its casing. Foundation mounts and oil lines shear. Oil is released and immediately ignites. Twenty minutes later, the steam turbine violently fails, sending components across the turbine hall and through the roof.
The DC emergency lubrication oil pump continues to feed the fire, as personnel are unable to shut down the pump. An all-ensuing fire develops, adding to the catastrophic mechanical damage of the steam turbine generator.
Fortunately, this scenario is not playing out in an active power plant. It’s happening in a conference room at Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Antelope Valley Station in Beulah, North Dakota, USA. The technicians at the coal-based plant are taking part in a Scenario-Based Training (SBT) class offered by FM Global.
SBT is designed to simulate catastrophic equipment breakdown and fire loss scenarios based on past industry events. The training assists FM Global clients in preparing for and effectively responding to similar events, should they occur. Classroom training walks participants through abnormal operating conditions and helps identify potential vulnerabilities in safety systems, operating procedures and programs, which if not corrected, may result in significant property loss and forced outage. (SBT is currently offered to clients with power generation and forest products facilities.)
“Scenario-Based Training walks operators, supervisors and frontline managers through loss scenarios they never saw,” explains FM Global’s Erik Verloop, staff vice president, principal engineer, power generation. “Ultimately, with our clients, we aim to prevent power generation equipment losses. SBT allows participants to not only learn from losses that have happened, but more importantly, from large losses that might happen at their facility.”
Modeled after chemical industry
The SBT program was modeled after hazard analysis processes conducted in the chemical industry. It is common practice in that industry to run “what-if” scenarios when dealing with various hazardous chemicals. The FM Global SBT program began as an ad hoc program offered by one of the company’s chemical account engineers. The engineer was also serving clients in the power generation industry and started applying the same process to those clients. Formal training materials were eventually developed and FM Global began offering the program to power generation clients in 2011.
SBT facilitators employ a series of equipment breakdown and fire loss scenarios representing events that have occurred or can occur with power generation equipment. These include loss of DC (direct current) and/or AC (alternating current) power, loss of bearing lubrication, generator motoring, overspeed and high-pressure spray oil fires.
“Scenario-Based Training is an advanced process that FM Global brought to our attention where you proactively look at events and situations,” explains Joe Von-DerHaar, station manager, Spurlock Station, East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC). “You storyboard them and analyse them
to see if you can improve your processes before you have an event. So it’s a very proactive way to reduce and eliminate risk.”
SBT focuses on loss scenarios that may be infrequent, but if they occur, can result in severe, if not total, loss. Verloop explains that walking through the various what-if scenarios is key to identifying weaknesses in safety systems and operator preparedness. If one of the scenarios were to completely play out, the event could result in the need for replacement of, or extensive repairs to, the steam turbine generator, surrounding equipment and buildings – with property damages in the tens of millions of dollars and even exceeding US$100 million.
“The goal is to improve operations, emergency response and safety systems now, rather than after it’s too late,” Verloop says.
Based on real-world events
Scenarios presented reflect actual losses that have resulted in extensive forced outages. Many of these events can be attributed to procedural missteps resulting from deficient emergency preparedness. The sequence of events cascades into a significant loss, ranging from a hard shutdown to total loss of equipment.
“As part of the training, we show a video of an event that happened at a power generation facility in the year 2000,” says SBT coordinator and trainer Tony Schutt. “The people from that plant describe the actual chain of events, how they lost control of the turbine and the cascading incidents. Participants are a lot more engaged in the discussions after that. They think, ‘Wow! This could really happen here.’”
The it-can’t-happen-here mind-set can be hard to overcome, Schutt admits. It is one of the reasons the training is customised for individual plants. FM Global requests detailed information on a plant’s systems, procedures and safety equipment, so the scenarios mirror what operators would face in a real-life situation. Plant operators then walk through the abnormal operating scenario and determine what the outcome would be at their plant.
What’s unique about this training is that the plant operators and other personnel determine what, if any, hazard exists and what improvements should be made to mitigate the risk. Operators identify scenarios that can result in forced outages, develop catastrophic event timelines, assess systems and operations responses, identify vulnerabilities and suggest improvements.
“The interesting thing is that FM Global doesn’t come here and tell you how to run your plant,” says John Frank, manager of risk and insurance at Basin Electric. “They walk you through the process, talk about real-life conditions and ask us, ‘If this situation happens, what would you do?’ It’s up to the plant operators, not FM Global, to generate a recommendation.”
A different way of thinking
The training represents a different way of thinking when it comes to risk mitigation. As experts on their plants or mills, the operators are the most qualified to evaluate whether any of the proposed scenarios could occur. They know their safety equipment, the weaknesses in the systems and what changes could be made to reduce their operational risks.
“We call it training, but it really isn’t training at all,” FM Global facilitator Simon Corben explains. “It’s a discussion with operational staff and frontline managers about loss prevention and how to think about their plant operations in a different way. We lay out a few of the scenarios we’ve seen in plant environments and then see if those scenarios can happen here. If they can, we ask plant operators to identify preventative measures that can be put in place to stop the chain of loss.”
“We’ve had two operators in the room disagree on how a certain piece of safety equipment works,” says Schutt. “And this is really great because now they have to go find out how it actually works. That little revelation can make a big difference. When things go bad, they go bad really quickly and you may not have time to figure it out.”
At Basin Electric, the training was held at three of the cooperative’s coal-based plants in the United States—two in North Dakota and one in Wyoming. The plants have a total of seven turbines with the capacity to generate approximately 3,300 mega- watts of power. That’s enough to power more than 2.6 million homes and represents nearly 63 percent of Basin Electric’s generation capacity.
The importance of these facilities is undeniable and Basin Electric has always emphasised plant and worker safety. The SBT process furthered that commitment to loss prevention.
“It certainly got us thinking,” Frank says. “A lot of safety equipment is already built into a power plant. But the biggest realisation for us was that you can’t just rely on the safety equipment and assume that it is going to work. You have to think about what would happen if it doesn’t work.”
At East Kentucky Power Cooperative, SBT led to improvements at the company’s Spurlock Station that helped reduce the risk of fire. Director of Risk Narmada Nanjundan first learned about the SBT program at FM Global’s annual Risk Management Forum in 2013. She immediately contacted her FM Global account team to set up the training at the cooperative’s two coal-fired stations.
The training at the Spurlock Station revealed that a rupture in the sealant system could lead to a fire under the right circumstances. As a result of SBT, additional spray guards were added, further reducing the fire risk at the facility.
“I think taking part in a program like this sends a powerful message,” Nanjundan says. “EKPC is no longer going to say, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ It could happen and we want to be ready.”
This article originally appeared in Reason magazine Issue 1, 2017, which you can read here. For more information on Scenario-Based Training, contact your FM Global client service team.