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 waiting 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 simple list using internet technologies. Still integrating with the security system, this occupancy list can be 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.
In most cases, this is an improved solution over paper rosters if implemented correctly. It is easiest to use if a campus has solid WIFI infrastructure so evacuation captains can 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.
3. Badge Scanning
Now that we’ve moved away from the paper method and into the technology sector, let’s talk about security badge scanning. When the fire alarm goes off, employees are trained to go to designated muster locations. Instead of manually checking people off any kind of list, employees present their badges to a reader and this is transmitted to a back end system. The back end system then tracks who is safe and who is missing. Badge scanning can be done in a number of ways:
- Scanner on a stanchion
- Scanner built into a small pelican case or cart
- Scanner in a handheld device
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 an area of technology that is becoming more and more integrated into security systems and as a result also into mustering solutions. Right now, fingerprints are the most commonly used case biometric. Other biometrics which are being used more prevalently are facial 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 RFID allows employees to be scanned automatically at a distance. These systems use passive UHF RFID tags operating in the 900 MHz frequency range. These tags can be implemented in a number of ways:
- Added as a sticker on the back of an existing badge or as a separate card.
- Built as a unified card with standard low or high frequency access control badges.
- Integrated into the lanyard or badge holder.
These UHF identifiers allow personnel to be scanned at ranges up to 25 feet away. This solution can be ideal for verifying when employees exit through known doorways, accounting for people correctly as they exit the facilities.
6. Real Time Location System (RTLS)
Active RFID, named as they have a battery powered transponder, can be read more than 100 feet away. These type of tags are used often in facilities where employees are being continuously tracked using a Real Time Location System (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 systems, readers are strategically placed throughout the facility and at specific muster locations. When a tag is read by a particular reader, the employee can be located as proximal to the location of that reader, which indicates that they have reached safety. Usually, RTLS systems have their own separate management portals and are not often tied into the security system.
7. Cell Phone 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. The facilities additionally 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 likely won’t grab paper rosters, tablets, or readers.
- Employees are likely to leave behind badges and/or phones in an emergency.
- Without complete information, first responders will still need to enter burning building to verify that everyone is safe.
- Emergencies by their very nature are unexpected and situations quickly get out of hand.
However, having and practicing an emergency action plan will make sure you and your employees will be as safe as possible, no matter which mustering solution you choose.