A VR First

Improving our emergency response: Virtual ECC unveiled

Technology allows interaction with life-like virtual models of pipelines assets and facilities.

Improving our emergency response: Virtual ECC unveiled

An interactive demonstration showcasing a virtual reality (VR) emergency control center (ECC) marks a groundbreaking first for Pipelines.


The prototype technology was unveiled to Mohammad A. Hatlani, Pipelines vice president; Usamah A. Musabbeh, Northern Area Pipelines manager; Faisal K. Nuaimi, East-West Pipelines manager; Abdullah M. Ajmi, Southern Area Pipelines manager; and Anthony B. Martinez, Loss Prevention engineer; in the Pipelines Emergency Control Center in North Park 2, Dhahran, recently. 


Through VR headsets, attendees could explore and interact with one another in a 3D animated room. 


The participants were able to connect to the virtual ECC from different locations, such as Abqaiq, E-W Pump Station 3, and Dhahran. The technology also allowed the managers to interact with life-like virtual models of pipelines assets and facilities.


It is the first time that VR has been used in this way by the company.


Mohamed T. Afzal, project leader for the Pipelines Management Center, came up with the concept of a virtual ECC and the technology was developed by Abdullah R. Shammari, a maintenance machinist who taught himself VR programming in his spare time by watching YouTube videos.


After the presentation, Hatlani praised the forward-thinking project.


He said, “This ambitious idea has been translated into a very real demonstration, which has a great deal of potential and is a big step forward in this very critical area of work.


Implementation of this new technology will be challenging but the rewards will be great. In Pipelines, we always look to lead from the front to ensure that we are ahead of the curve in terms of digital transformation, and with the support of our corporate partners, we are bound to succeed.
— Mohammad A. Hatlani


How the VR ECC works

The idea behind the technology is to improve Aramco’s emergency response by replicating a real-life ECC, but with the additional benefit of being able to bring people together in one virtual space.


In a typical emergency, there are often two leaders — the incident manager (IM) who is coordinating events from an ECC (office based) and an incident commander (IC) who is at a command post on the scene of the emergency. 


VR could help improve communications between key people during an emergency.


“What usually happens between an IC and IM is that there’s mainly just a radio link — with limited video feed — but nothing more than this,” Afzal said. 


“If we could enable the IC to have a virtual headset, they could assemble in the same room as the IM and other experts and be shown the latest data so they know exactly what they’re dealing with. They can then set a plan to tackle the emergency.”


Martinez, who is also the Emergency Management Program lead, said the technology could help with quicker responses to incidents.


He said, “By Pipelines equipping their ECC with VR capabilities, the IM can have immediate access to the ECC no matter where he is at the time of an emergency, allowing him to lead the incident management team with no delays. 


“This is an excellent example of how Aramco stays on the cutting-edge of emergency readiness.”


What’s next for the virtual ECC and VR?

The next iteration of the technology could feature exact replicas of pipeline infrastructure at different locations across the Kingdom.


“Ultimately, what we will have are fully scaled up 3D models of exactly what we have in the field,” Afzal said.


Musabbeh added that VR technology could also have a wide-ranging and significant impact on the entire business in the future.


“As we embrace new technologies such as VR, we will naturally embrace new ways of working and new ways of collaboration. 


“This will open up many new opportunities for creative applications such as the virtual ECC. The possibilities are limitless.”


Caption for top photo: Management interacts with one another in a 3D animated room during a recent visit to the VR ECC in the Pipelines’ ECC. Management toured the recently unveiled center. The technology allowed the managers to interact with life-like virtual models of pipelines’ assets and facilities.


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