PJM Benefits from NERC Human Performance Conference

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For eight years, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) has held a conference in conjunction with the North American Transmission Forum, concentrating on the ever-growing field of human performance and how it relates to the reliability of the bulk electrical power system.

Each organization is focused on performance of the system. NERC is tasked with maintaining and enforcing reliability standards and security for all of the electrical grids in North America, including PJM Interconnection, whose members serve 13 states and the District of Columbia. The North American Transmission Forum includes various transmission-owners, from merchant to government entities, who share information to promote “excellence in the reliability and resiliency of the electric transmission system.”

Those big-picture missions depend heavily on people. Human error is blamed for up to 80 percent of all incidents in “complex, high-risk systems” such as the electrical grid, according to NERC.  “Many of the major events that occur in the bulk power system are initially labeled as being caused by individual human error,” NERC notes in its definition of human performance. Deeper analysis, however, reveals “that the majority of the errors associated with events stem from latent organizational weaknesses, which are not attributable to one individual.”

Sharing information across the North American electricity industry allows expertise and experience to move the industry toward achieving reliability objectives.  The conference, which was held March 26-28 in Atlanta, focuses on the best industry practices for human performance and brings together subject matter experts and stakeholders from various sectors.

Participants are not limited to the utility industry, because human performance is critical to any industry. The keynote address this year, for example, was given by Joseph Pfeifer, who was the first fire chief at the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 and the founding director of FDNY’s Center for Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness.

PJM has incorporated best practices from many industries as it developed its human performance program. PJM’s current human performance program, for example, has many elements modeled on best practices from the airline industry.

“We’ve done much research into human performance best practices,” said Glen Boyle, manager, Operation Analysis and Compliance. “The Department of Energy has a valuable document that defines human performance concepts and tools. Most of them are applicable here at PJM.”

One of PJM’s goals is to expand the program, said Boyle, using the concepts taught at the human performance conference to teach error prevention to other groups at PJM.  

Since PJM started its human performance program, it has integrated more than 350 action items into its processes stemming from event analysis recommendations. Boyle said the recommendations were developed to prevent errors and event recurrence and include improvements to processes, procedures, tools, and responsibilities.

Grid operators and federal regulators often talk about “resilience” of the grid – the ability to survive large-scale events that threaten the electrical system to levels beyond what is contemplated by traditional reliability standards. Boyle compares human performance concepts to “resilience for humans” with the key core principles – “Prevention, Detection and Correction.” And, similar to the way studying grid resilience has expanded, so has the study of human performance.

PJM’s Human Performance Tools

Human performance deals with all of the underlying factors that influence human behavior. As Boyle says, it covers the prevention, detection and correction of human error.  PJM has incorporated a number of tools into its control room activities. These tools were selected based on relevance to job tasks and ability to reduce errors.

The human performance educational materials developed by PJM are designed to provide simple tools that employees can incorporate into their daily work activities. The training and job aid – in the form of a hand-held manual — lays out the different tools and details what they are, why they are important and, finally, how best to use them. This leads to the breaking of harmful habits and optimizing each employee’s performance.

That model includes tools such as situational awareness, planning and decision-making, workload management, monitoring and cross-checking, communication, and leadership effectiveness. Some examples:

  • Situational awareness – the understanding of what is happening, why it is happening and what might happen next. It involves utilizing a questioning attitude to challenge assumptions.
  • Planning and decision-making – critical thinking is required to make appropriate decisions for the given situation.  
  • Workload management – managing stress (and behavior during stressful situations), as well as recognizing the impact of workload on error reduction.
  • Monitoring and Cross-check – peer-checking methods include concurrent verification and independent verification; the STAR principle – Stop, Think, Act, Review – is designed to eliminate distractions and focus attention on the task at hand.

In Part 2 next week, Inside Lines will look at two of the areas where PJM incorporated best practices into its human performance program – overcoming distractions and battling fatigue.