Demand for smart cards has soared in recent years as firms look to improve the security and safety of staff and assets. Those operating in sensitive or high-risk sectors – such as financial services, government, and petrochemical – are expanding the scope of their identity and access management strategies to improve their ability to locate and positively identify individuals, control access to facilities, and ensure a convenient and safe working environment.

Convergence of physical and logical access, together with applications such as cashless vending, time & attendance, and secure remote access for mobile workers, throws open a host of new possibilities for firms looking to get the most out of their investment in smart cards and AMS. One area attracting a great deal of interest is that of fire safety.

Extinguishing manual mustering issues

The usual fire drill procedure is to evacuate staff to a suitable mustering point, where a fire warden conducts a roll call and checks the names of those present against a list of the building occupants expected to be seen at that muster point. Typically, this list will have been generated by the building’s core AMS, but there are no guarantees that it will be accurate at the time of a fire alarm. It is not uncommon for employees to forget to badge in or out during a typical working day, whilst the most up-to-date information is of no use if it’s stuck on a server inside the building being evacuated.

Moreover, the time it takes to evacuate a building and complete a muster increases directly in proportion to the number of building occupants. For small firms, mustering is not a problem, but for a business with 3,000 staff, it can take many hours to complete, especially where the Muster has to be done in a remote location. The longer staff and, highly-paid staff in particular are left hanging round a muster station, the more costly the process becomes. This can be further complicated when there is a high staff turnover, or many shift patterns to contend with.

Managing fire risk

To address these challenges, some firms have sought to interface their AMS with fire safety, security, and even emergency triage systems. However, the resulting frameworks are often over elaborate, and hugely expensive to deploy and maintain. A much simpler, more effective and self-contained mobile mustering solution has therefore been developed.

Comprising a rugged carrying case containing a laptop and a number of handheld devices capable of reading a variety of credentials (including contact and contactless smart cards), mobile mustering solutions support a number of processes:

  • Single-user system with input from AMS – the AMS uploads a list of personnel expected to be seen at the mustering point, and as cards are presented, the details of the individual are moved from a ‘not seen’ list to the ‘seen’ list.
  • Multi-user system with input from AMS – the list of those personnel expected to be seen at the mustering point is sent to the laptop. In the event of a muster, the laptop is disconnected from the network and taken to the relevant location, where it then displays the personnel data. A ‘peer to peer’ wireless network is established between the handhelds and the laptop, so that as cards are read, the user is presented with ‘seen’/‘not seen’ feedback. If no wireless can be used the devices collect the card reads, which can then be synchronised back to the laptop using a USB cable.

Typically, a handheld can read 7-8 cards per minute, meaning a muster of 3,000 employees can take an hour and quarter, to create an accurate and auditable muster list. In a real evacuation, this information can then be passed to the fire and rescue services on their arrival.

Keeping up-to-date records of fire risk assessment can help a firm effectively manage the fire strategy for its premises and demonstrate compliance with fire safety legislation. But when combined with the power of mobility, fire drill and roll call procedures can be streamlined to cut the time taken (and therefore the cost to the business), while potentially saving lives in a real emergency.