Having procedures in place for workplace evacuations is part of what employers should do to keep their employees safe in case of emergencies. “Accounting for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed” is one of the Department of Labor’s minimum requirements for an emergency action plan (EAP). However, the manner in which an employer should perform this accounting is not specified. In this blog, we will provide 7 of the most popular ways we have seen employers check for missing employees.
1. Paper Roster
Using a paper roster is the most rudimentary form of mustering. With a hint of nostalgia, it throws us back to memories of grade school, lining up in the parking lot and waiting for the teacher to call our names and check us off the list. This system still works well in the classroom, but may not be practical for large corporate buildings with hundreds of employees. In these situations, the rosters have to be kept fastidiously up to date with the HR rosters. Some security companies have found ways to embellish the paper roster method. By partnering with the building’s access control system, a list can be printed of who is currently employed as a company and perhaps even who has used their badge to enter the building that day. Employees who didn’t come in that day wouldn’t be included in the list, leaving less room for missing persons.
Paper rosters do have a key advantage of simplicity, needing only a pen and paper to operate. However, they are inherently slow, especially if any employees goes to the wrong evacuation station. Also, how many evacuation captains are going to wait around for their roster to finish printing with a real fire in the building?
2. Electronic Roster
Taking this adapted paper roster method into the 21st century, we can elevate the paper list using web technologies. The occupancy is pulled from the security system and is published electronically. Options here include:
- Email current occupancy list to evacuation captains.
- Populating an occupancy list on a tablet at the facility.
- Pushing an up to date list on the internet.
3. Badge Scanning
Using your security badge to quickly scan employees outside the facility can be an improved solution over paper rosters if implemented correctly. But there are many ways to electronically scan badges, including:
- Scanner on a stanchion
- Scanner built into a small pelican case or cart
- Scanner in a handheld device
These are easiest to use if a campus or facility has a solid network infrastructure. This allows evacuation captains to quickly access the occupancy list through a web page. However, if a catastrophic emergency occurs, like the 2011 Southwest blackout, where all power and cellular data goes out, this type of system still can leave planners without critical data about their users.
Handheld scanners have a couple of features to recommend them over a stanchion or case mounted badge scanner. They allow the occupancy lists to be viewed in real time as users are scanned out of the building as well as being able to manually verify a person as safe by entering their name. Additionally, a handheld solution is an easy upgrade for a business that uses paper or electronic rostering, without the need to completely rewrite their emergency action plan.
Biometrics is when people are identified by something about them – their biology, so to speak. There are many ways this can be done, but in practice only a few are commonly integrated into security and mustering systems. Right now, fingerprint technology is the most commonly used biometric technology in security.
Other biometrics which are being used more prevalently are facial recognition from video and iris recognition as their technologies become more advanced and capable. These forms of capturing the presence of your employees at evacuation points are used effectively as a proxy for a badge scan, but with the advantage that they cannot be lost like an ID card.
5. Long Range RFID
Instead of having employee badges scanned manually, long range Radio Frequency Indentification (RFID) allows employees to be scanned automatically at a distance. These systems use RFID tags operating in the 900 MHz frequency range, called UHF tags. These tags can be implemented in a number of ways:
- Added as a sticker to the back of an existing badge.
- Provided as a separate card.
- Integrated into a lanyard or badge holder.
- Built into a new access control badges which would have multiple RFID technologies implemeneted – the image to the right shows an example of this.
These UHF tags allow personnel to be identified at ranges up to 25 feet away. This solution can be ideal for verifying when employees exit through known doorways, accounting for people near an evacuation area, or correctly detecting when they exit a facility.
6. Real Time Location System (RTLS)
There are two classes of RFID tags, active and passive. UHF tags as described in the above section are called Passive because they have no battery. However, in some cases adding a battery to a tag provides additional capabilities. These battery powered RFID tags are called Active RFID.
Active RFID tags can be read from more than 100 feet away. These enable you to continuously track the location of employees in real time. This is why this type of technology is called Real Time Location Systems (RTLS).
This type of system inherently lets you know if employees are inside or outside of your facility, which is exactly what a mustering system is designed to do. With RTLS, readers are strategically placed throughout the facility and at specific muster locations. When a tag is read by a particular reader, the employee is identified as nearby the location of that reader, which indicates that they have reached safety. Usually, RTLS have their own separate management portals and are not often tied into the security system.
7. Cell Phone and SMS Based Systems
Some mustering solutions use the mobile infrastructure to support their evacuation requirements. These solutions are broken down into two styles of systems – App based systems and SMS based systems.
App based solutions can use the geolocation of the phone to indicate if an employee is outside of a danger area or may require a user to actively check in. SMS systems send text messages to their users for notification and may or may not have 2-way communication which would let employees indicate if they are safe or require assistance. These types of solutions require a user base who all have mobile phones. Additionally, the facilities are required to be in reliable cell coverage areas. The nice part of these solutions is that they have the advantage of avoiding external scanners all together.
Things to keep in mind
No emergency evacuation system by itself is perfect.
- If a building is burning, evacuation captains are unlikely to instictively grab rosters, tablets, or readers.
- Employees are likely to leave behind badges and/or phones in an emergency.
- Without complete information, first responders must still enter burning buildings to verify that everyone is safe.
- Emergencies by their very nature are unexpected and situations quickly get out of hand.
Keep in mind, people can behave unpredictably, especially if they feel their personal safety is threatened. However, having and practicing an emergency action plan will better ensure the safety of your employees by providing them guidance, no matter which mustering solution you choose.
This blog was originally published in May 2016 and was updated to clarify various technical terms.