Pipeliners Podcast

  • Your Host
    Russel Treat
  • Our Guest
    Charles Alday


Team Training is a hot topic in the pipeline industry following the latest regulatory requirement issued by PHMSA for control room management.

In this episode of the Pipeliners Podcast, learn from an industry veteran of more than 50 years, Charles Alday, who shares his knowledge of team training, roles and responsibilities, and unique training methods.

You will also learn about the importance of the most basic communication in a pipeline operation to ensure clarity and understanding. This is especially important for situations when individuals who do not interact regularly could be called to work together during an abnormal operating condition.

Team Training: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • Since 2005, Charles Alday has been a pipeline human factors consultant. Mr. Alday is a Control Room Management Consultant and a Principal of the Pipeline Performance Group, LLC, which specializes in Control Room Management consulting. (The other Principals are Michele Terranova and Ali Gibson.) Connect with Charles on LinkedIn.
  • Read these two EnerSys blogs on Team Training for Pipeline Operators and Roles & Responsibilities clarified in the new PHMSA FAQs.
  • The Marshall Incident refers to the Enbridge Incorporated Hazardous Liquid Rupture and Release incident, which occurred on July 25, 2010, in Marshall, Michigan. Read the full NTSB Accident Report.
  • The PG&E Incident in September 2010 refers to a ruptured pipeline operated by the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. The rupture created a crater near San Bruno, California, caused an explosion after natural gas was released and ignited, and resulted in fires causing loss to life and property. Read the full NTSB Accident Report.
  • The NTSB’s role in pipeline-related incidents is to investigate cases where hazardous material is released and causes damage during transportation. Because liquid and natural gas is transported through pipelines, the investigation of pipeline incidents falls in their jurisdiction.
  • Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 was involved in a mid-flight catastrophic event on April 17, 2018. The airplane’s left engine failed, debris struck the fuselage and pierced a side window, and one passenger died from blunt force trauma. The pilot and support team was commended for making an emergency landing and limiting the potential damage.
  • CBT (computer-based training) is a method of training that uses a computer or computer software to train a large group of individuals on a specific task or role.
  • Zoom is a picture book that uses visual trickery to test the reader’s ability to process information. The book is used in team-building activities for groups of 8-30 to put together a story from the sequential images.
  • HMI (human machine interface) is the user interface that connects an operator to the controller in pipeline operations. High-performance HMI is the next level of taking available data and presenting it as information that is helpful to the controller to understand present and future activity in the pipeline. (Listen to Pipeliners Podcast Episode #5 for a full episode on High-Performance HMI with Jeremy Coleman.)
  • The invisible gorilla video is a selective attention test that was designed by researchers Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris. Click this link to watch the video test.
  • Experiential learning or training is the educational practice of “learning by doing.” The idea is that learning, applying, reflecting, and coaching helps facilitate long-term learning and helps develop new skills.

Team Training: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat: Welcome to “The Pipeliners Podcast,” episode 21.

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Announcer:  The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba Geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now your host, Russel Treat.

Russel:  Thanks for listening to The Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Kent Hobart, Vice President of Content Management and Volunteer Engagement at the Southern Gas Association. Congratulations, Kent. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around to the end of the episode.

This week, we are very fortunate to have with us, Charles Alday. Those of you that work in pipeline operations and around the pipeline control room will recognize that name.

Charles has got 52 years of experience in pipelining. He is a principal with the Pipeline Performance Group and completed hundreds of projects related to control rooms for hazardous liquids and natural gas pipelines. He’s a recognized industry expert, and, frankly, I’d call him a guru. I’m very honored to welcome Charles Alday to the Pipeliners Podcast. Charles, thanks so much for joining us on the Pipeliners Podcast.

Charles Alday:  I appreciate it, Russel. I’ve enjoyed looking at the results of your Pipeliners Podcast so far and learning a few useful things. I appreciate you offering that service to the industry.

Russel:  Thanks so much for the comments. I’m actually honored. If you’re actually learning something from me that’s a big deal for me.

Charles, you’re pretty well known in the pipeline industry, particularly around the control room space. Maybe for some of our listeners who don’t know you, you could tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into what you’re doing now.

Charles:  Sure, I’d be glad to. This is my 52nd year in the pipeline industry. I started when I was 17 years old, and I worked pipeline construction for about eight years. I went to work with Colonial Pipeline in 1974, worked there a little over 30 years in operations, maintenance, construction, and management.

The last six years I was there I was an internal consultant, operational excellence manager doing a lot of the things that are now part of the control room management regulations. We implemented those things in order to improve our human performance record and wanted to come up with things to help prevent pipelines leaks, spills, and human error.

Russel:  That’s perfect. Charles, a little bit about my background in all of this, I came up as an automation and measurement guy. I have found this whole human factors and operations excellence and these philosophical concepts and how you implement them to be really compelling.

I’ll tell you what, it actually increased my level of interest in the business and my level of enthusiasm about what we’re doing. It’s been quite a learning curve for me to try to embrace some of these ideas. Being an engineer, a lot of this is soft skills. A lot of this is human psychology and trying to figure out how to do that in a way that helps us be better people.

Charles:  When I worked at Colonial Pipeline and I was getting into this human factors and human performance issues, I asked some of our engineers if they ever took any human factors courses in college. They said, “No, man. We were too busy taking our requirements. Those things were electives.”

I think that’s a common thing we see as we work with people in a lot of different companies on human factors and control room management is that part of what we do is an educational process on the importance of these things as it relates to pipeline operations.

Russel:  It’s so important. It’s one of the reasons I’d started this whole podcast, is because I think these are concepts that we don’t get in school. Unless we, for some reason, become acquainted with them, it’s just not something you learn through the normal curriculum, but it’s something that’s super valuable.

I’m going to shift here a little bit and get onto the topic at hand. I asked you on to talk to us about team training. That goes right to this whole conversation about human factors and operations excellence. I know that team training came out of the Marshall and PG&E incidents, because I’m familiar with the NTSB reports.

I’d like to get your take on what about those two incidents drove this requirement for team training?

Charles:  In both of those accidents that occurred in 2010 when the National Transportation Safety Board investigated them, they saw some things related to human factors, and team performance, and those types of things.

One of the things in the Marshall, Michigan incident was that the roles and responsibilities of the various people involved, the controllers, the control center managers, the leak detection analysts, were either not well defined or they were not followed.

The NTSB said that the quality of the team’s performance during those 17 hours when they were trying to determine if they had a leak was ineffective because some of the leadership practices were not good.

Some of the roles, particularly the leak detection analyst, assumed some authority that he did not have. The ways in which they communicated led to some problems in people fulfilling their responsibilities.

When they looked at the PG&E accident, 2010, if you read that report, it says something like again, the roles and responsibilities were not clearly defined. They didn’t have a good command structure that supported the controllers in dealing with abnormal and emergency situations.

If you read through those reports and then think about the context of team training and human performance, the NTSB recommended to PHMSA that you need to get the pipeline companies to practice some of the same principles that are being used in crew resource management in the aviation mode and other transportation modes.

Russel:  We were talking about that a little bit before we actually got onto the recording here. You said crew resource training. What is crew resource training, and what other transportation modes is that used in?

Charles:  Crew resource management started out as cockpit resource management after some aviation incidents in which the pilots did not work well together and there was some airplane crashes I think back in the ’70s was the earliest time I can think of.

The FAA in working with the industry came up with professional practices, what I would call human factor skills, or interpersonal skills, or some people call soft skills to ensure that the pilot and the co-pilot practice good situation awareness and decision-making as it pertained to safe operation of the airplane, communicated with one another, and practiced good leadership skills. That’s where it started.

Then other transportation modes have adopted it. They might use different terms. They might use, in the maritime industry, they might use bridge resource management. It’s also used in military.

Really, in whatever transportation mode and or whatever business you’re in, it’s what I call non-technical skills. We use the term team resource management, which is also used. We couldn’t use CRM again because we’re already using that for control room management.

If you think about all these transportation modes, and if you do some research into it, you’ll find the common theme in each of the team resource management are these kind of subjects. Situation awareness, which means the people involved know what’s going on. They understand the effects of what’s going on, and they are aware of what to do if something changes.

There’s individual situation awareness like a controller might have at the console, but then there’s a group situation awareness so that anybody involved in a situation, they understand what’s going on and can discuss it intelligently.

Then you also think about involved in operation of a pipeline, particularly in an abnormal situation or emergency situation, you have to make decisions. While those decisions might be based on procedures, they also have to be based on the common knowledge, skills, and experience that the group has.

Then, of course, if you look at any kind of interaction really, there’s always a need for accurate communication.

Russel:  One of the things I always think about when you talk about accurate communication in a team, I always remember the game we used to play in kindergarten where you said a phrase and then you passed it along, whispering in somebody’s ears through about 10 people, and you listened to what came out.

What came out had no relation at all to what went in. I use the term often that as people, that’s where gravity takes us. If we don’t actually put in some training, and some procedures, and some capabilities, that’s where we will go. We will naturally fall into ineffective communication.

Charles:  Yeah, that’s exactly right. One of the concepts that we teach and that we’ve been using with different groups since at least the 1990s is this concept called three-way communication.

If I communicate something to you, then you repeat back to me what you heard me say. Then I confirm that what you repeated back to me is either correct or is incorrect. If it’s incorrect, I repeat what I want you to do again and you repeat it back to me until we’re both on the same wavelength.

In my experience, that three-way communication, which I learned from the nuclear industry, has saved a lot of operating errors and miscommunication of important information in a control room environment.

Think about it. Back when I started working, a lot of our facilities were staffed with a number of personnel. We didn’t have these SCADA systems and other things like that where one person in one location is looking at the whole pipeline system.

There was a lot of back and forth communication either in-person or over the telephone to ensure everyone got a common understanding. Now you got a person sitting at a console looking at a whole system, and he or she is trying to figure out what’s going on with very little interpersonal communication.

If they have a problem, they may call somebody. That person may or may not be at the location where the problem is. There’s a need for clear, concise, accurate communication about the issues that they are discussing.

Russel:  I’m a student of military command and control. I spent a little time in the military. When you’re under stress, all the things that gravity would take you to get accentuated. Everything becomes more challenging.

It’s very important to practice this kind of communication that you’re talking about just during the normal course of business so that when you do find yourself in a high-stress situation, you’re still using that kind of communication.

Charles:  One of the things that we have to do is to be more professional in our communication. Having been a pipeliner now for a long time, I know that we’re probably not as professional in our interactions with others as they are in the military, and aviation, and those types of things.

Russel:  I don’t know if you know this, but there was a Southwest Airline incident earlier this week where they lost an engine and they also lost a window and had a casualty resulting from all that. The tape between the traffic controller to the pilot, and then the approach controller to the pilot, and then the ground control to the pilot is on the Internet.

I listened to that, and I will tell you this, some of the things you’re talking about here about repeating and confirming, there is a ton of that going on. You can hear the tension in the voices, but you also hear the professionalism.

It’s quite a job that was done. It wasn’t just the pilot that got that airplane on the ground safely. It was a combined effort of pilot, multiple traffic controllers, the fire department at the airport, etc. It’s a great example of what you’re talking about. If you listen to it, you hear some of these things in that communication.

Charles:  It is interesting, too, that the way that technology is nowadays, everything is recorded and we can listen back to it and find those good examples of professionalism in communication.

In the pipeline world, most control rooms, their conversations are recorded, too. I’ve listened to some of those recordings after an accident or an operating error has occurred. Unfortunately, a lot of times, we don’t see that same kind of professionalism in those conversations.

That’s a purpose I have in this non-technical skills training. I think that’s a big reason that the NTSB recommended to PHMSA — and PHMSA set a new requirement in place — that companies need to provide this kind of training for those controllers and those who collaborate with controllers.

Russel:  It’s also a cultural thing. By making the team training broader than just the control room, you bring others in and you create a different kind of understanding about how that all will work.

How do you interpret the team training requirements? We’re talking around that already, but how do you interpret the requirements that are in the rule?

Charles:  It’s somewhat ambiguous, like a lot of regulations are worded nowadays. I started out by looking at what NTSB recommended. They said to PHMSA in a recommendation: “You need to require companies to provide team training similar to that used in other transportation modes.”

When you look at the regulation, it says provide control room team training and exercises for controllers and those who collaborate with controllers during normal, abnormal, and emergency conditions.

The way I interpret that is look at the kind of team training that’s used in other transportation modes and provide training on those subjects so people understand the theory and the applications in the pipeline world, and then come up with exercises.

That, to me, would include operating scenarios within a company — abnormal operating scenarios and/or emergency condition scenarios — and you get people to participate in exercises during the training that would enable them to use those non-technical skills.

One of the biggest issues that companies have struggled with is, who are these people that collaborate with controllers during normal, abnormal, and emergency situations? Frankly, a lot of companies try to minimize the number of people who are included in the training so they don’t have a lot of people away from their normal work duties.

Russel:  One of the other things that I recall when I went through the team training FAQs is they specifically say that tabletops are inadequate.

Charles:  One of the things that comes up and we get requests like this, “Can you do a computer-based training module that satisfies the team training requirements?” My answer is, I would like to be able to do that, but I don’t see how we can do exercises that involve a group of people if the group of people are not together somewhere having a conversation.

We say, yes, there might be a CBT that provides prerequisite knowledge of these different subject matters, but at some point, you gotta get these people together. When I talk to people, I say, ‘Well, look at your job descriptions for controllers. Look at your job descriptions for technicians, for SCADA personnel.’

In almost all those job postings I read on LinkedIn or other places, it says that they need to be great team players. They need to have good communication skills. They need to be able to interact well with others. They need to be able to work as a group to respond to emergencies and things like that.

I say that if you look at the people who interact with controllers, certainly there’s supervisors and managers. In a lot of control rooms, they have technical advisers, leak detection analysts, schedulers who might affect the controller’s normal work, SCADA personnel, and field personnel.

The field personnel are the ones who help the controllers when someone goes wrong. They’re certainly collaborating with them during both normal and abnormal situations. I say there’s another group that influences controllers, and I call them the grumpy old people in every company, who were once controllers.

Now, their work is an adviser throughout the company. Because they were once controllers, they know how things are. They tell controllers how to do things, even though they might not have been a controller for 15 years, or may not know the current conditions.

All of these people in all of these groups — and, frankly, we’ve had them in all of our classes — all of these people need to have a knowledge of these non-technical skills.

Russel:  I think that’s so very true, so very true. Being a technologist, I’ve been noodling with the idea of the gamification. That’s a buzzword, but the idea of creating games that would support this kind of training.

It’s something we’re working on, and in background at the moment. I think there’s some real opportunity to do some very valuable training that you can’t get to just with CBT. If you think about a multi-player game, there’s another level of training you might be able to get to by creating that.

Certainly, running exercises, and then being able to debrief those exercises, I think’s, really important. It’s the looking back. Particularly, if you can manufacture some stress. I know for me, at least, I learn better by doing than by seeing.

Charles:  There’s a number of team training games that have been used by what I’d call organizational development professionals. One pipeline company I know of in their team training, they’re using a little book called “Zoom.”

It’s a book. It’s only pictures. It presents a series of scenes from the big picture down to the small picture. The way that this activity can be used is, you take the book apart. Then you end up with about 30 separate pages.

You have the group, then, work together to put those pages together from the beginning to the end in the right order. The group has to practice leadership. They have to practice teamwork. They have to communicate. They have to make decisions. They have a good discussion.

It takes about 20 minutes. Throughout the process, the facilitator is looking for things that he or she could use as a debrief. I’ve used this exercise a time or two myself. It works pretty good to help people, in a fun way, practice some of these non-technical skills.

If you take that, and then if you come up with an exercise that involves a pipeline situation as part of your training, you’ve done two different things. You’ve done it in a gamification kind of way, and you’ve also done it, then, in a real way that relates to a pipeline accident, or something like that.

We’ve developed some case study based on some of these pipeline accidents that we use in training.

Russel:  That’s really interesting. You’ve given me some homework there, Charles. Thank you very much. [laughs]

Charles:  Yep.

Russel:  I’ll have to check into the Zoom book. That sounds interesting. What are you finding, as you go out and you work with these pipeliners? Are you finding a lack of understanding or a good understanding?

What are you finding in terms of the state of the knowledge of the industry about these team training requirements?

Charles:  I think the state of the knowledge is unclear. People are struggling with what to do, who needs to be involved, and what subjects need to be included. I know that some of the industry meetings I’ve been to, I’ve made some presentations to try to help people understand.

The other thing that they struggle with is, most people don’t want to participate in this kind of training, because it’s not what they’re used to. They’re resistant to it. We do an eight-hour course. That’s all that we thought would be necessary to introduce all these subjects, and to include exercises.

At the beginning of our courses, people say, “Oh, I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t ever interact with controllers,” all that kind of stuff. We find at the end of the day, having gone through the course…we use a lot of videos, assessments, discussions, and things like that. We find at the end of the day that the majority of the people then see the value in it. They see how it can be applied not only we their job, but also in their lives.

Russel:  We do, and I have done personally, a fair amount of training around the idea of the high-performance HMI. We’ll do this at the beginning of a SCADA project. We have found it’s an absolute requirement.

The high-performance HMI, although it’s beginning to be understood more broadly in the industry, when it first got introduced, nobody got it. We would do a two-day workshop. The first half-day was all about the theory.

We used videos and other kinds of things to demonstrate that if I don’t build an HMI well, I can trick you. Then we start talking about, ‘Okay, how do you make sure that you don’t fall — these things are called traps — how you don’t fall into these various mine traps.’

Then we would move from there to, ‘Okay, how do we apply this to your situation?’ I got some great feedback about, years later, people will come to me and say, ‘Man, I’ll never forget the day you showed me the…’ I’ll have to link this up, but it’s called the gorilla video, where a gorilla moves through a screen. Because of the way you tee it up, a lot of people don’t even see it.

Charles:  We use that video in our course.

Russel:  There you go, the hidden gorilla.

Charles:  We’re using that video in our course. It’s surprising how many people don’t see the gorilla.

Russel:  When we were visiting before we started up the recording, you were talking about, you view the team training as two rules, not just one. Could you unpack that a little bit for us?

Charles:  When PHMSA amended the regulations, they added a requirement in the roles and responsibilities section that says that companies need to define the roles and responsibilities of individuals who might direct or supersede the actions of a controller.

Then in the training section, they added this requirement for control room team training and exercises, for controllers and those who collaborate with them. Some people said, “Well, those two things need to go together.” I got to train people on their roles and responsibilities in this teamwork training.

Well, certainly, you’ve got to train people on their roles and responsibilities, if you give them new roles and responsibilities, but you don’t necessarily have to train them on their roles and responsibilities as part of the control room team training.

I’ve had a couple of people wonder why we didn’t include the training of people with roles and responsibilities in our team training. I said, “Well, we’re looking at it as two separate things. We’re not combining those things.”

Now, in our team training, we do look at all of the control room management sections as an introduction. I think if you try to combine those things, you probably lose the intent of those amended regulations.

Russel:  I think that’s right. I think the roles and responsibilities is more of a functional thing, just an understanding thing, where the team training is more of an experiential thing. I’m using a jargon word there.

Experiential training just means the training comes by doing it. If you think about the allegory of riding a bike, I can sit in a room and study about riding a bike forever. Until I got on the bike and actually ride it, I don’t know how to ride a bike. I think the team training is more about learning how to ride a bike.

Charles:  Yes, exactly. You can look at a bike. You can learn everything there is about a bike. Until you get on the bike, start pedaling it, keeping it upright, and everything, you’re not a bike rider.

Russel:  Exactly, exactly. I know you work with a lot of the larger pipeline companies, where these issues become more complex, if you will, particularly the issue around just scheduling the time to get people into this kind of training.

For the smaller pipelines that might be trying to put a program in, what would you advise them as the key best practices?

Charles:  I think companies are going to have to come up with some way — a CBT, read a book, watch a video, and they could get these from other transportation modes — where they can provide the basic knowledge of these non-technical skills to their people.

Then, they’re going to have to have some meetings. I would advise that they schedule some meetings throughout the year to get the people who are collaborating with controllers together with controllers, so that they can have an exercise, a discussion, a drill, a simulation, where they discuss who’s going to do what.

How are they going to communicate well? How are they going to apply these non-technical skills in real-life situations? To use your analogy, give the people the basic information about the bike, and then get them together to discuss how they’re going to all ride the bike.

Russel:  That’s a great analogy. You just had a picture flash through my head of, learning how to ride a bike by yourself is one thing, but if you’ve ever tried to ride a bike that’s one of these, two people on it — I’ve even seen bikes that have four and five people on it — basically, what we’re teaching people to do is get five people on a bike all at the same time, and ride the thing.

Charles:  That’s a great idea for an exercise, Russel.


Charles:  When I was in Nashville last year, I saw this thing that used to go from night club to night club. All the people get on this thing, and they all have to pedal together.

Russel:  That’s right.

Charles:  They have to pedal together to get the thing to go.

Russel:  They’ve got one of those in Houston. It’s basically a big thing. There’s a bartender in the middle of it, serving drinks to people that are sitting on stools and pedaling the bike. [laughs]

Charles:  There you go. That’s what these pipeline companies are going to have to do. They’re going to have to get them one of those, get everybody together, and see if they can move forward together as a team.

Russel:  [laughs] Oh, my gosh. I’m going to have to figure out how to do that as an event. We’re going to have to make that happen, Charles. I think that’s a great idea. [laughs]

Charles:  It is a great idea.

Russel:  Oh, man. I’m going to wrap us up here. We’re getting at the end of our time. I like to try to get to three key takeaways from these conversations. I’ll tell you, Charles, in this situation, for me, it’s a little tough, because there’s just a mountain of information that you just walked us through in 30 minutes.

Here’s my key takeaways. One is, first and foremost, learn from the other transportation modes and the things that are out there. This team training idea — this crew resource training idea — is not new. It’s been around for a while and there’s a lot to learn from aviation and railroad and others about this subject. That’s my first key takeaway.

The second key takeaway is that what we’re really trying to do is train soft skills about getting people to communicate more effectively, so that when there is an incident or an abnormal condition, they respond more effectively. Lastly, it takes some work. You got to get the right people together to figure out what’s going to work best for and to get that in place.

What do you think? Do you think I kind of nailed the summary?

Charles:  Yeah, I think that’s fine. I think that’s a good way to look at it. Get the right people together, use the existing knowledge that’s out there in the world related to these non-technical skills, and then come up with practical ways that people can use to learn and practice these skills.

Russel:  That sounds awesome. Charles, thank you so much for agreeing to be a guest here. I really appreciate it, and I’m honored to have you. Hopefully, you’ll agree to come back and we’ll talk about some of the other numerous subjects around effective pipeline operations.

Charles:  I would be glad to do that. This has been very enjoyable.

Russel:  Thank you so much, Charles. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast. I certainly enjoyed the conversation with Charles Alday, and I learned a lot even in a domain that I count myself as fairly knowledgeable in.

Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. It’s really cool. Simply visit PipelinersPodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.

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Russel:  If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let us know on the Contact Us page at PipelinersPodcast.com, or reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening, and I’ll talk to you next week.

Transcription by CastingWords

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