Advanced Considerations - Employee mustering at industrial sites or large facilities has typically been difficult to efficiently manage due to the complexity of the situation and human factors.

Advanced Considerations

Human process is painstakingly slow

Employee mustering at industrial sites or large facilities has typically been difficult to efficiently manage due to the complexity of the situation and human factors. Traditional muster plans specify primary and secondary muster locations. During a muster drill or actual emergency, workers proceed to the well-defined muster locations. Team leaders carry a personnel list and check names off the list for those individuals during roll call at each muster site. Once the team leaders merge their lists, they arrive at the final list of individuals whom were unaccounted for, if any.

Given the human element of traditional mustering methods, this process is painstakingly slow and the final result is error prone. The consequences of this approach can be catastrophic on two levels. First, critical time is wasted determining which individuals, if any, are still inside the facility. If individuals are still inside the facility, critical time may have been wasted prior to the search and rescue efforts. Second, if the list incorrectly indicated that individual(s) are still inside the facility, this will place First Responders into unnecessarily dangerous situations. Worse yet, a list incorrectly may indicate that a person has left the facility, while in fact they still need to be rescued.

Know Who is in the House

Also important are site visitors, contractors or employees from other facilities. Does the roll call contain a list of these infrequent individuals? Do these individuals realistically know the emergency procedures, and more specifically, the locations of the muster points?

Further complicating the situation is the exceedingly diverse and multicultural nature of the workforce, which can be quite transient. These factors increase the potential for misunderstandings during the roll call. All these aforementioned issues complicate the situation, not to mention elevated stress levels and time restrictions in an emergency only exacerbate the problem and the risk.

Assuming the muster process is performed flawlessly, the roll call only provides a list of missing individuals. The search and rescue team needs vital location information to be successful. What is the last known location for each individual? What building? What floor? What area within the floor? This information is essential for a successful search and rescue operation but is even more important for a facility with multiple multi-level buildings.

Regardless of their complexity, all mustering systems generate three lists: the roll call or inventory list, the mustered list and the missing personnel list. How these lists are generated as well as the frequency of update varies with the application. On an oil platform, the roll call list is relatively constant during the workday as compared to the list at an industrial site where thousands of employees are potentially able to leave the facility at any point in time. As such, the site environment greatly affects the real-time requirements for generating the roll call list, and has a tremendous impact on the muster system requirements. For example, at large industrial sites, individuals can bypass specified muster locations, are completely out of danger, yet still be considered in danger, simply because they do not proceed to the muster location.

Modern mustering systems, known as Personnel Accountability and Mustering Systems, are a system of systems, which are comprised of three components for generating and maintaining the aforementioned lists. The Personnel Inventory System generates the roll call list based upon each individual carrying or wearing some sort of tag or badge inside the facility. The granularity of the roll call data can vary greatly, based upon the number of tag or badge reader locations. For instance, it could be as simple as acknowledging when a person is inside the building or as complex as knowing a specific zone within a multi-level building. The muster system generates the mustered list based upon the individuals exiting the buildings and entering muster locations or zones. The remote server application generates the missing personnel list from real time analysis of the roll call and mustered lists.

In contrast to the traditional model, the design of modern mustering systems requires a comprehensive understanding of the worst case catastrophic scenario. While performing this worst case scenario analysis, certain notions must be considered about the personnel and the facility, as well as catastrophic event assumptions.

Consider This

One aspect to consider is that if people are required to physically “check in” or register, how likely are they to actually perform this task? During the chaos of an emergency, people tend forget procedures or are inadvertently missed during the muster roll call. This results in a potential source of list inaccuracies, regardless of whether it is the roll call list or the mustered list.

It is imperative to consider the impact of the catastrophe on worker actions. During an emergency, workers will resort to just about anything to escape a catastrophic situation and may not proceed to specific muster stations. For instance, workers may instinctively go to a safe location and immediately contact loved ones or they might just go to their homes. In either case, they might bypass the specific muster stations and thus would be included on the missing personnel list.

Additionally, the catastrophe’s impact on a given facility creates two crucial assumptions. First, one has to assume that existing doorways and normal passageways are inaccessible and workers may exit the facility via non-conventional methods, such as through windows. Second, there may be a complete loss of power and/or damaged infrastructure at the site. Since the Personnel Inventory System must be located within the facility, one has to assume that updates to the roll call list may be incomplete or missing once the emergency commences.

Design Based Upon Assumptions

These complex factors and assumptions creates real challenges for system designers. The primary issue is ensuring that the Muster System and the Remote Server Application are fully operational after the emergency and that the Muster System provides 100 percent coverage around facility. Minimizing or eliminating the need for workers to “check in” or register with the Personnel Inventory System and the Muster System is an important consideration.

Assuming power is lost and the local facilities are damaged requires several unique design decisions. The first decision is that the Remote Server Application must be hosted off-site, either by a 3rd party or at another office which does not contain dangerous or combustible materials. Given today’s technical knowhow this is a relatively simple task, since most companies have in house IT departments. As an added benefit, the content can be browser based which would allow the data to be viewed and disseminated to multiple people simultaneously, regardless of their hardware platform, such as a laptop and/or smartphone.

The second decision is that the muster system must be able to operate off the local grid, in terms of both power and connectivity. This could be as simple as a primary power and/or solar power plus battery backup. Since the local infrastructure might be lost, the Muster System must also be off the local communication grid. One potential solution is to use wireless modems, either GSM/GPRS, CDMA or Satcom devices, which requires a monthly service charge per device. Depending on the size and nature of the event, these public wireless networks may be overwhelmed as people try to contact family members and friends. Another is to use a long-range point to point radio system, which avoids a monthly charge. Either method will allow the muster system to communicate to the remote server application without local infrastructure.

Since the remote server application must be located off site, the next decision is ensuring connectivity to the Personnel Inventory System. The best option is TCP/ IP, which permits continuous real time updates. Modern facilities are typically wired with Ethernet connectivity or can be retrofitted with Wi-Fi. This would also allow easy scalability if increased granularity is deemed necessary in the future. The Personnel Inventory System would be placed behind the local firewall and the communications to the Remote Sever Application can even be secured via Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Getting Enough Coverage

The final issue to discuss is ensuring that the Muster System has 100 percent coverage around the facility. Installing hundreds of short-range muster stations, where workers are required to ‘check in’ is not feasible, due to the high cost. Installing several long range muster stations, using either Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or active RFID tags, would be the best solution. In either case, the muster readers could be placed 50-200 meters apart, depending on the technology and environment. As the workers pass through the muster regions, the stations read the tags and relay that information in real time to the Remote Server Application. The benefit of using an active RFID tag based system, is that it communicates with passive RFID readers, which can be installed with overlapping coverage for system redundancy, greatly increasing the reliability of the muster list.

These same readers can be adjusted for short range use in the Personnel Inventory System. The end result is that the same technology can be configured for long range monitoring to optimize the muster system with redundancy and short range monitoring to enhance the positioning accuracy of the Personnel Inventory System. Thus, by eliminating the check in burden, the entire process can be more effective and completely transparent to the worker.

By leveraging current technology and considering complex factors and possible scenarios, system designers can create robust mustering solutions. These systems decrease the likelihood of error by reducing manual steps, while being scalable and flexible for future growth. In the end, consideration of these factors enhances the final product and provides tremendous safety value for all stakeholders.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Security Today.

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