Accounting for people during an incident

Are you sure your process to account for the safety of each and every person will work during an incident?

If you answered no, you’re most definitely not alone.  “People safety” is claimed as the top priority by every organisation, yet none of us have discovered a guaranteed way to account for our staff, let alone anyone else working in our building or visiting us when an incident occurs.

Even those with amazing accounting-for-people arrangements find they often don’t work in practice.  In 2001, many organisations in New York’s Twin Towers had provided their staff with phone numbers to call to account for their own safety during an incident.  On the day of the 9/11 terror attacks, it transpired that most staff didn’t remember this number existed, despite the fact that in many cases – for example, Lehman Brothers – it was printed on the ID card they wore around their necks.

Accounting for people is hard.  It’s also a priority issue, and one no one appears to have  ‘totally’ solved.  But there are some useful hints and tips to help ensure that you’ve taken every sensible step regarding this capability.

Here we cover just a few suggestions:

  • Establish the boundaries of your responsibility.  When are you going to account for your staff and when will they be outside of your responsibility? Are you always responsible for accounting for visitors on your premises or are there exceptions?  Be clear on the circumstances under which the organisation might account for people and the boundaries of this undertaking?
  • Devolve the task to the lowest responsible level.  If you’ve more than a handful of staff, it’s unlikely one person can account for everyone.  Consider devolving the task in a call-tree type format, so that each manager is responsible for accounting for their own staff.  In some cases, one manager will manage too many staff to account for them all, in this case the call-tree like system will have to be split and further devolution might happen in the call-tree.
  • Ensure every accounting-manager has a deputy.  You can’t afford to have single points of failure in an accounting for people exercise, and sometimes individuals simply aren’t available.  They may be away, involved, or unreachable.  Ensure there is always a viable alternative so procedures are robust.
  • Ensure every individual understands they must account for themselves.  Individuals can make the task of the person who’s accounting for them easier by understanding they should account for themselves.  If every individuals knows that they should attempt to account for themselves during an incident, the task is made easier for those doing the accounting, since they only need to locate those people from whom they haven’t established contact.
  • Ask individuals to call home following an incident.  You may find efforts are delayed by worried relatives calling the office or work colleagues if they can’t reach their loved ones during an incident.  Advising individuals to ‘call home’ after they’ve accounted for themselves will short circuit some of these distractions.
  • Consider the process.   Accounting for people is a process.  Very few processes are foolproof or perfect, but accounting for people has to be one of the most important, so you want to get it as right as possible.  Create diagrams and awareness, test the procedures and keep any information that’s being stored up-to-date.
  • Consider data protection.  If you’re storing data such as names and phone numbers, you’re likely to be subject to some kind of Data Protection legislation in your country.  Make sure you’re across this issue so you can comply with the law.   Remember, if you devolve responsibility you’ll also need to ensure those people understand their obligations too.
  • Consider technical solutions only when you know what you want to achieve.  There are a number of commercial systems available to help you account for staff. However, before you consider such a purchase, consider following all the steps above first.  You’ll be better able to assess what might work for you after you know what you’re trying to achieve.   Many organisations, large and small, find they prefer not to automate their accounting-for-people – so don’t assume  that making a purchase will offer you a better solution.  The key is to work out what you need and then make an informed decision on what works best for you.

If you have hints and tips to share, why not use the comments box below to continue the conversation?

(By the way, if you answered yes to the question at the top of this article, we think you’re rather unique and we’d like to hear from you!)

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