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Public Safety Column

The IPSA's Public Safety Column is an opportunity for our members and corporate sponsors to provide thought leadership articles about all topics facing public safety. 

The articles we publish are not necessarily the views of the IPSA, rather they are opinions shared by each contributor.

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  • 12 Jun 2017 8:14 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Heather R. Cotter, International Public Safety Association Executive Director

    On June 12, 2016, an unexpected act of terrorism hit a soft target in the City of Orlando late in the evening. The horrific attack – the deadliest in modern times since 9/11 – took the lives of 49 individuals and wounded 53 others.

    Several first responders were on scene as the incident unfolded – an event that lasted over three hours.

    While reviewing the below timeline, think about the importance of creating an integrated response – you will clearly see how it takes several teams and personnel to respond to an incident of this magnitude. Timeline source – FBI.  

    • 2:02 a.m.: OPD call transmitted multiple shots fired at Pulse nightclub.
    • 2:04 a.m.: Additional OPD officers arrived on scene.
    • 2:08 a.m.: Officers from various law enforcement agencies made entrance to Pulse and engaged the shooter.
    • 2:18 a.m.: OPD SWAT initiated a full call-out.
    • 2:35 a.m.: Shooter contacted a 911 operator from inside Pulse. The call lasted approximately 50 seconds, the details of which are set out below:

    Orlando Police Dispatcher (OD) 
    Omar Mateen (OM)

    OD: Emergency 911, this is being recorded.
    OM: In the name of God the Merciful, the beneficent [Arabic]
    OD: What?
    OM: Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God [Arabic]. I wanna let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings.
    OD: What’s your name?
    OM: My name is I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State.
    OD: Ok, What’s your name?
    OM: I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may God protect him [Arabic], on behalf of the Islamic State.
    OD: Alright, where are you at?
    OM: In Orlando.
    OD: Where in Orlando?
    [End of call.]

    (Shortly thereafter, the shooter engaged in three conversations with OPD’s Crisis Negotiation Team.)

    • 2:48 a.m.: First crisis negotiation call occurred lasting approximately nine minutes.
    • 3:03 a.m.: Second crisis negotiation call occurred lasting approximately 16 minutes.
    • 3:24 a.m.: Third crisis negotiation call occurred lasting approximately three minutes.

    In these calls, the shooter, who identified himself as an Islamic soldier, told the crisis negotiator that he was the person who pledged his allegiance to [omitted], and told the negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq and that is why he was “out here right now.” When the crisis negotiator asked the shooter what he had done, the shooter stated, “No, you already know what I did.” The shooter continued, stating, “There is some vehicle outside that has some bombs, just to let you know. You people are gonna get it, and I’m gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid.” Later in the call with the crisis negotiator, the shooter stated that he had a vest, and further described it as the kind they “used in France.” The shooter later stated, “In the next few days, you’re going to see more of this type of action going on.” The shooter hung up and multiple attempts to get in touch with him were unsuccessful.

    • 4:21 a.m.: OPD pulled an air conditioning unit out of a Pulse dressing room window for victims to evacuate.
      4:29 a.m.: As victims were being rescued, they told OPD the shooter said he was going to put four vests with bombs on victims within 15 minutes.

    (An immediate search of the shooter’s vehicle on scene and inside Pulse ultimately revealed no vest or improvised explosive device.)

    • 5:02 a.m.: OPD SWAT and OCSO Hazardous Device Team began to breach wall with explosive charge and armored vehicle to make entry.
    • 5:14 a.m.: OPD radio communication stated that shots were fired.
    • 5:15 a.m.: OPD radio communication stated that OPD engaged the suspect and the suspect was reported down.

    Safeguarding first responders, rebuilding a community

    As demonstrated in the above timeline, the chaos the first responders had to work through is unimaginable.

    First responders are experiencing PTSD as a result of the attack – some have come forward publicly and others are apprehensive due to the stigma that is often (and wrongly) associated with it. PTSD in public service is a serious health concern that tends to have a negative connotation. This needs to change. We must safeguard all first responders so they can fully recover from critical incidents.

    The City of Orlando has made significant strides to rebuild the community and their first responders. A ceremony was held in early May to honor the first responders for their bravery that night – more than 300 were recognized including 911 call takers/dispatchers, law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs, emergency room doctors and officers from neighboring departments. Similar ceremonies have also held from 2016 to today to honor and recognize the work of the first responders.

    The City of Orlando and Orange County Government, in collaboration with Pulse, have jointly designated June 12, 2017, as “Orlando United Day – A Day of Love and Kindness.”

    The city is holding several events to remember the victims and to rebuild the community. While this attack occurred in Orlando – first responders around the globe felt its impact.

    Let’s all take a moment to remember the victims, the fallen and the first responders impacted by the Pulse attack.

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  • 09 Jun 2017 8:42 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    Technology in the squad car continues to rapidly evolve, and staying informed about the best IT advances continues to be a challenge for law enforcement agencies. 

    Video surveillance, license plate recognition, electronic ticketing systems and the latest vehicle dispatching and tracking technologies enable officers to safely cover more area and coordinate with other officers and agencies.

    Today’s police officers, paramedics, firefighters, utility workers, transit operators and other public safety workers rely on advanced mobile applications, such as automatic vehicle location, traffic signal prioritization, computer aided dispatch, route and schedule management and fare payment systems that increase productivity and improve safety.

    Reliable connectivity

    The main point of access for these applications is often from the vehicle because it’s equipped with onboard wireless connectivity and transmits and receives data during every single shift.

    In-vehicle connectivity has become customary, with first responders and field service personnel driving cars, vans and trucks equipped with a network connection that provides convenient access to voice, text and video data.  

    However, if the vehicle has only one onboard connection, the setup involves a certain amount of risk. Any issues with network coverage, bandwidth or usage can mean delayed communications or, worse yet, no communications at all. Losing the onboard connection can have extreme consequences and can even mean the difference between life and death.

    In-vehicle connectivity risk mitigation

    How do you reduce this risk?  By adding at least one more onboard network connection you can greatly reduce this risk. An alternative connection – to a secondary cellular network or some other format, such as Wi-Fi or satellite – creates a layer of insurance.

    When the primary connection isn’t up to the task, the alternate connection can be brought online to keep communications intact. Having two or more available connections onboard the vehicle, or multi-networking, protects against worst-case scenarios and increases resilience for emergency response and other in-field services.

    What is involved in a multi-network concept? A multi-network concept refers to any setup that provides the vehicle with more than one network connection, meaning, there can be a mix of technologies onboard ranging from cellular and Wi-Fi to LMR, satellite, or new formats as they come online, such as the FirstNet network for public safety.

    A multi-network router installed in the vehicle is used to manage the switches from network to network.

    When are these typical network changeovers? Changeovers usually happen at three points of operation:

    1. When leaving the depot and transitioning from Wi-Fi to cellular
    2. When returning to the depot and transitioning back from cellular to Wi-Fi
    3. While the vehicle is in motion, with the router switching from one network to another to optimize in-field connectivity

    With the right multi-network solution in place, changeovers from one network to another can happen automatically without any kind of manual intervention and the necessary security protocols are maintained without interrupting the flow of work, even when there’s a VPN involved.

    Furthermore, the selection criteria for each network connection can be customized, based on things like vehicle location, vehicle speed or the type of data being transmitted. The overall result is more efficient network usage, more effective field services and lower operating costs.

    Impact of video

    Law enforcement and other organizations are now using more video and at a higher resolution. The video is typically stored in the vehicle and then transmitted to the backend system at periodic intervals.

    The mobile router can be configured to use a dedicated link to send video so the data-intensive video transmissions don’t disrupt or slow down the other services in use. Alternatively, the router can be configured to send video transmissions when the vehicle returns to its home base, using the depot’s faster, more secure Wi-Fi connection to transfer video.

    Choosing the right multi-network mobile router

    How does an agency choose the right mobile router for your workforce to ensure connectivity in the field? The operating costs and in-field effectiveness of a multi-network platform are heavily influenced by the ability of the router to manage seamless network changeovers and protect data.

    The router’s switching speed, security features and programmability all affect how well the solution performs and how much it costs to manage. It’s important to consider all these factors when evaluating the various options available for mobile multi-networking.

    Transitioning to a multi-network environment is a serious undertaking. To maximize your return on investment and fully realize the benefit to your agency, you should look at (minimally) these three things in a multi-network mobile router:

    1. Switching speeds that are fast enough to support seamless connectivity
    2. The ability to provide continuous security without impacting performance
    3. A policy engine that can be configured for intelligent switching and customized operation

    Choosing a mobile router that meets all three criteria lets you create a multi-networking environment that not only enhances efficiency, but it also adds value.

    About the Author

    Group Mobile works closely with Sierra Wireless to offer the world a comprehensive offering of hardware, software and services for connected devices and machine-to-machine communications. Together, Group Mobile and Sierra Wireless provide innovative, reliable and high performing solutions.

    Group Mobile’s team of industry experts can assist you in selecting, designing and implementing a multi-network environment for mission-critical fleets, request a free personalized quote. Group Mobile is an IPSA Supporter.

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  • 07 Jun 2017 4:12 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Lieutenant Tim Murphy, Paso Robles (CA) Police Department, IPSA Memorial Committee

    The concept of officer safety in law enforcement is stressed from day one in the academy and remains prominent throughout our careers. All of us in law enforcement have read a training bulletin, seen a BOLO teletype or heard a radio broadcast with the ‘officer safety’ heading. 

    Officer safety related posters are displayed in locker rooms, break rooms, briefing rooms and report writing rooms across the nation reminding us to wear our vests, drive defensively and remain vigilant. As you drive out of the parking lot to start your tour of duty, you may even see a sign reminding you to wear your seat belt.  

    As a profession, we are proactive when it comes to our officer safety tactics, techniques and procedures.

    An oath to protect others and ourselves

    All officers take an oath to serve and protect. We voluntarily signed on to face the risks inherent in our job, and we do our best to mitigate those risks by wearing our vests, driving defensively, clicking our seatbelts on and donning our personal protective equipment when dealing with a biohazard. 

    Even so, we can never mitigate all risks to zero – it is simply impossible. However, we can make great strides in reducing the health-related risks by taking a proactive approach to our health and wellness tactics, techniques and procedures.

    Officer safety includes health, wellness

    As human beings, we are all experiencing the effects of time and aging – it’s a reality we must face and respond to as law enforcement professionals.

    All officers are dealing with the effects of the job. New recruits, command level and executives all go through irregular hours and shift work, interrupted or varied meal periods, high stress or periods of inactivity followed by intense physical and mental stress.

    There are three things that all officers can do to be proactive about health and wellness in the fast paced, high stress world of law enforcement.

    1. Eating right: Take some time to prepare your work meals and snacks at home before shifts. Have healthy snacks ready to go, at home and at work. To avoid cravings, try to eat consistently to avoid a drop in your blood sugar.

      Do your best to balance your meals with protein, fiber and healthy fats. This will help you slow your digestion and keep you full.

      Start reading food labels to see exactly what you are consuming. Avoid highly processed foods and try to get as many servings of fruits and vegetables as possible throughout the day.

      Stay hydrated. This is critical to normal body functions. The U.S. Department of Defense and Special Operations Command have produced a valuable nutrition guide titled ‘The Special Operations Forces Nutrition Guide’ which is full of recommendations that you can incorporate into decision making.

    2. Sleep: Lack of sleep on a consistent basis has been shown to lead to several long-term health problems, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Consistent sleep patterns are vital to good overall health.

      Shift work makes it difficult to maintain ‘normal’ sleep patterns. However, it can be done. The National Sleep Foundation has several recommendations to help Tips for Sleeping During the Day - Shift Work Disorder. Some of these tips include darkening your bedroom with shades or curtains, keeping cool and avoiding alcohol before bedtime.

    3. Exercise: If you already exercise, great. If not, get started now. There is truly no reason that you can’t exercise if you’re on active police duty.

      Simple daily activities like walking, playing with your kids or taking your dog to the park have been shown to produce positive health effects. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week.

    Each one of the three major areas may seem too daunting to tackle, let alone trying to make changes in all three areas. However, I am confident you each face and successfully handle bigger challenges every day in your work assignments.  You know you can do this.

    Workout at a pace that fits your situation and lifestyle. Start with easy changes (pack your lunch instead of eating out, drink water instead of that routine cup of coffee, go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the TV). Incorporate these changes into your daily routines and you will start to feel better. As stated by Charles J. Givens, “Achieve success in any area of life by identifying the optimum strategies and repeating them until they become habits.”

    Officer safety is a serious topic. The threats faced by domestic law enforcement have evolved over the years and in response, our profession has upgraded our tactics, techniques and procedures. 

    I encourage each of you to take a few moments to review your personal health and wellness tactics, techniques and procedures.

    By no means do I profess to be a fitness or nutrition expert. I do not espouse any exercise regimen or tout the wonders of any specific diet, but I do know from personal experience that a few simple steps can make a big difference. Finally, before beginning any exercise programs be sure to consult with your primary care provider.

    About the Author

    Tim Murphy currently serves as the Support Services Commander at the Paso Robles (CA) Police Department. He is commander of the San Luis Obispo Regional SWAT Team and holds a B.S. Degree in criminal justice from California State University (Sacramento) and a Master’s Degree in Justice Administration from Norwich University. During his 27-year career, he has served as a field training officer, motor officer, detective, and SWAT operator.

  • 06 Jun 2017 3:21 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Gary Teeler, Chief of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, IPSA Emerging Technologies Committee Member

    Though there have been numerous technological advancements in modern civilization, a reliance on electrical energy in the modern world leaves us more vulnerable than ever to the aftermath of an Electromagnetic Pulse event. The potential effects of an EMP event on the U.S. power grid would likely be devastating to a degree of incomprehension.


    An EMP first occurred in 1945, following the detonation of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Scientist noted that after the blasts the atmosphere was saturated with an excess of electrons for several months.

    The true forces of EMP were later realized in 1962 as a byproduct of a 1.4 megaton nuclear missile detonation at an altitude of 248 miles over Johnson Island, in the Pacific Ocean. Though this military exercise, named Starfish Prime, took place in a remote part of the ocean, locations as far away as Hawaii, California and Australia experienced radio disruptions. At least six satellites were also disabled by the EMP.

    The effects on certain electronic equipment over very large expanses, opened eyes to the potential dangers. 

    Just over 100 years earlier, in 1859, a natural phenomenon occurred which had similar effects. Now known as the Carrington Event, this severe solar storm effectively knocked out telegraph networks on four continents, which required replacement of the trans-Atlantic telegraph system. 

    Today’s EMP threat types

    EMP threats come in many forms, including electromagnetic attacks, cyberattacks, direct physical attacks and solar geomagnetic disturbances (GMD).

    Electromagnetic weapons can range from small suitcase sized radio frequency (RF) energy devices, up to nuclear weapons detonated at a high altitude creating an electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) over a selected target.

    HEMP attacks: The area impacted by a HEMP attack is related to the height at which the detonation occurs. The higher the altitude of the detonation, the larger the radius of the area effected by EMP.  

    Cyberattacks: Any cyberattacks related to EMP come in the form of attacks directly to power grid infrastructure. It’s critical for all emergency responders to understand that these cyberattacks occur daily, and can result in serious damage or failure of equipment, impacting hundreds of thousands of customers. Further, cyberattacks can even be carried out by hackers far removed from the physical location.

    Direct physical attacks: Direct physical attacks come in the form of small arms attacks directly to electrical substations. These key pieces of infrastructure are often in plain view, lack hardened casing and are typically located simply behind chain link fencing. This makes for an easy target even with handguns and shoulder weapons.

    GMD attacks: Geomagnetic disturbances can be considered the mother nature form of EMP. These naturally occurring solar storms can produce an effect very like a nuclear based HEMP attack. For example, in July 2012 the Earth reportedly missed a super storm of the magnitude of the previously mentioned Carrington Event by only nine days. 

    One can only imagine how different the effects would have been versus effects that occurred in the 1859 event.

    Who are EMP attackers?

    The entities that might carry out EMP attacks come in many forms including state actors, non-state actors and even naturally occurring events with no actors.

    State actors generally include North Korea, Iran, China and Russia. These countries have made overt statements regarding EMP, HEMP, RF attacks and physical and cyberattacks on the grid. Additionally, these countries possess nuclear capabilities which could support a HEMP attack. 

    Non-state actors could be global terrorist organizations or individual actors such as hackers. Not to be overlooked is the unpreventable threat posed by mother nature, which can come at any time and location, and can be of an extreme magnitude.

    What can happen during an EMP attack?

    Imagine airplanes falling from the sky, vehicles not functioning and all power/utility/electrical networks deteriorating at the same time. While this may sound incredibly fictional, it’s not. It’s about as real as it gets.

    When an EMP attack occurs, you can count on chaos. All emergency responders will be incredibly challenged to communicate with one another and effectively responding.

    Typically, the goal of an EMP attack is to take out the power grid. Loss of a portion of the power grid would likely result in cascading losses to remaining portions of the grid. 

    Unlike a temporary power outage, there may be no existing mechanism to get power back to the affected area. The EMP will have effectively destroyed the grid infrastructure, including power transformers. These expensive pieces of infrastructure take extended periods to manufacture, are often aged and lack redundancy at most sites.

    Each of the 16 Critical Infrastructures, as identified in the Presidential Policy Directive – Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, would be critically affected by failure of the electrical grid. The effects on transportation and communication alone would hamper the efforts of first responders and utility workers.

    Backup systems and processes in place for a power failure would likely last only as long as there is onsite fuel supply. This is of concern at nuclear power plants, where cooling of the reactor core requires electricity. 

    When the backup generator runs out of fuel, the result would be a melt-down. On a related note, the backup fuel supply at a reactor site is only required to support one week of operation. In other words, your Plan B better be good.  

    Survival and risk mitigation

    Individuals in the modern world will not be prepared for life without electricity. The Congressional EMP Commission reported that nine out of 10 Americans would die within the first year of a prolonged nationwide blackout. Water and food would be in short supply, resulting in starvation and disease.

    Unsanitary conditions, civil unrest and a limited ability to protect the country would be the eventual result.

    While this does not paint a pretty picture, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate effects, including hardening of infrastructure facilities, redundancy of certain equipment and removing capabilities of adversaries.

    An EMP attack is high impact low frequency (HILF) event, which poses unique challenges for support and funding. To properly mitigate risk and protect infrastructure will require a considerable public and private partnership. There is a duty to act to protect the quality of life we have become accustomed to, and there are steps that can be taken to secure the grid. 

    We must collectively decide it is a national priority.


    About the Author
    Gary Teeler has 21 years of service in public safety and currently serves as the Chief of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Gary has a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice Leadership and Management from Sam Houston State University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Law Enforcement from Texas State University. He is a certified Texas Peace Officer, Certified Emergency Manager (CEM), and a graduate of the 256th Session of the FBI National Academy. Gary serves on the IPSA Emerging Technologies Committee and as an adjunct professor at South University in Austin.

    Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IPSA or any agency of the government.

  • 05 Jun 2017 3:50 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Lieutenant Joseph “Paul” Manley, IPSA Memorial Committee

    Law enforcement officers’ lives are on the line both on and off duty. They must follow several guidelines and protocols 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to help ensure their own safety, the safety of their peers and the people around them.

    Officers come across violent and non-violent criminals on a regular basis. In some jurisdictions or beats, this occurs several times during any given shift. Therefore, officers must always think about safety because these interactions with known and unknown offenders puts their safety at a high risk.

    A frightening trend

    According to data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, law enforcement fatalities nationwide rose to their highest level in five years in 2016, with 135 officers killed in the line of duty. This is a 10 percent increase over the 123 who lost their lives in the line of duty in year 2015.

    During the first five months of 2017, there have been 55 officer fatalities compared to 39 in the first five months of 2016. That is a 41 percent increase. Based on this current trend, officer fatalities for 2017 may equal or surpass last year.

    Throughout the years, data consistently shows that firearms and traffic related fatalities are the leading cause of law enforcement LODDs. Contrary to popular belief, people are not the biggest danger to police officers, but rather traffic fatalities. Except for 2016, traffic fatalities have been the single leading cause of death for officers throughout the years.

    The NLEOMF reports that over a 10-year period ending in 2015, an average of 144 officers were killed each year. The report indicates that 64 of these LODDs were feloniously killed per year, while the majority of LODDs are killed by accident or by other means, not necessarily violent attacks.

    Officer safety tips

    The following four simple and easy safety tips will help ensure officers go home at the end of his or her shift. It is important to remember these four tips and put them into practice.

    1. Wear your seat belt. A 2014 FBI analysis reported 10 of 28 officers killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing seat belts. Six of the 10 vehicle crash victims were ejected from their vehicles during the crashes. According to the NLEOMF, as of June 1, 2017, there have been 23 auto related deaths compared to 21 for the entire year of 2016.The bottom line is to always wear your seat belt. If not for you, then for your families and for our chosen profession.
    2. Wear your body armor. It will never stop any bullets if it’s hanging in your locker.  
    3. Watch your speed. If your partner is calling for back-up, the best thing you can do to help him or her is to get there. High-speed police chases have killed thousands of innocent bystanders. Victims include the officers involved, small children, teenage drivers and the elderly.
    4. Use the training and tools you have been given.  Know your use-of-force continuum and be comfortable escalating when necessary.

    We will never know how many times body armor or seat belts have saved an officer’s life because that data is not collected, but we all can agree that we must work continuously to ensure that officers are provided with the best protective equipment, and that they use it always as a matter of routine. 

    Following the list of helpful tips is not a guarantee that you will go home at the end of your shift, but these safety tips may help prevent an unnecessary injury or fatality from happening.

  • 05 Jun 2017 10:06 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Heather R. Cotter, IPSA Executive Director

    The global public safety community has witnessed, directly and through news reports, a tremendous amount of violence. It is just absolutely devastating to see these events unfold before us.

    Today there was a mass casualty shooting at a workplace in Orlando, Florida. Investigators believe this atrocity is from a disgruntled employee.

    Over the weekend, we learned about the London Bridge terrorist attack – in which a vehicle was used as a weapon. Several innocents lost their lives and many were injured. Then there was a second incident at the Borough Market in which the attackers were using knives as weapons.

    In May, there was a suicide bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester – another mass casualty incident in which 22 perished.

    An unpredictable environment

    When the unpredictable happens, our first responders must be fully prepared to respond – whether it’s a single incident or a complex, coordinated attack.

    Law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, telecommunicators, transportation, hospitals, emergency management and allied emergency responders are relying on their training, standard operating procedures and an effective incident command to get through the chaos while protecting the lives of citizens and keeping themselves safe from harm.

    While on scene, it is often unknown whether all the suspects have been identified and captured. It is unknown how many victims are injured. It is unknown whether another incident is going to occur in a nearby location. The work our first responders perform during these high-risk operations, and in an unpredictable environment, is admirable. It takes exceptional human beings to work at ground zero.

    First responders – whether they are in the United States or the United Kingdom – are operating under tremendous amount of stress while any attack unfolds. This stress continues even during the aftermath.

    What we can learn from these recent mass casualty attacks is that weaponry, type of incident, locations, geography, attackers’ demographics and time of day all varies.

    Given this, we must continue to provide education, tools, resources and share our after-action debriefings and lessons learned with one another. Globally, agencies, trainers and organizations must apply those lessons learned in training because the reality we face is these attacks can happen anywhere at any time.

    Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families, friends and colleagues of the innocents whose lives were devastated by these recent attacks.

  • 02 Jun 2017 9:25 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Sean W. Stumbaugh, Battalion Chief (Retired)

    As firefighters, we are exposed to risks and hazards daily. We do what we can, as individuals and organizations, to reduce our exposure to these risks. When one of us is injured (or worse), we can typically point to a proximate cause: the event that triggered the injury. To get ahead of these injuries, however, we need to prevent the root causes.

    During my 32 years of firefighting, I was fortunate as far as injuries are concerned. Oh sure, I had the typical bumps and bruises, but I only sustained one injury I would consider major, the result of a fall one dark night on a steep mountainside in Trinity County, Calif.

    My engine company was part of a strike team conducting initial attack on a new—and growing—wildfire. Our strike team had just put in about 5,000 feet of 1½" fire hose up a steep mountainside along the left flank of the fire. We had tied in the line and were holding it with the help of hand crews. I made one misstep downhill and went tumbling over. Everyone heard my right knee pop as my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) gave way. Down I went.

    I spent the next four or five years healing, having surgery, and healing again. This injury changed my career, moving me temporarily to a desk job and out of the firehouse. But in the end, it doesn’t hold me back much; I can still swim, ride my bike, ski and run (I sometimes wish my knee prevented that last one!). The short-term pain and down time was no fun at all, but fortunately I suffered no long-term effects.

    I cannot say the same about my hearing.

    Hearing loss

    Because of long-term occupational noise exposure, I suffer from permanent hearing loss in my left ear. The proximate cause of this disability is not a single event, like my knee, but chronic exposure to noise. I first started to notice the problem when I heard a noise in my head that sounded like a C-130 Hercules aircraft.

    This noise was noticeable when things around me were very quiet. I initially thought it was congestion due to allergies, but it got progressively louder over time. The first real indication of a big problem was when I could not hear my wife’s voice very well at all (that can be trouble!).

    Long story short, I was diagnosed with significant hearing loss in my left ear due to industrial noise exposure. The hearing loss is bad enough, as I have difficulty hearing conversations, especially in loud places. But the worst part is the tinnitus (noises or ringing in the ear).

    This constant noise in my head is loud and it drowns out other sounds. There is no place that I can go where it is quiet; I hear this noise all the time.

    Noise levels in the fire service

    The National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety sets the noise exposure limit (REL) at 85 decibels (dBA) over a time weighted average (TWA) of eight hours.

    Noise level measurements taken in the typical environment where a firefighter works often exceed this threshold. Consider the following three scenarios:

    1. When riding in or operating fire apparatus, the dBA levels range from 75 to 88 dBA. Spikes in noise levels have been measured between 105 and 109 dBA. These numbers indicate that firefighters need to wear hearing protection when they are working in and around their fire apparatus.

    2. During the performance of our duties we use a lot of power saws and other power equipment. We use chainsaws to vent roofs, rotary saws to cut metal and force entry, power fans to remove smoke from buildings, and hydraulic powerplants to run hydraulic tools for vehicle rescue. These and numerous other noises on the emergency scene often exceed recognized safety levels.

    3. Working around the firehouse is also a noisy activity. Fire apparatus, bells and whistles, air compressors and exhaust fans can all raise the noise level above the allowable limit.

    These situations are the proximate causes of hearing loss, and they require us to take steps to protect ourselves and our personnel, including training personnel to recognize unsafe noise levels and take appropriate steps to protect themselves, initiating engineering and administrative controls and providing appropriate personal protective equipment. The PPE needs to be adequate for the noise level involved and fit-tested to the individual firefighter.

    We usually have adequate hearing protection devices available to us in situations where noise exposure is common. Supervisors are tasked with ensuring firefighters use hearing protection as required by the department’s policies and procedures. We have this weird situation in our industry, however, during which protecting our hearing becomes more challenging.

    Hearing protection during emergency response

    If we have hearing safeguards in place, why do so many firefighters retire with hearing loss?

    Well, one reason is emergency response. We can go from performing station duties, sitting in our recliners, or even sleeping in our beds, to arriving on the scene of an emergency within a matter of minutes. We go from a resting state to potentially performing work at our highest level of physical ability. This emergent environment requires us to take quick and decisive action. We don our PPE and go to work. We have turnouts to protect our bodies from thermal insult and SCBA to protect our airways from smoke and heat, but do we have anything to protect our hearing when we are wearing all this other gear?

    If we donned hearing protection (ear plugs) before we threw on our mask that might help, but is it practical? We need to hear our radios over the rest of the loud noises. Orders or safety messages are too important to miss—and radio communications are often difficult to hear under the best fireground conditions. Further, PPE is an ensemble. We cannot just add components without proper testing to ensure the additions don’t interfere with the fit or function of other parts.

    Let’s face it, there are no bulletproof solutions to hearing protection on the fireground.

    However, that doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and reconcile ourselves to hearing loss. Much of the work we do at fires and emergencies is done after the initial fast-paced, rescue and/or extinguishment activity. Once the fire is under control or the vehicle is stabilized, things slow down a little. That’s when we should consider whether hearing protection is appropriate.

    While each situation will differ, firefighters and supervisors should remember that it is long-term exposure that usually damages our hearing. We won’t be able to eliminate our exposure, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to reduce it.

    Policy considerations for fire departments

    As I noted at the beginning, injuries have proximate causes and root causes. If proximate causes of hearing loss are all the loud noises we’re exposed to, the root cause is lack of effective steps to reduce exposure.

    All fire departments should have policies that outline hearing conservation programs and training, including:

    • A schedule and process for evaluating and monitoring noise levels in the workplace
    • Administrative and engineering controls to reduce noise exposure
    • The requirement that firefighters will wear PPE when noise levels cannot be adequately reduced
    • Annual audiometric testing and tracking for all exposed personnel
    • Initial and ongoing training for all members
    • Documentation of all the above

    When a member experiences a shift in hearing (discovered by comparison to past audiometric tests), your organization should perform a re-evaluation of the noise levels in the work environment and the adequacy of engineering controls and PPE. If you discover one or more processes are not being adequately addressed, further evaluation and training may be in order.

    Take it seriously

    Hearing is a precious sensory function for humans; living without it is not impossible, but it is difficult. We tend to take our hearing for granted when we have it, but go without it for a day and you’ll see how precious it becomes.

    Take your hearing conservation program seriously. You may save your brothers and sisters the heartache that comes from missing key parts of conversations, or not being able to experience music the same way.

    Or, in the case of those of us with tinnitus, knowing true silence is something we left on the fireground.

    About the Author

    Sean Stumbaugh is a management services representative for Lexipol - an IPSA Supporter. He retired in 2015 after 32 years in the American fire service, serving as battalion chief for the Cosumnes Fire Department in Elk Grove, Calif., as well as the El Dorado Hills (Calif.) Fire Department and the Freedom (Calif.) Fire District. 

    Sean has a master’s degree in Leadership and Disaster Preparedness from Grand Canyon University, a bachelor’s degree in Fire Science from Columbia Southern University, and an associate degree from Cabrillo College in Fire Protection Technology. In addition to his formal education, he is a Certified Fire Officer, Chief Officer, and Instructor III in the California State Fire Training certification program. Sean has taught numerous state fire training courses and has been an adjunct professor with Cosumnes River College in Sacramento.

    Sean is now continuing his career by serving as the volunteer Para- Chaplain for the Daisy Mountain Fire District in New River, AZ.

  • 01 Jun 2017 3:02 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By Heather R. Cotter, IPSA Executive Director

    Law enforcement K9s are a fundamental extension to any law enforcement agency. They are highly trained and often have very specialized backgrounds including: narcotics detection, explosives detection, cadaverine detection, patrol and sentry/attack, search and rescue and arson detection.

    Just like human officers, the job of a K9 is high risk. Since January 2017, and according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, U.S. law enforcement has lost eight K9 heroes due to gunfire (one accidental), heat exhaustion and a heart attack.

    1. K9 Freckles served 11 years with the Florida Department of Corrections. He tragically lost his life due to heat exhaustion after a manhunt that lasted several days. 
    2. K9 Rico served six months with the Alaska State Troopers. He was shot and killed while attempting an apprehension of a suspect following a pursuit.
    3. K9 Kyro served three years with the Houston County (GA) Sheriff's Office. He was accidently shot when he wrongly attacked his handler – thinking the officer was a suspect. 
    4. K9 Rosco served six months with the Crowley (LA) Police Department. He was shot and killed after officers responded to a shooting call.
    5. K9 Rooster served five years with the Wichita (KS) Police Department. K9 Rooster was shot and killed while attempting an apprehension of a subject the scene of a domestic disturbance.
    6. K9 Diesel served with the Sebastian (FL) Police Department. He died from heat exhaustion.
    7. K9 Doki served one year with the Jasper County (SC) Sheriff's Office. He died from heat exhaustion.
    8. K9 Ranger served seven years with the Forest Lake (MN) Police Department. He died from a heart attack.

    Every K9 LODD is a tragedy that causes deep mourning in any department. It is important to remember, recognize and learn from our fallen K9s.

    There are several things we can do to keep our K9 safe from providing them bullet proof vests, making sure they’re hydrated, protecting them from overdosing during a drug raid, exercising them regularly and double or triple checking to make sure they’re not left alone in vehicles.

    Vests: K9s, like human officers, must have protective vests. This life-saving piece of equipment can save a K9 life from stabbings, bullets and even thermal overheating.  

    Hydration: K9s need water. Whether you’re a handler for patrol, search and rescue or other K9 it’s critical to keep them hydrated while they are on duty and off duty. K9s exert an exorbitant amount of energy. Keep them hydrated.

    Drug overdoses: K9s that work narcotics detection often encounter serious (and sometimes lethal) types of drugs. Recently, there has been news about using naloxone on K9s in case of an accidental overdose. This is worth further exploration for all K9 handlers and departments.

    Exercise: While K9s do get quite a bit of exercise, it’s important to keep them active even while they’re off-duty. Make sure they get regular physical examinations.

    Vehicles: There is no getting around having a K9 in a vehicle. Therefore, it is incumbent and a responsibility of the handler to always double or triple check that the K9 is not left alone in the vehicle. The K9 is depending on the handler to ensure its safety.

    K9s will always be a part of law enforcement. They have a long history of service and there is no end in sight. We must be vigilant to their environment and any stress they encounter – whether it’s environmental, during a call for service or physical. Our K9s protect us and we must protect them. Learn from the fallen heroes and apply those lessons in your department. 

  • 31 May 2017 2:54 PM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    By James W. Dundas, Jr., Chair of the IPSA Memorial Committee 

    While monitoring public safety line of duty deaths in 2017, an alarming trend began to emerge regarding the number of vehicle accidents suffered by our first responders. As of today, and according to the U.S. Fire Administration and Officer Down Memorial Page, approximately 98 firefighters and law enforcement officers have lost their lives in 2017, and a large percentage of these fatalities were due to vehicle accidents.

    Currently, wearing a seatbelt is not only standard practice, it is law in 49 of the 50 states. Only New Hampshire does not have a statute requiring adult passengers to wear seatbelts. 

    Some first responders do not buckle up

    The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, previously conducted research about why public safety personnel sometimes do not buckle-up. 

    For firefighters, the research claims they are unable to buckle-up in a fast-moving fire truck or  don their protective clothing while strapped into a seat. Similarly, additional research revealed that some law enforcement officers perceive that seat restraints interfere with their weapon or another belt mounted tool. Further, the avoidance of seatbelts may also be attributed to the risk-taking culture of public safety personnel.     

    Seatbelt restraints explained

    Seatbelts are a proven and reliable defense. Sudden road hazards or drivers that are aggressive, distracted or impaired always seem to appear out of nowhere. Because of this unknown, vehicle occupants cannot possible anticipate when they are in danger. Unfortunate events on the highways occur suddenly and usually without warning. 

    Seatbelt restraints protect vehicle occupants in several ways. Buckling up protects the driver and front seat passenger from striking the windshield, steering wheel or even a vehicle mounted mobile computer. Seatbelts also prevent back seat passengers from colliding with window glass or each other.

    Further, seatbelts enhance the effectiveness of air bags. Seatbelts and airbags provide a combination defense increasing the safety of occupants and the survivability of a crash. Seatbelt use enhances the deployment effectiveness of airbags. But perhaps the greatest benefit of seatbelts is that they protect occupants from ejection. Once an occupant is ejected from a vehicle, the chances of serious injury or fatality substantially increase.

    All LODDs are tragedies, and all non-restrained injuries in a vehicle accident are tragedies that could possibly be prevented.

    Remember to buckle up - on duty and off duty. Your family, friends and colleagues are depending on you to be there for the next shift. 

  • 31 May 2017 8:02 AM | International Public Safety Association (Administrator)

    The International Public Safety Association, a 501(c)3 non-profit based in Arizona, is recruiting for the position of Secretary.

    This is a volunteer-based, Officer position with the IPSA. The position of Secretary requires the understanding and knowledge of the IPSA’s Mission and purpose. The Secretary must have excellent communication skills, both verbal and written, and the ability to interact with Board officials, directors, and the organization's membership, all of whom come from multiple public safety professional backgrounds.

    The Secretary's duties include managing all the IPSA’s internal communications and preparing or keeping track of Board meeting dates, meeting agendas and minutes from the meeting. The Secretary will be required to attend all Board meetings to keep a detailed record of the Board's actions. The Board's actions during the meeting are later typed up and disseminated to the Board as a recap of the events and the votes or decisions that transpired during the meeting.

    In addition, given that this is a leadership position, there is an expectation that the Secretary will assist with membership referrals, fundraising efforts and be a champion for the IPSA.

    Other duties performed by the secretary include the following:

    • Attend all IPSA Board Meetings (most Board meetings are remote and the Board meets approximately once per month).
    • Keep at the principal office of the IPSA all records and ensure their accuracy and safety (e.g. Membership books, minutes and bylaws).
    • Capture, review and distribute Board minutes within 5 business days following each Board meeting.
    • Provide notice of meetings of the Board and/or of a Committee when such notice is required.
    • See that all notices are duly given in accordance with the provisions of the IPSA’s Bylaws or as required by law.

    Eligibility and other details:

    • You must be a current Active Level member of the IPSA. If you are currently an Active Member, you must upgrade your membership prior to submitting your letter of interest and resume.
    • This is a one year appointment with the option for reappointment by the Board.
    • Appointment will begin in September 2018. 
    • You do not need to reside in Arizona. 

    Please submit your letter of interest describing why you are the best candidate for this position, two professional references and resume in a combined .PDF file to Executive Director Heather R. Cotter at

    The first review of resumes will occur in August. This leadership position will be filled in September. 

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