How Technology Can Speed Mustering and Help Ensure Compliance During Evacuations

How Technology Can Speed Mustering and Help Ensure Compliance During Evacuations

Employees behave differently when under stress— technology can help to simplify.

In an emergency, people rely on instinct. The best mustering plans are grounded in a realistic understanding of how humans behave in urgent situations and include comprehensive training and regular practice sessions to ensure that when there is a crisis, people instinctually follow the plan. Technological solutions can play an important supporting role to make it easier for mustering captains to quickly denote people as safe or alert first responders when people need help.  

Moving to a unified security system is a key component of enhancing the speed and accuracy of mustering employees during an evacuation. Often, manual processes are used to track evacuations. However, the inability to get an accurate live view of people’s status during an emergency can prolong downtime and pose important risks to the health and safety of workers and first responders. Furthermore, siloed systems do not allow you to take full advantage of the rich data and powerful tools of modern security and safety technologies. These can be leveraged to improve operational processes, including emergency response plans. 

New technologies that can be accessed within your infrastructure can speed mustering processes and help manage and monitor routine and emergency evacuations. These technologies can help manufacturers remain in compliance with OSHA requirement 1910.38(c)(4), regarding procedures to account for all employees after evacuation, as well as reduce downtime. 

Tailor Your Plan to the Scale and Scope of Risk 

The right mix of technology and training in your mustering plan will vary depending on the scale and scope of emergency you are preparing for and your assessment of the likelihood of such an emergency occurring.  

In a typical mustering plan, managers responsible for workplace health and safety will designate a mustering point outside and organize training and periodic drills to ensure all staff know where to go in the event of an emergency.  

If the reason for evacuation is important but not urgent, workers can be trained to badge in at the mustering station equipped with a mobile card reader. If the event you’re preparing for is more urgent, such as an explosion or fire, a mustering plan that expects people to remember to grab their key card and badge out isn’t practical. Inevitably, some people will forget their key cards, forget to badge out or hold doors open to help people leave as quickly as possible.  

When an emergency situation escalates quickly the most reasonable thing for people to do under those circumstances is get out of harm’s way as quickly as possible. In higher risk environments, therefore, it may be reasonable to invest in biometric access control solutions such as facial recognition to speed mustering. This would not only improve security over older card reader technologies but also make it possible to quickly identify personnel with a mobile reader at your mustering checkpoints.  

The frequency of your emergency drills should be linked to the risk of occurrence. In a highly unstable environment, weekly training may be required. In a lower risk environment, such as an office building, quarterly training may be enough to ensure everyone knows what to do and where to go.  

Digitize and Automate Your Standard Operating Procedures when Appropriate 

Your standard operating procedure (SOP) is a critical tool to keep personnel safe. Technology can support staff to follow the safety procedures and prevent panic. Rather than pages of written documentation stored in binders, having a digital SOP that is mobile-accessible and searchable makes it more likely to be referenced and applied in a real emergency.  

Many companies today also automate select SOP workflows to help reduce the number of alarms and unnecessary evacuations. For example, in modern security software you may be able to create if-then statements: if an alarm goes off and the alarm isn’t acknowledged within 90 seconds, then call emergency services. These if-then statements can also dramatically reduce nuisance alarms by triggering an alert only if a series of conditions are met.  

Look for a software solution that will allow you to easily create workflows like these without involving a developer to assist with software code. Some software solutions even offer an intuitive drag-and-drop interface to make it easy to create a trigger, automate tasks or define standard operating procedures.  

Drills are another area where technology and automation can play an important supporting role. If your SOP says drills should happen every six weeks, your security software can trigger a test alarm on that schedule and notify the appropriate people as required.  

When crisis strikes, every second counts. Digitizing and automating your SOP will guide your team step-by-step to reach a rapid and effective resolution. You can also improve future response by collecting and reviewing data on your team's performance. Your system can help you audit compliance and ensure you do better every time. 

Use the Technologies at Your Fingertips 

Some of the technologies you could use to speed mustering processes may already be at your fingertips. Have your health and safety team sit down with your security specialists to assess the security technologies you already have on campus and brainstorm new ways to leverage some of these technologies to improve your emergency response planning.  

For example, you are probably already using video surveillance and access control systems. Could your security software help you visualize this data in a different way? Perhaps you can pull an access control report showing the last known location of people who are not accounted for at the mustering point and review security camera footage within those zones to see if there are people still inside the building. If you are already using automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) for parking validation, this data can be used to identify who has left an area by car.  

An open architecture security solution can allow you to explore an ecosystem with different sensors and technologies. Putting heat sensors in certain areas can implement an automated SOP that alerts facilities managers to investigate if the temperature rises above a certain threshold. Even systems including building management, public address, automated drone systems and more can be used to help with emergency procedures. 

Embrace the Power of a Unified Approach to Security and Operations Management 

Moving away from siloed systems and towards a unified approach to security and operations management can eventually unlock another level of emergency preparedness using predictive analytics. If you can work backward to identify conditions that indicate a potential threat, you can add sensors to gather data and monitor those conditions. You can then use an automated SOP to trigger an alert to staff of a potential problem when there are anomalies or other indications of concern.  

For example, one employee trying to access a zone they are not allowed in can be an honest mistake. But the same employee trying to enter a second prohibited area is probably something that should be investigated. Security software can help you detect patterns that point to risks that may have been missed if the activities were just viewed as individual events. 

A unified decision management system helps you understand unfolding events and quickly identify the best course of action. It simplifies the response coordination between stakeholders, speeding up incident resolution. Plus, the same solution can also be used to support greater collaboration between departments and make day-to-day operations run more smoothly.  

When designing your mustering solution, the most important part is to be very clear on your needs and purpose. Start with the outcome or end goal in mind and be realistic about how people will behave when scared or under intense stress. Then work with a security solutions provider to explore technological solutions that can support you to manage risk and keep your people safe.  

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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