Busy, highly focused, and fast-paced professional environments, these are sophisticated facilities where operators monitor pipelines 24/7. They use state-of-the-art computer systems (similar to air traffic control systems) to recognize and respond quickly to any unexplained changes to the flow or pressure in a pipeline. Within the control rooms, walls of carefully laid-out digital displays let everyone know what’s going on.
The pipeline company control rooms are the brains of every pipeline system. That’s why during the COVID-19 pandemic, pipeline companies are taking extraordinary measures to keep essential pipeline workers, like control room operators, and their families safe from infection.
- A different control room location for each shift
Because control rooms are the brains of pipeline operations, it’s critical to have back-up locations so energy can continue flowing in a crisis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, pipeline companies are using those back-up locations to separate workers on different shifts. Each shift team works from a different location, which limits their contacts with other operators.
- Rigorous sanitizing
After every shift, a cleaning crew moves into the control room to sanitize every surface—every single pen, coffee pot, doorknob, drawer handle, light switch, and even the adjustment levers for chairs. They thoroughly clean anything control operators are likely to touch.
- Relocating consoles
Some pipeline companies are taking the extra step of relocating work consoles to meeting rooms outside the actual control room. This allows operators to work independently in that space while on shift, but they can still view the large screens in the center. Intercoms in every room allow for continuous communication. If a technical problem requires an outside technician to be in the area, that person works separately in a partitioned “isolation bubble.”
- Pandemic protocols for operators
Control room operators have agreed to a range of protocols, including self-isolating at home with their families when at home from work. They receive groceries and other food deliveries with no face-to-face contact. Protocols include wearing freshly laundered clothing for every shift and using a final level of cleaning for their equipment when they arrive at their workstations.
Even if one person fails to follow the protocols, he or she can compromise the whole team, and some operators have the added challenge of persuading family members to follow the same protocols. The result is worth the effort. Operators can safely go home to their families, and we can all continue having a reliable energy supply to keep us safe.