| Written by Steven Greene

Offshore drilling is, not only in rough climate zones, an activity performed in a harsh environment under hazardous conditions with many risks involved. Life safety is essential in high-risk surroundings where a single mistake can result in disaster. Accuracy and time could mean the difference between life and death for many people.
oil rig emergency rfid mustering

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OFFSHORE SAFETY: MUSTERING AS A CHALLENGE

In an emergency, the crew of an offshore rig is instructed to muster. Depending on their tasks, mustering can happen at specific locations for specific tasks (e.g. fighting fires, conducting search and rescue, occupying command posts) or to muster in evacuation areas. Once the word is given to abandon the offshore installation, all personnel head toward the lifeboat section and call there to board the assigned rafts.

As we learned from the most recent rig catastrophe, the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, mustering is, simply said, challenging. The extreme circumstances of evacuating the rig - namely raging fire, intense heat, explosions, thundering noise, injured crew members, blocked pathways, and lifeboat sections - led to inaccurate mustering and an unknown number of missing people. This could have been avoided with an RFID mustering solution's reliability and intuitive nature.

One of the main challenges of the Deepwater Horizon disaster was the loss of assigned muster areas, respectively, lifeboats and blocked pathways. As the responsible muster takers weren't the first at their mustering stations, it became difficult to establish an accurate overview of mustered personnel and understand who was still missing and where. In addition, in a stressful situation, humans may act irrationally and individually, worsening the chaos and making the task for the commanding officers even more challenging to do the right thing.

To this day, many offshore rigs and other vessel-based procedures rely on a paper (and phone)-based muster system to account for staff and visitors aboard the rig at any time. But, as we have witnessed from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there are several problems with this process, for instance:

  • First, it relies on paper that could be outdated and needs to be printed and distributed as it changes.
  • Second, it has the potential for human mistakes.
  • Third, it is demanding and slow to identify who is missing when a muster doesn't match.

 

Paper&pen based solutions are troubled by these problems. They are either too slow or simply not trustworthy enough in the first place:

  • The total count method is based on the idea that each muster station counts the personnel arriving at the muster station. If the number corresponds to the muster list, all is good. If not, the information gathering with other muster stations about potential whereabouts.
  • The T-card system is simple in theory but difficult in a stressful evacuation: mustered personnel at their lifeboat would flip over their card with their name to indicate their presence. If the crew can't reach their assigned muster point, it won't work.
  • Electronic fingerprint mustering is another solution but fails as it is not reliable enough.


RFID MUSTERING IN A NUTSHELL


Improving accuracy and speeding up the process of accounting for everyone on the rig, projects were initiated that would eventually lead to an automated emergency mustering solution. The goal is a reliable system that provides full timely and proper muster.

In addition to basic needs such as muster swiftness and cost-effectiveness, criteria for a new system includes the system's ability to account for individuals that are not at their assigned muster point. When people are unable to get to their 'regular' muster location during a real
emergency, this becomes the most challenging thing to manage.

Ease-of-use is an additional criterion for an electronic muster system, allowing new crewmembers to operate it within minutes of being on board if required. It should be robust and run in case of any single or, in some cases, multiple defects. In addition, such a system should quickly transmit the needed information in a comprehensible form to the command team on the vessel's bridge or to the rescue operation team onshore and the muster takers at the individual muster locations.

These criteria are met with an RFID mustering solution. Based on three typical emergencies, the characteristic features of RFID mustering can be:

Limited emergency
As an emergency develops, the situation can be brought quickly under control. Nevertheless, a mustering process is triggered to learn about the whereabouts of personnel and consequently to deploy actions without harming the crew's safety. Therefore, in an emergency like this, the first step is to take an immediate muster as quickly as possible.

Extended emergency
If the attempt to control the situation fails, steps must be taken to move people to a separate area and have to be mustered again. This could happen numerous times in a brief period. Within an hour or two, you might need to do a full muster two or three times before you decide to abandon the ship.

Abandon Ship
At any point, the captain may determine that the situation is out of control and decide to call for an 'abandon ship'. This can happen immediately, but the problem may also escalate. Abandoning a ship is the last resort. At this point, each person goes to their assigned lifeboat muster area if possible or to the closest one they can safely reach. One last muster is done to ensure all crew are accounted for before boats are loaded and sent off on the captain's orders.

An RFID mustering solution must handle all three scenarios and includes personal tags and a solid wireless infrastructure to keep the devices online for insight into the complete muster progress from anywhere. The individual tag (transponder) allows to quickly identify and account people at one of several muster points throughout the rig, based on the emergency situation and where the person is located at the moment of the incident. In addition, it records the last position and direction of an individual crew member.

From the bridge or other rig areas, visibility into the rig muster is immediate through a screen display, without phone calls, radio, or physical headcount. As a backup, if a person is not wearing their tag, their name can be picked from the touchscreen device when checking in to a muster point.

One of the criteria for an RFID mustering solution is to quickly share required information to the command team on the bridge in an understandable form. This can be accomplished through a large master screen that permits easy tracking of each muster site and where personnel can monitor the progress of the ongoing muster in real-time. This is one of the most vital features of the system - the availability of real-time updates and immediately identifying the individuals that have not mustered on the master screen.


BENEFITS OF RFID MUSTERING


In short, an RFID mustering process delivers a faster, more efficient, and more reliable way to account for people than the previously used methods. It provides real-time understanding and better visibility to where people are located, empowering people in charge to make better-informed decisions. Collective, real-time information is available anywhere, resulting in greater insight for everyone involved. This precision and accessibility to location and headcount could mean the difference of several lives when presented with a real crisis.

One of the vital advantages of RFID mustering versus pen&paper approaches is data: You can identify them immediately if people are missing. Consequently, the commanding officer can focus its efforts on addressing the emergency and automatically do the mustering.

The flexibility of relocating from one muster point to the next is one of the essential features of RFID mustering solutions. The system automatically removes crew from previous muster locations and assigns them to a new site. Besides experiencing 20-25% faster muster time on average, the most significant benefit is maybe the ability to see how many people have called in each specific location and their names. For a captain, mustering during drills and emergencies becomes nearly stress-free.

Are you interested to learn more about our RFID-based, emergency e-mustering solution? Meet Crew Companion.