SP&T News

Keeping your cool

Question: What is mustering?

February 15, 2008  By Bill Richardson

Answer: Basically, mustering is a means of accounting for people in
case of a disaster. In a typical card access system, people are only
required to use their card to enter a protected space. Exit is usually
“free” by simply walking out the door you came in. The door may be
unmonitored, that is, not equipped with a Door Position Switch (DPS).
If it is monitored, a Request to Exit (REX) will be employed to shunt
the DPS and allow a person to exit without setting off a Door Forced
alarm event. This kind of low security card access system may succeed
in keeping street people out but that is about as far as it goes.

The system described above also has absolutely no means for tracking
who is on the premises. You can find a log for when Felix entered the
building, or even moved to a specific area within the building, but
have no record of whether he’s still there or not. In the event of a
fire or other emergency, you can’t tell who might be injured or trapped
inside. Mustering plays into occupancy and life safety issues, but it
isn’t the starting point.

If you want to know who is in a building at any given moment, you have
to log every entry and every exit. Unmonitored doors and REX devices
can’t play this game. Four things become necessary to know who is
inside a building:

•    Use of entry and exit readers for each logical building area, or
zone. An Access Control System (ACS) that is capable of zoned
anti-passback permits knowledge of all people in the whole building, or
any logical part of it at any moment in time.
•    Implementation of turnstiles, man-traps or other special entry hardware to force entry and exit of one person at a time.
•    Special mustering readers at safe locations outside the building.
•    100 per cent cardholder cooperation with the life safety plan including reader use and mustering protocols.
Under this kind of system, the ACS can print or display a list of
people and their location within the facility. Each individual must use
their card to come in from the outside and to move from zone to zone.
Should an emergency occur, an immediate list of personnel can be
generated. Problem is, a fire or other emergency condition is kind of a
big deterrent for people to stand in line at a turnstile and card out
one by one.


This is where mustering stations come into play. At known safe
locations outside the building, emergency gathering points will be
established. In each one of these stations, a Mustering card reader
(configured as an exit reader) will be installed. As each person flees
the threat, they will migrate to the nearest mustering station and
present their card. The ACS will track all of these events and be able,
at a moment’s notice, to know and display who might be left in the
building, and more importantly, where.

A rescue effort can be initiated by properly trained and equipped staff
to locate people who have not yet exited. Lives can be saved. The
critical aspect of cardholder cooperation is obvious. If people find
ways to cheat on entry or exit, their presence in the building will be
inaccurate. Likewise, if the forget to use their card at a mustering
station in the event of a drill or actual emergency, the data will be
bogus. Training and cooperation are essential.

A cautionary tale
I was involved it the sale of a system specifically intended for a life
safety application. A factory in the southern U.S. manufactured a
product that in itself was harmless, but the processes and chemicals
used in obtaining the final product were potentially deadly. The
multi-national corporation who owned the plant sincerely wanted to
provide a protection to all their employees. The original design
included banks of turnstiles at each major entry point where all
employees and visitors would card into and out of the area of potential

The union balked. The tradesmen didn’t want to be forced to use the
turnstiles; too militaristic they said. With whispers of a potential
strike, the management backed down and agreed to simply install portals
where each person would use their card to come in and leave. Every
alarm bell in my head went off.

Every time an employee arrived a little late, they would avoid the
entry reader for obvious reasons. Any time any other necessity made
someone leave early, or just slip out to the car for something they
forgot, the access protocol was ignored. With no teeth in the
management requirement for card use, it quickly became a joke. When the
site administrator relayed that deteriorating situation I painted this

Felix comes to work 5 minutes late and skips the reader because
management was lax. That day, there is an explosion in a production
area and Felix is seriously injured. Four hours later, a clean-up crew
finds Felix clinging to life. When he regains consciousness in the
hospital, his first call is to his attorney to find out what recourse
he has against the company. The attorney learns of the lax security
protocol and sues the company for gross neglect, even though the
inability to locate Felix was due to his own failure to follow the
rules. Ten million dollars later, the lawsuit is settled.

Within one week of that phone call, the system was quietly removed and
the mustering readers taken away. The legal liability of an ineffective
protection effort was greater than no effort at all. The unwillingness
of the staff to co-operate with management in the use of technology and
reasonable rules robbed them of an excellent safety and security tool.

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