A good emergency plan should guide every aspect of your company’s response when disaster strikes. All of those parts need to work together like a well-oiled machine to ensure the safety of your people, property, and finances.
You’ve probably heard that muster points are critical components of your emergency plan. But what are muster points, exactly? How do you choose a good one? How do they fit into the rest of your company’s emergency plan?
We’re going to answer all of those questions, and more.
What is a Muster Point?
A muster point is the location that personnel evacuate to in the event of an emergency. A workplace should have multiple muster points distributed around its perimeter if the facility is large or complex. This will ensure everyone inside has a safe area they can reach quickly during an emergency.
Taking the time to determine proper locations and layouts for these safe areas will save lives when an emergency strikes. Having more staff safe, injury-free, and ready to return to work, will in turn enable your business to restore normal operations as fast as possible.
Four Qualities of a Good Muster Point
Your goal in selecting your workplace’s muster points is to provide them safe locations they can reach quickly and easily. You should look for these four qualities in your muster point locations to best achieve that goal:
1. Safe Surroundings
Despite all the planning you do, staff will still be anxious and not thinking clearly when they evacuate. You want to select muster point locations that will be free of potential hazards, such as downed power lines, during emergencies.
Make sure your muster points will be safe in all conditions. For example, if you’re on a flood plain, even if you’re not near a waterway, select muster points that are on high ground.
2. Safe Distance
Muster points need to be located a safe distance from your worksite. A good rule of thumb is to place muster points at a distance of at least one-and-a-half times the height of your tallest building, if possible. This will keep evacuated personnel at a safe distance from any fire or flying debris, as well as give first responders room to safely operate next to your buildings.
3. Appropriate Amount of Space
You need to designate muster points large enough to accommodate your entire workforce. Make sure you assign locations that can safely accommodate all personnel, plus contractors and visitors. If you’re designing an evacuation plan for a larger facility, you may want to distribute muster points around your perimeter to keep evacuation times low from all locations.
4. Accessible to Everyone
Muster points must be accessible—and that means to everyone. Muster points need to be accessible to those with a physical disability, as well as to older personnel and those in poorer health. For example, don’t select a muster point that will require a long uphill climb.
It doesn’t matter whether there is anyone currently on staff with those characteristics. Your muster points still need to be accessible to everyone—including contractors and unplanned visitors—when an emergency strikes.
Do I Need Muster Points?
According to FEMA, the most common causes of evacuations are fire and flood. But depending on local factors, you may also need to prepare for events such as:
- Hazardous waste spills
- Civil unrest
- Workplace violence
Every organization is at risk for some combination of these natural and man-made emergencies. All require orderly, efficient evacuations to save lives. Designating muster points is one of the best ways to ensure that happens.
Setting muster points in advance ensures staff will always know where to seek safety in an emergency. It also reduces unnecessary decision-making about where to go during emergencies, so personnel can reach safety faster. Establishing muster points also facilitates headcounts, or roll calls, which provide first responders with a better understanding of who is safe and who is still in danger.
How to Integrate Emergency Mustering into Your Safety & Security Plan
Integrating your mustering process into your overall emergency action plan (EAP) will improve the effectiveness of emergency mustering.
Here are a few steps you can take to improve that integration:
1. Assign Emergency Managers
Evacuations shouldn’t be a disorganized race out of your facility. Set clear roles and responsibilities for each essential task that needs to be completed during an evacuation. You will want to assign one or more emergency managers for each department or floor within your workplace.
Emergency managers perform several different functions during an emergency:
- They check assigned floors or buildings to confirm staff have evacuated.
- They supervise the shutdown of critical infrastructure.
- They take roll calls at muster points.
- They coordinate with first responders.
During drills and during actual emergency situations, emergency managers will report to your company’s emergency response coordinator. This could be the company’s health and safety officer, its security director, or another experienced individual. This clear chain of command will improve decision-making and response times.
2. Designate a Communication Center
Your assigned response team must communicate effectively. Designate an emergency communication center where your response coordinator will operate. This communication center could be established at one of your assigned muster points or at a different safe location.
3. Document the Entire Process
You will receive a warning for some natural disasters. Most emergencies occur with no notice, though. That means you need to take the time to think through and document every essential component of your mustering process—and how it dovetails with the rest of your EAP—before disaster strikes.
Document your assigned emergency managers, their specific roles, and their chain of command. Document muster point locations. If you need to identify different muster points for different types of events, these need to be recorded in your EAP.
Evacuation routes should both be documented and clearly labeled. Contingencies for worst-case scenarios need to be considered too. Brainstorm what your response will be if there is no power throughout your facility, for example.
4. Be Flexible
Although emergency responses require a clear chain of command, employees still need to be able to react independently when an emergency occurs. Your EAP needs to be flexible and responsive to the fact that workplaces are dynamic settings that change hour by hour during the workday.
Your plan shouldn’t be designed under the assumption that staff will always be in their one assigned location. For example, they might need to fill in another team or step away from their work on the production floor to do paperwork in the back office. Evacuation procedures need to be effective no matter where someone is in your facility.
Evacuation routes need to be simple and appropriately labeled for staff caught in an unfamiliar part of your facility. Muster points need to be large enough to accommodate changes in capacity.
5. Train, and Train Again
Develop a regular schedule for your company’s emergency preparedness training. Conduct evacuation drills at least annually. Drills help staff familiarize themselves with evacuation procedures so they can be more decisive in a moment of crisis.
Drills also help emergency managers and first responders identify potential problems with your evacuation plan before an actual emergency strikes. For example, emergency managers for two adjacent floors might each have assumed the other was checking an in-between mezzanine level for stragglers. Or representatives from the fire department may point out that ambulances won’t be able to reach certain muster points you thought were accessible.
6. Conduct Regular Reviews
Your environment will change. Buildings will be renovated, outdoor spaces redesigned, neighboring buildings will change ownership. In addition to regular training, you also need to regularly review your evacuation plan to account for these potential changes.
You might need to account for whole new types of threats. For example, if your business is located in an industrial park, did a new business move in next door that works with hazardous materials you haven’t had to deal with before? Do you need to develop a new response plan for nearby chemical spills?
Reviewing for environmental changes is especially important in urban and suburban locations where such changes are common. In a city center, a company’s muster points likely need to be on public property or on adjacent private property. Do you need to get approval from a new neighbor to use their property during evacuations? Did the city unexpectedly plant trees in the middle of one of your public space muster points?
Consider an Emergency Mustering Solution
There are many valuable resources available online to help you develop your EAP, including this guidance from FEMA (PDF). There are other resources you should also consider deploying as part of your EAP.
An automated emergency mustering solution is one such resource. It handles many of the time-consuming tasks emergency managers must address during a crisis. It could be the right choice for companies looking to streamline their emergency response efforts. Automated mustering solutions help:
- Confirm staff are safe.
- Identify and locate staff still at risk.
- Automate roll call.
- Simplify drilling, so everyone can get back to work faster.
Automated mustering solutions use wireless tag readers to scan employee badges as employees approach muster points. Muster point readers can be configured to use solar or battery power so they stay operational even during power outages. Emergency managers get a live, automated feed of employees marked safe.
For more information about emergency preparedness and automated mustering, check out Real Time Networks’ PeopleTracer Employee Safety Solutions.
About the Author
Shannon Arnold is the VP of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Real Time Networks.