I agree that it is difficult to be able to absolutely account for everyone in a large building. Most of our buildings house several hundreds of people. In an emergency we are told to leave by the nearest exit and go to one of the assembly locations, but people just go as far from the building as they think safe and congregate with fellow co-workers.
We have a Fire warden and Floor Warden system, where individuals are assigned to check sections of the building for personnel and then report to a central warden as to the evacuation status of their assigned section. But this is not fool proof either, as doors can be locked. I am assigned to the lab area on my floor, and the best my co-wardens and I can do is knock and yell loudly at locked lab doors and move on. As we are to clear out of the building as quickly as we can.
A badge checking system probably might work where there is only one building housing personnel. But it would not work here, as during the day people move among different buildings for meetings, work, etc.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
If the evacuation process is being conducted due to some emergency, it is likely that persons present will want to use all available exits, and keeping track of “who remains” would become very difficult. One of the first thing emergency responders, upon arriving on scene, want to know (whether it is a house fire or some other incident) is whether there is anybody “still inside and/or at risk”. (The language they use is: “Is the building clear?”) Large events inherently make a definitive answer to this question very difficult since it nearly impossible to guarantee this unless you have the kind of accounting system that is the subject of this email thread, and it works perfectly.
And, the truth is that the Incident Commander may or may not actually believe what he or she is told, anyway. The decision to be made quickly is: are we going into “rescue mode” or “put out the fire” mode? These are different strategies, and requite different tactics. The IC has to judge the reliability of the information given, and then made a decision about the primary goal of “life safety” or the secondary goal of “property conservation”, (along with deciding about what level of risk to which his/her crew should be exposed). If someone tells me, as the IC, “I think everyone is out”, I have to assume that they might be wrong, and go into life rescue mode. If they say, “I’m absolutely certain that everyone is out”, then I have to judge their reliability, cross my fingers and hope I make the right judgment. If things “go south” and lives are lost based on a mis-judgment, it will be a bad day on many levels, including post-incident explanations.
All of this relates to the initial question: for a large incident, what are the odds that the accountability system will be flawless, and that the local contact person can tell the IC, “I am absolutely confident that no one is inside”? I would be skeptical of this information as the IC, even when it is delivered with the best of intentions. I’m not sure what kind of incidents are envisioned in the original question. If some technology appears to solve this, I’d encourage some consultation with the local fire department that candidly asks, “Would the IC believe me/us if I deliver the information that all 256 people are evacuated?”
David C. Finster
Professor, Department of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
Has anyone utilized a system (aside from physical head counting) of personnel at a rally point during an evacuation? Specifically where a building has a large population (>200).
Is there a computerized system available? A portable ID Badge reader system available?
Any feedback would be appreciated.
Thank you in advance.
George D. McCallion, Chemist
The Dow Chemical Company
Functional Coatings R&D
South Building, S-2359
400 Arcola Road
P.O. Box 7000
Collegeville, PA 19426
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