Meet 2020 ISA Fellow Donald Dunn

Meet 2020 ISA Fellow Donald Dunn
Meet 2020 ISA Fellow Donald Dunn

Early in his career in 1998, Donald Dunn worked with Lion Dale Chemicals. As part of his role, he performed incident investigations and noticed that one of the root causes of many incident investigations was a causal factor of operators not responding to alarms. “Alarm floods was the biggest problem,” he explained. “They’d get so many alarms that they didn’t know what to respond to. That experience is what drove me to get involved in alarm management, industry safety, and ultimately ISA18.”

Now, as an ISA Fellow, Dunn is being honored for many years of work on the education and standardization of terminology, as well as requirements and guidance related to alarm management and process industry safety. Currently, Dunn works as a senior consultant with WS Nelson in New Orleans, though he lives in Houston. He is also a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

“Within the automation realm, my most significant accomplishment is the effort that Nick Sands and I put forth to cochair ISA-18.2, the standard for alarm management,” Dunn said. “It was the first global standard for alarm management. The standard uses a life-cycle approach, following an alarm from cradle to grave. It covers a multitude of topics, such as implementation, operation and maintenance.”

When Dunn first joined ISA and started working on updating and developing other standards ahead of the development of ISA-18.2, he went to an ISA show in Houston in 2003. There, he went to a meeting with a managing director who was seeking someone to chair the committee and develop a standard. The managing director asked Dunn to co-chair the committee because Dunn had been involved in the development of similar standards for many years. Dunn happened to be sitting next to Nick Sands, whom he had just met. “I said, ‘I will happily co-chair if this guy right here would co-chair it with me,’” Dunn explained. The two ended up working together until 2009 to put together and finally publish the ISA-18.2 standard.

Sands recruited Dunn to run for vice president of the ISA Standards and Practices Development Board. He was elected in 2009. During his time on the board, Dunn discovered that ISA was not charging for its standards, which are intellectual property. “I spent three years discovering why that was the case and developing a consensus to change it,” he said. “We were running on a deficit within the standards and practice portfolio. I worked very hard to change that.” And he did; the standards portfolio now turns a profit for ISA.

Dunn says ISA membership has both helped broaden his knowledge base and expanded his number of industry contacts. “Engineers have worked on a lot of problems in the past, and if you encounter a problem and reach out to others for help, you might be surprised how many are willing to assist,” he said.

During his career, Dunn noticed that lots of young engineers want to be managers, but he advises them to step back and ensure they know the field. “My number one piece of advice is to learn your craft,” he said. “Number two is to get involved in organizations like ISA and IEEE. That will help you learn the technical side of your craft and develop your network. Those are the things I’ve tried to preach during my whole career.”

This article was originally published in InTech's July/August issue.

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