First Gas

Safe, Reliable, Efficient Communications
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A focus on safety, reliability and efficiency, and a desire to use their radio network for more than just voice led First Gas to upgrade to a LocalNet Digital solution from TeamTalk.

First Gas operates New Zealand’s largest gas pipeline network with 2,504 kms of high pressure gas transmission pipes and around 4,800 kms of gas distribution pipes supplying natural gas from Taranaki throughout the North Island.

Coverage Across the North Island

First Gas required coverage for operations staff working on their North Island gas transmission pipelines from New Plymouth to Hastings and Gisborne in the east, Kauri in the far North and Wellington in the south.

“Radio encourages quick, efficient communications; there’s no chatting like you have on a cellphone, but there is still the odd banter that gets broadcast” observes Grant Lander, Control Room Manager for First Gas.

TeamTalk provided a 26-repeater site VHF LocalNet Digital system utilising Motorola MOTOTRBO infrastructure, comprising of fixed vehicle, Intrinsically Safe (IS) handheld radios and PC-based TRBOnet control room application.

“Moving to a digital radio solution gave us the opportunity to integrate GPS location, worker safety and data collection services onto our radio network. TeamTalk were willing to get on board with us to develop a digital network to meet our specific requirements” says Grant.

Worker Safety

Worker safety is paramount to First Gas. They use Motorola DP4801 ATEX/IEC Ex intrinsically safe hand portables. IS radios are specially designed for safe operation in places where work activities could potentially create or release flammable gases or vapours, industries such as gas pipelines, refineries, chemical process plants, or in workplaces handling fine organic dusts such as grain flour or wood.

The Gas Control Room can activate Lone Worker functionality, a time-based welfare check when the radio has been inactive for a pre-defined period. By responding to the radio request, the worker is reporting that they are safe.

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Image: Gas Control Room Operator communicating with remote personnel, the TRBOnet system screens providing the operator a map location of the caller and call log for immediate playback.

If the employee does not acknowledge the Lone Worker check, an automated alert in the Control Room is triggered. Control Room staff use this to configure Lone Worker intervals on a case by case basis depending on the task. “This has the benefit of automating the system and removing potential for human error” says Grant.

In the event of distress, the worker can press the orange emergency button on their portable and know that it will transmit their location and an alert to the control room. The emergency button is also programmed to open the radio mic so the employee can communicate the nature of their emergency.

Hand portables communicate with Motorola DM4601 mobile radios in First Gas vehicles, using them as VHF to UHF crossband repeaters to extend coverage. “Many of our gas pipelines and stations are in remote, off-road locations, so the crossband repeater option gives us maximum voice and data coverage” comments Grant.

Location Services

The mobile radios also incorporate GPS location services, and a vehicle roll-over and crash detect feature. In the event of an accident, the radio’s accelerometer triggers an emergency alert back to the control room. Dispatch staff can identify where the person is and respond appropriately.

“The GPS is invaluable,” says Grant, “presenting a visual indication of all field based personnel location to the Control Room Operator. In an event, no time is wasted and the closest person can be dispatched immediately, in addition the Control Room can monitor the vehicle location and provide an estimated time of arrival to external parties.”

First Gas are currently investigating the use of digital radio data services to transmit signals for operating equipment across the pipelines, and for data collection at remote pipeline sites.

TRBOnet Control Room Application

Pipeline operations are coordinated from a 24-hour manned control room. First Gas uses the TRBOnet control room application to record all radio voice conversations. The facility to playback conversations immediately assists the operator to disseminate information to a wider audience by either playing the message back within the control room or emailing the message to appropriate personnel.

The intent is to implement a fully integrated tool into the business using functionality that is available off the shelf that streamlines processes, promotes safety and is easy to use. The LocalNet Digital system with TRBOnet has delivered the functionality that First Gas had requested. First Gas are now looking at implementing additional TRBOnet functionality that will provide ‘off the shelf’ applications to enhance and simplify business processes.

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