Mustering with Technology

Electronics have revolutionized how the cruise industry tracks passengers

This year, more than 10 million Americans are expected to enjoy a cruise, making it one of the most popular vacation choices. As you might imagine, today’s large cruise ships present visitor management challenges. The ships are virtual small cities that travel from port to port, covering hundreds or often thousands of miles of open seas. Some can have a population of more than 8,000 passengers and employees. With that many people, there are always opportunities for things to go awry.

New developments in electronic technology are making the gargantuan task of tracking all these people simpler — and security executives in other industries can learn from the cruise industry on how to use these technologies to get a leg up on emergency visitor and employee tracking and management.


Abandoning the Paper Trail

Tracking everyone on a ship is vital to safety and security. Here are a few examples:

• A ship pulls into port in the Bahamas for a day of shopping and entertainment in Nassau. The ship’s crew needs to know who has gone ashore and who stayed on board in case of emergency. The captain wants to know when the ship leaves port that evening that everyone is safely back aboard.

• A foreign couple that joined a cruise in another country now wants to disembark in the United States. Have U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials cleared them? Should a crewmember make the decision to let them leave the ship or risk upsetting them with an unnecessary delay?

• An emergency situation on the ship requires passengers and crew to report to their muster station. But a few passengers enjoying a good time in a bar at one end of the ship decide to stop at the first station they see rather than walking the length of the vessel to their assigned area. Multiply that many times over and imagine the crew’s potential nightmare accounting for all passengers in a timely manner.

Fortunately, nearly all cruise lines have turned in their clipboards and paper lists in favor of computer-based ship management systems. These systems work on the same principles as the visitor management systems found in schools, hospitals and other commercial and government buildings. Cruise ship operators have many of the same needs; and ship management systems are also proving popular with the growing riverboat cruise industry with its much smaller vessels that typically carry 200 to 300 passengers.

The scalable architecture of these ship-based systems support multiple applications across departmental and other functional areas, providing real-time reporting of mission-critical data regarding passengers, crew and visitors for maritime security and safety. The systems also integrate with an operator’s shore-based visitor management system, providing an enterprise-wide record of each passenger and employee.

Using a dock or wireless networking, all data is automatically synchronized with a central server. The systems also provide custom reports and centralized administration of mobile units. The portability of handheld units is especially important when full accountability for passengers and crew is needed at a moment’s notice.


How They Work

For many passengers, the first encounter with a ship management system occurs as they board a vessel. Typically, passengers trickle aboard over a period of hours. At the gangway, passengers swipe the cruise line-issued identification card they will carry throughout their vacation to verify they have boarded. A portable kiosk unit has a wide slot to make it easy for young children and the elderly to complete the task. Both laser and barcode readers read each side of the card simultaneously.

Occasionally, large numbers of passengers arrive simultaneously. In that case, crewmembers can use mobile PDA readers to assist in boarding everyone as quickly as possible. The PDAs provide all the functionality of the kiosk. The ship’s employees go through a similar boarding process at their own gangway.

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