Blank canvas: Can we design smarter emergency muster points?

Every day, we are confronted by risks in the environments we live in. What if we could manage those risks, while collecting and disseminating information that could be used to lessen the damage of future risks?

Avalanches, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, landslides, severe storms, storm surges, tornadoes, tsunamis, wildfires — these are just some of the natural hazards occurring in Canada. Most municipalities and regional governments have Emergency Management departments, which have emergency preparation documents, highlighting the course of actions to follow to mitigate the damage and risk in potential emergency events.

Muster points exist so that everyone knows where to assemble during an emergency. They are designed to be a strategic meeting place which allows for accountability of an area’s entire population. But muster points have the potential to be much more that just a meeting spot. With the advent of intelligent infrastructure, they represent an opportunity for the creation of an integrated solution, in the form of a SMART muster point structure. This structure could even incorporate the identity of the community, municipality or region, while being utilized as a data collection and information dissemination tool.

SMART digital muster points could be part of a large-scale industrial Internet of Things solution for environmental conditions, weather, earthquake and tsunami early warning systems, as well as infrastructure asset monitoring, by embedding data capture tools such as cameras and sensors.

These muster points could be used as information dissemination tools by embedding LED screens which convey information to residents. Local authorities such as municipalities would determine what data or information will be disseminated. We could also incorporate early education programming, which could be shown on LED screens placed on the structures, and these structures could be placed within parks or landscaped wellness areas.

SMART muster points could also be utilized as a tool to encourage health, safety, security and wellness initiatives as they can also be fitted with 360-degree security cameras and lighting facilities to enhance community security, even in remote and rural communities.

We asked several WSP experts across diverse disciplines how SMART digital muster points might affect their work and how they would incorporate these in the not-too-distant future.


Brittany Baverstock
Landscape Designer, WSP

Regarding the current challenges that our communities and environment faces, it is imperative that our designs anticipate change. Developing innovative strategies through multidisciplinary planning is key in order to effectively mitigate future climatic and environmental changes. The practice of landscape architecture is beneficial to this initiative as anticipatory and pre-emptive strategies can be applied to landscape design.

WSP’s Planning, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design (PLAUD) department can provide multifunctional outdoor spaces that reinforce the cultural identity of Canadian heritage, by incorporating SMART digital structures into designs, to create a technologically integrated, and resilient outdoor space that is able to accommodate fluctuating natural conditions due to natural and man-made hazards. The design of these multifunctional outdoor spaces will also function as catalysts for more resilient urban spaces and infrastructure.


Royce Greaves
Transportation Asset Management Leader, WSP

Augmented with the appropriate technical equipment, a SMART muster point initiative could help provide valuable, granular insight into the use of the areas surrounding the muster area and help with better understanding customer demands in the area (including numbers of users, types of users, speed of users, dwell times of users) which ultimately leads to a better understanding of current and predicted infrastructure needs for the area. There are also opportunities to monitor the amenities of the area including noise and presence of common urban pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide.


Heidi Lovett
Team Lead, Contaminated Lands, WSP

In general, from an environmental/geotechnical perspective, our work is all about data collection, monitoring, and working with other scientists and engineers to maintain the natural environment and or provide technical solutions to improve the air we breathe, the water we drink and play in, the soil we grow our food with, the ground conditions which we build, live and walk on. Enviro/Geo consultants have been manually recording and now using remote sensors, data loggers, telemetry systems, sampling devices etc. for specific client purposes for years. Our government partners also use this technology and readily share this information with the general public.

As we make progress with the idea of intelligent infrastructure (geospatial data collection), environmental engineers could gather information including weather parameters, air quality parameters, surface and ground water levels and quality parameters, ground movement/stability parameters and wildlife.

Something to think about is, how could this type of infrastructure can help us manage our waste better?


Michael Jackson
Director of Electrical, WSP

Some opportunities that come to mind regarding SMART muster points are mass notification systems, provincial emergency response systems, Amber Alerts, CCN alerts, CBC alerts, and weather network alerts. I think a of the data exists already today and even more is coming with 5G and IoT. I see the amount of data available in coming years to increase significantly. Also, the technology already exists for displays, lights and controls. The trick is going to be interfacing between the data available and the output to devices. I think the key is the ability to take the data the exists or will exist and disseminate and communicate it in a logical manner without delay or immediate human interference. These algorithms and complex data handling skills will be critical and will require a level of software engineering bordering on AI. We are very good and getting better in our industry on getting clients data and putting technology in place. We are still working on helping clients use the data to its full potential.

At the intersection of culture and infrastructure

In Southern African Culture, different communities of people identify themselves with "totems." This is also true for some First Nations communities here in Canada, as ceremonies to carve and raise a Totem Pole are performed throughout the country.


Totem Poles are one type of monument by which First Nations communities commemorate ancestry, history, heritage, people and events.

What if, after detailed consultation with First Nation communities, we could design and commission SMART Digital Totem Poles in various communities as the centrepiece of revised Emergency Response Plans in high-risk areas such as coastal regions, or areas at risk of natural and man-made disasters?

These SMART Digital Totem Poles could possess visual designs which honour and embrace the local First Nations culture. Functioning as a muster point structure, it would be placed at strategic locations as the centrepiece of the community’s Emergency Response Plan.


Kris VanderBurg
Director of Indigenous Affairs, WSP

WSP Canada has a long history of working with Indigenous Group including First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities across Canada. We are a trusted partner to many of the communities across the country offering expertise in Infrastructure, Environment, Geomatics, and Transportation solutions. We work alongside many of these communities to solve problems and to be innovative in offering ideas that will provide benefit now and for generations to come. Totem Poles represent a critical part of many First Nations’ history and culture. By incorporating innovative technology and working collaboratively with the Indigenous groups across the Nation where we are already working, and already have established meaningful relationships, we are confident that we can assist in helping to create a new innovative solution to data collection while incorporating a major piece of Indigenous culture. We are excited to be part of this journey.


Om Joshi
Municipal Planning Manager, WSP

I think this presents an opportunity to make muster points more prominent and visible to the community. A Totem Pole-themed muster point structure could be placed at strategic locations as the centrepiece of the community’s Emergency Response Plan, which could include parks and other gathering spaces in a community. When these SMART Digital Totem Poles are integrated within a neighbourhood’s parks/gathering spaces, it can create a real opportunity to bring emergency response plans to the forefront and raise a community’s awareness. It also allows an opportunity to pay tribute to the community’s unique history and heritage. From an urban planning standpoint, this is referred to as placemaking.


System architecture

With these conceptual visions and insights from our experts in mind, how might we design these muster points? One option may be as a tool for real-time monitoring. The high-level system architecture below illustrates how a relay configured with a controller can facilitate real-time monitoring. Certain events, like amber alerts, tsunami early warning systems, high air pollution/contamination levels, etc. can be configured to trigger an output that switches a relay device which terminates into a controller. This allows monitoring of real-time events, and appropriate remedial action can be taken in response to the field measurement data collected by the various sensors installed on the smart structure.

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A second design option might be creating these muster points as a tool for collecting and disseminating data. The high-level system architecture below illustrates how the output from the sensor field measurements can be connected to a modem/router to send the information via a VPN to different data class databases. The information can be retrieved by querying the databases to model patterns and maybe even be sent back to the smart structure to be disseminated as useful information for the communities these structures serve.

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SMART digital muster points could be a multifunctional tool to enhance public safety, emergency management, community awareness, placemaking, cultural tribute and information dissemination. In addition to providing a centralized hub for information, these muster points could literally be life-saving if they have capacity as early warning systems. The devastation of tragic events, such as the recent tropical Cyclone Idai in Southern Africa, could be dramatically mitigated with technology like early warning systems. Particularly in remote and underserved communities, a digital, centralized emergency response hub and early warning system could help minimize the adverse impacts of extreme weather events and other risks.

The technology to implement this already exists — it’s just a matter of advancing the conversation with stakeholder groups and communities. With innovations such as this, small shifts can have big impacts. As our overall infrastructure becomes more connected and more intelligent, it’s important we continue to look for synergistic opportunities like this to protect and enhance our communities.

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