This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features Sheila Howard of P.I. Confluence discussing digitizing public awareness to support Pipeline Safety Management Systems (Pipeline SMS).
In this episode, you will learn about the value and benefits of incorporating a digital public awareness program into your existing program, some examples of how to digitize public awareness so that you can find a starting point in your operation, how digitizing public awareness supports the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle in Pipeline SMS, and more topics.
Public Awareness in Pipeline Operations: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Sheila Howard is the VP & Software Solutions Manager for P.I. Confluence. Connect with Sheila on LinkedIn.
- P.I. Confluence (PIC) provides software and implementation expertise for pipeline program governance that is applied to operations, Pipeline SMS, and compliance. PIC leverages process management software to connect program to implementation.
- PIC offers a stakeholder engagement tracking tool, pSEc, in their ProgramMgr software module that optimizes pipeline stakeholder engagement communication.
- Pipeline SMS (Pipeline Safety Management Systems) or PSMS is an industry-wide focus to improve pipeline safety, driving toward zero incidents.
- The Plan Do Check Act Cycle is embedded in Pipeline SMS as a continuous quality improvement model consisting of a logical sequence of four repetitive steps for continuous improvement and learning.
- Stakeholder Engagement is one of the core elements of Pipeline Safety Management Systems (Pipeline SMS) outlined in API 1173. It is a critical element that can be applied to each of the 10 core elements of PSMS as a mechanism to collect feedback from stakeholders to identify and prioritize corrective actions and areas for improvement.
- Learn more about Advancing Pipeline SMS Through Stakeholder Engagement in this whitepaper from P.I. Confluence.
- API RP 1162 (Public Awareness Programs for Pipeline Operators) is an industry standard that provides guidance and recommendations to pipeline operators for the development and implementation of enhanced public awareness programs.
- PHMSA incorporated API 1162 by reference into their federal pipeline safety regulations (49 CFR 192.616 and 49 CFR 195.440) that require pipeline operators to develop and implement public awareness programs.
- AGA (The American Gas Association) represents more than 200 local energy companies that deliver clean natural gas throughout the United States.
- The annual AGA Operations Conference is the natural gas industry’s premier gathering of natural gas utility and transmission company operations management from across North America and the world for the sharing of technical knowledge, ideas, and practices to promote the safe, reliable, and cost-effective delivery of natural gas to the end-user.
- QR Code (Quick Response code) is a two-dimensional barcode that can cause a webpage to open, an app to download, or data to be captured when scanned on a smartphone.
- Leave-Behind is a marketing tool consisting of collateral to provide clients or customers after a meeting, conference, or event. Leave-behinds can range from brochures to promotional items.
- GIS (Geographic Information System) is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data.
- Geocoding, a subset of GIS, is the process of transforming a description of a location — such as a pair of coordinates, an address, or a name of a place — to a location on the earth’s surface. You can geocode by entering one location description at a time or by providing many of them at once in a table. The resulting locations are output as geographic features with attributes, which can be used for mapping or spatial analysis.
Public Awareness in Pipeline Operations: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 206, sponsored by EnerSys Corporation, providers of POEMS, the Pipeline Operations Excellence Management System, compliance and operations software for the pipeline control center to address control room management SCADA and audit readiness. Find out more about POEMS at EnerSysCorp.com.
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. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show that appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener every episode. This week, our winner is Michael Slusarz with American Gas Association. Congratulations, Michael. Your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature, stick around till the end of the episode.
This week, Sheila Howard, general manager of PI Confluence, returns to talk about digitizing public awareness to support Pipeline SMS. Hello, Sheila. Welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Sheila Howard: Hi, Russel. Good to be back.
Russel: We’ve had you a couple of times, so you’re becoming a perennial guest, which is awesome. We talked about process management applied to pipeline safety management. We’ve talked about the Pipeline SMS Cultural Survey and stakeholder engagement.
This time, we’re going to talk about digitizing public awareness. Maybe a good place to start is to ask the question, what have you been doing lately, and what you’ve been learning?
Sheila: This whole PSMS has been a pretty big topic everywhere we go. Even as recently as the AGA Conference I attended here in Orlando a few weeks back, PSMS was a hot topic with stakeholder engagement.
Referring back to our discussion we had about the boots on the ground, there was a lot of engagement with people trying to find good opportunities and ways to build that rapport and engagement from the people on the ground floor and getting their feedback.
It was good to see that people from all different levels were making an attempt to reach out and get that stakeholder engagement. Even most recently, to meet the topic of our discussion today I attended a workshop regarding PSMS. It had a couple presentations about people and operators starting to digitize their public awareness programs.
That’s why I thought it would be a great opportunity to talk about that, because it’s something that we, as a company, have been supporting other operators doing for some time now.
We found a lot of value in being able to incorporate a digital public awareness program into what they already are doing with their paper mailings and brochures.
Russel: This is one of the many areas in pipelining that I’m by far not an expert, but I know about it notionally because we’ve had other podcasts on the subject.
One of the things that I’ve heard thematically is that you don’t get any credit for digitalizing your public awareness program, because the way the standards are written and the way that the safety code is written, it’s very direct mail centric. It doesn’t contemplate some of these newer modes of communication. How would you answer that?
Sheila: These times, they are a-changing, so to speak. There’s some regulation in the works right now to incorporate digital as an avenue for operators to reach out in their public awareness program. So it won’t be something that is off the plate going forward.
Russel: I believe they’re working on a revision to 1162 and I know that there’s conversation in that revision about these newer digital methods. Your comment’s right on point.
It’s like you can either be the engine of the train, or the caboose of the train, or the folks trying to catch the train as it leaves the station, but the train is coming.
Sheila: Exactly, and like I said, it’s nice to see that there are people starting to come on board, so to speak, and get in the game, because it is an important aspect of getting that messaging understood.
Historically, as many who are listening know, messaging for public awareness has been either a postcard or some kind of a brochure that gets sent out. They’re required to do an effectiveness analysis and all they have to base it on is returned mail.
When somebody sends out a mail in a hidden address that’s live and the people are there, they don’t know if they’ve read it, or put it in the recycle bin and never looked at it, or even if they did read it, if they even understood what was said.
Digitizing and providing these surveys to ask specific or unique questions will help the operators revamp their messaging. Just a note, 1162 comes with a series of sample surveys, and some of those are sent out in the brochures and hope to receive back and evaluate.
Again, it’s somewhat of a manual process. I do know I’ve seen some companies out there using a SurveyMonkey tool or something like that to capture the results, but there’s so much more that can be gained other than just responses to the stereotypical survey questions.
Russel: For me, when I’m listening to this, we’ve had a lot of conversations on the podcast about Pipeline SMS, and stakeholder engagement, and getting feedback from the people that are impacted.
This whole public awareness thing, to me, particularly when you start talking about digitalization, lends itself to a Pipeline SMS continuous improvement approach. It’s one of those areas where gathering that data and understanding that data can affect the efficacy of your program.
Russel: Even if it’s not in the standards, you’re still called out to do it from a Pipeline SMS standpoint. You think that’s a fair comment?
Sheila: Yeah, I agree. It’s definitely a critical point of the stakeholder engagement element.
Russel: The next question I’d want to ask is, what would digitalization of public awareness look like?
Sheila: As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s not a replacement program, necessarily, for the operators for their paper. Of course, we can, but I don’t think that that’s as beneficial as doing it in conjunction with.
In today’s world, with the shift of technology, you still have several people that prefer the old paper methods. Being able to digitize and incorporate that could potentially get you a lot more engagement with some of the folks that would prefer communications by emails and prefer to do some of those opportunities with the digital format and surveys digitally.
You could get a bigger pool of engagement in users as well as being able to offer up different promotional codes and in different ways to gain that engagement are just a couple of examples.
Russel: Let’s talk about something really, really specific. If I do a mail campaign and I do the typical postcard type of thing, and I put a QR code on those postcards, to me, that opens up a whole host of possibilities around measuring your effectiveness.
Sheila: Agreed. It gives you numbers for all your sample sizes, who’s responding, which method they prefer. We can put different information within the QR code to capture email addresses, locations, registration, and we can get them to the link to the websites to get that information as well.
Russel: Something like I get a postcard, I see the QR code, I scan the QR code, that QR code takes me to a website that has a form, and I can fill out some information and provide feedback.
Russel: As a pipeline operator, I could put incentives and give things away to encourage people to go and fill out the forms.
Sheila: Yeah, and then some very direct examples of that, we’ve had operators that have done county fair tickets. “Register your name for county fair tickets.” Gas cards are another one to incentivize people a little bit; have some random drawings to be able to get people interested in participating and providing their feedback.
Russel: I could see how that would be hugely impactful. Then, by embedding information of those QR codes, I could know that this particular card was mailed to this particular address and I could start looking at all these mapping tools I have and see, where am I getting engagement and where am I not getting engagement related to proximity to my assets?
Sheila: There are also several situations where an operator will have a specific project or a little bit more work than their normal day-to-day activities that a brochure covers, then they have to do some door-to-door knocking, so to speak, person-to-person contact.
With the right tools in place for digitizing your public awareness program, you can have all that tracked. Have somebody go out there, say they talk to the person, capture the information, capture any concerns. Maybe they need additional information about the project.
All those different things could be captured in a handheld device, a mobile phone, and then they can get that information to help the people feel more comfortable about what’s happening in their neighboring communities.
Russel: I hadn’t even thought about that, Sheila, but that, to me, is compelling. If I want to do a major project, and I’m going to go around and do a door knock, and have a leave-behind, and be able to track, “I knocked on all these doors. I got answers on these doors. I had leave-behinds on these doors.
“Then, I know, based on the QR codes, if any of those leave-behinds generated additional traffic to the website.” Even if nobody fills anything out on the website, you still get a huge amount of data that way.
Sheila: Correct. It helps provide an avenue for the whole see something, say something. If something’s going on in a neighborhood, and they’re digital, and they’ve registered with us or with whatever company they use for digitizing, that gives them the ability to communicate to the operators if they see something that’s out of the ordinary.
Or, something that doesn’t look right, or something’s happening out of…They know there’s a project and they saw something that’s “fishy,” so to speak. This enables them an opportunity and a space to communicate directly to the operators and provide feedback so that operators can be more aware of any potential issues going on during the projects, or every day.
Russel: I remember, and this is many years ago, I lived in some apartments here in Houston. It was a small set of apartments and the owners lived on the property. Not only did everybody know each other because they lived there, but because the owners didn’t do any marketing, ultimately, we all got there through somebody we knew.
It didn’t have any of these advanced security systems, the gates, and all that kind of stuff, but it had the most effective security, which was nosy neighbors.
Sheila: [laughs] That is beneficial. There’s always somebody who’s willing to speak up, especially if given the avenue.
Russel: If they know what to look for, too. If you’ve got an avenue, and you know what to look for, and you’re like, “No, that isn’t right,” then somebody’s going to do something. The more that you make that easy to do and people believe it to be helpful, they’re a lot more likely to do it.
Sheila: Exactly. We’ve talked a lot about the general public, but when it comes to public awareness, there’s four stakeholder groups. It’s not just the general public. It’s also emergency responders, excavators, public officials. I always like to talk about the fire stations.
There’s a requirement that the operators know how many people are available at all these different emergency responder locations, whether it be fire, police, etc., because they need to know if something were to happen, from an emergency response, that there are people to support an event, in the case that there is one.
Being able to use that same tool to get that feedback and survey from the different emergency responders. “Do you do mock exercises? Do you need to do any? How many people are available during every different shift? How often do you have rotation? What kind of equipment do you have?”
All those different things that are required to be prepared, being able to reach out and communicate through a digital avenue for those allows the operators to then have a nice, easy dashboard for saying, “In this area, we have this many fire stations that can support this many users or this many people.” Have all that in a format that’s in a report versus paper and having to manually figure things out.
Russel: Not only that. If you do this right and you geocode all this information, you can build it into a layer in your GIS. That’s extremely valuable for particularly larger utilities. They have to organize their emergency response. Having that information pre-configured in a GIS is extremely valuable. What are some of the other benefits of digitalizing the public awareness stuff?
Sheila: Talking about the emergency responders, fire stations and different emergency groups will have events for the public. Again, more for knowledge sharing, little community events, and things like that.
If you have your program digitized, you can calendar those events and have it so that you don’t have overlap. You have one neighboring community that is doing a campaign on a Tuesday. You have another neighboring that can look at that calendar and say, “Oh, well, we can’t do it on Tuesday. This other community is already doing something. We don’t want to steal from their people. We want to be able to have everybody attend as many events as possible, so let’s pick a different day or a different time on the same day.” Either way, you can have calendars built out for that.
Russel: I’m sitting here, I’m thinking about, Sheila, how we’re doing it now. Maybe a better way to say that, how we have historically done this is we send out postcards and we track whether or not they come back. Before all the things you could do with digitalization, that’s what made sense. Now, you’ve got email, you’ve got applications you can put on your smartphone, you’ve got text messaging.
Most utilities these days, if I have a power outage at my house, I get a text and an email, I know it’s automatically generated. Being able to do those fun things and become more proactive in communications is a big thing. All of this is beyond what the current requirements of 1162 are.
Sheila: Not necessarily. You still have your effectiveness you have to measure. It’s just not the details that help you improve.
Russel: Right, I get that. This is one of those conversations where I get a little muddled in my talking because my brain’s going way faster than I can get my mouth to go. I’m thinking about things like Facebook Groups and some of these new neighborhood watch-type applications in social media — just the sheer numbers and quantities of those kinds of things. Digitalization could help you identify where those digital communities are and could help you automate the process of communicating.
Sheila: That could help as well. Like I said, when it comes to the improvement opportunities, it boils down to the point is making sure that people understand the messages that are being communicated.
Without being able to ask the person questions to make sure that they understood what was sent, you’re not going to receive the value. Even in today’s world, there’s so many different languages spoken.
We take for granted English, [laughs] but there’s a lot of languages spoken in the U.S. and in other countries. Being able to identify what that is and being able to communicate in a language that people understand, and then ask the questions.
Maybe the messages we’re sending out are not being understood because they’re poorly written. If we’re expecting a certain answer and the majority of the people answer it wrong, then that gives us an opportunity to rewrite our message to try to make it clear and more understood so that people, at the end of the day, know what they’re supposed to know.
Russel: It’s easy to sit here and talk about what all the possibilities are. It’s more challenging for an operator to figure out, “Okay, what are the one, two, or three things I’m going to do, and how do I improve what I’m doing?”
Sheila: That’s why I said for me, it’s as simple as, like you mentioned, the QR code. That’s an easy way to start. Let’s get people into the system. The easiest way. You’re already doing your messaging. Let’s give people that avenue.
If you go into one of the different campaigns with the emergency responders, or the brochures that you sent out to the communities, any of those pieces to get people into your digital world, so to speak, is a good first step, and then they are doing all the work.
They’re the ones populating the surveys, getting the results, and then we can dashboard all their responses and analyze that data to be able to provide, fairly quickly and easily, some direction on what needs to change and why.
Russel: That’s pretty low-hanging fruit, and you can get there pretty quickly. The big thing to be aware of for anybody who’s thinking about moving to a more digital approach for public awareness is it’s about the data analysis. It’s not just capturing the data, but it’s having the dashboards and the ability to analyze that data as it’s being…
Sheila: Absolutely. Just as ineffective as sending something out with no feedback is getting the feedback and doing nothing with it.
Sheila: It doesn’t get you anywhere.
Russel: I laughed, but I wonder how often that is the case, and for valid reasons. Getting data back from a survey is one thing, but being able to do some advanced analysis of that data, particularly when you start trying to understand neighborhood by neighborhood, or ZIP code by ZIP code, or whatever, what’s the impact I’m having where?
If I’m sending stuff and it’s right next to the pipeline right away, and I’ve got good coverage there, that’s different than I’m sending stuff and I’ve got good coverage, but these guys are two or three blocks over from the pipeline route right away.
Sheila: How would they respond? You’re just turning left for a moment. Even if they send something out, how do we know how somebody would respond? I mentioned that there’s some cookie-cutter stereotypical survey built into 1162 that people can use right away.
In addition, we can build out surveys for behavioral-type questions. “If this, this, and this happened, what is your response? What should your response be?” We can provide some real-life examples and see how people would respond, and then even evaluate that and make sure that people are aware, even from a behavioral standpoint.
It’s not just, “Do you know if gas is lighter or heavier than air, but do you know who to call if you see something? Do you know where to go?” Those types of pieces, or even other general company information.
Russel: What you’re talking about is, how do I have a conversation with a community that is a two-way conversation?
Russel: Your broadcasting is one thing and getting information back is another, but having an actual two-way conversation, that’s what we ought to be aspiring to, right?
Sheila: Yes. Agreed. That’s how you get improvement. Like I said, I know I keep coming up with all these ideas, but there are so many benefits to expanding off of paper. [laughs] It’s pretty overwhelming.
Russel: It is overwhelming. Sheila, you and I are both technical people and we’ll buzz through 50 possibilities real quick, but when you start trying to operationalize any of these ideas, it’s always helpful to have two or three things that we’re going to do and we’re going to start here.
Sheila: It’s about adding a QR code or a website. If QR code is too complex, add a website to a brochure. Throw that out there, get people in, get them registered. It’s all out of your wheelhouse at that point. It’s somebody else’s deal. They can go through, register, log in, and we could start collecting data from there. It can be very simple to get started.
Russel: That’s exactly right. Doing some programs and making those programs aligned with what’s going on in your community so that you’re doing it…You talked about giving away tickets to the county fair. Depending on the community you’re in, that might be the rodeo or the county fair, or the local ball team, or whatever. What are the things we can do that support our community and help us get engagement? It’s fascinating.
Let’s try and summarize this conversation to some key takeaways. What do you think that pipeliners ought to know about? Okay, you’ve listened to this conversation. You’ve heard this flood of ideas. Beyond the “put a QR code, and have a web page, and be able to grab some data off of forms,” what else would you say pipeliners ought to know about digitizing public awareness programs, and how does that relate to SMS?
Sheila: I would say the initial thing is it’s not a replacement for your current program. It’s in conjunction with. It helps to provide better outreach, which is the goal of your SMS. You want to be able to get that engagement.
Currently, with the paper methods, you don’t have a good feel on communication. There’s no communication. It’s just information sharing at this point, and some people read it, and some people won’t. If you’ve listened to the whole podcast, thank you. [laughs]
Second of all, it’s in conjunction with your current program that enables a wider group of people to participate based on their interests and their languages. It’s not complicated to get started.
Russel: That’s an awesome summary. I don’t know that I can add anything to that. It is as simple as put a QR code on what you’re mailing and have a website and the ability to collect some information from that QR code and get that data someplace where you can put it into the dashboard and see what’s happening.
Sheila: Absolutely. Start building your program from there, because that’s going to give you a wealth of information just by starting.
Russel: Exactly. Once you look at that, do the check part of the Plan-Do-Check-Act and figure out, “Okay, well, what’s our next step?” and then do your next step.
Sheila: That’d be the Act. [laughs] Exactly.
Russel: We’ve talked a lot. I’ve been having this conversation and I’ve been thinking mostly about the general public, but these other stakeholders, the excavators, the first responders, and the public officials, particularly with public officials, and, in Texas, it’s the county commissioner. Every state has their own roles at the city and county level. Those people that are responsible for the public infrastructure and public service are a real big opportunity for gathering feedback because I think they and/or their staff would lean into it.
Sheila: Absolutely, and that would be a great group for doing some information sharing in a forum-type situation, from a digital standpoint. Being able to mass communicate different events and things that are going on in the communities would be a great group for that.
Russel: Absolutely. Listen, thanks for coming back. This has been fun. You got my brain turning.
Sheila: I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but thank you. [laughs]
Russel: It normally turns into work for somebody when that happens, so I don’t know. Anyways, look, thanks for coming, Sheila. It’s been great.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of The Pipeliners Podcast in our conversation with Sheila. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
If you’d like to support the podcast, please leave us a review on Apple Podcast, Google Play, or on your smart device podcast app. You could find instructions at pipelinerspodcast.com.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords