DHS Tests Radio Accessories Used with Personal Protective Equipment
Friday, October 04, 2019 | Comments

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) tested four different radio communications accessories used with personal protective equipment (PPE) by first responders.

When responding to a hazardous material incident, first responders might need to wear PPE, which can significantly impact the ability to communicate. The most common way for responders to communicate during an emergency scenario where PPE must be worn is through the use of in-suit communications (ISC) equipment — radio accessories that enable them to communicate effectively without relying on just using a radio, which can be difficult or impossible to use in some PPE. ISC equipment are extensions of responders’ portable two-way radios and typically consist of microphones, headsets, earpieces and activation accessories such as push-to-talk (PTT) devices or hands-free voice-operated exchange.

In August, DHS Science and Technology Directorate's (S&T) National Urban Security Technology Laboratory (NUSTL) conducted a System Assessment and Validation for Emergency Responders (SAVER) field assessment, supported by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), at the City of Seattle Joint Training Facility. Six fire service responders, each with at least 10 years of experience using ISC and hazardous materials equipment, served as subject matter expert evaluators and assessed preselected models of ISC equipment from Dräger, CeoTronics, CavCom and TEA Headsets.

“Communications in general is always important, especially in first responder settings,” said Deputy Chief Willie Barrington, Seattle Fire Department. “It’s our lifeline; it means everything to us. We’re always looking at ways that we can better communicate while in the field and in our gear.”

The SAVER program coordinates with other organizations to ensure projects are flexible and responsive to emergency responder requirements; assessments are conducted objectively, and unbiased assessment reports about equipment performance are disseminated to the responder community.

“The SAVER program is an invaluable program that helps us to make sure we can address any concerns we may have with equipment prior to purchasing it,” said firefighter Grady Poole, Seattle Fire Department. “Through these hands-on assessments, we have an opportunity to look at emerging technologies, get our hands on it, test it in a realistic environment, validate our assumptions or expectations of how it will perform, and then share our findings and ideas with other responders from around the country.”

To conduct the assessments, the fire service responders participated in four operational scenarios where they familiarized themselves with the features and specifications of the ISC equipment and how to use it properly, donned full Level A PPE with different types of ISC equipment, conducted building entry drills where they climbed stairs and moved objects and other gear, and communicated with each other in noisy environments. They repeated each scenario to evaluate every piece of ISC equipment.

After all the equipment was evaluated, NUSTL and PNNL surveyed the responders to gather their feedback and relevant data regarding how the ISC performed during each operational scenario. The ISC were evaluated on five criteria:
• Usability – ergonomics and ease of use when performing relevant tasks;
• Capability – product features or functions needed to perform relevant tasks;
• Deployability – ease of use, including transport, training and operational restrictions;
• Maintainability – amount of maintenance and minor repairs that may be needed throughout the life of the equipment; and
• Affordability – total cost of ownership over the life of the equipment, including purchase price and training, warranty, recurring and maintenance costs

The feedback and data from the responders’ assessments are being compiled and analyzed. The NUSTL In-Suit Communications Assessment Report will be released to the national first responder community later this year.

“Our SAVER assessment report will be a valuable tool for responders because it includes the results of all of our evaluations and feedback from these assessments,” said NUSTL Test Engineer Hasan Shahid. “These results include responder feedback on how easy the ISC products were to set up and use, how well they worked and what types of technical difficulties, if any, they experienced while using them.”

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On 10/10/19, Leon van der Linde said:
I hope all the PTT over cellular (POC) devices used by the first responder network have exactly the same connectors with exactly the same pinouts and configurations so that all accessories fit all devices.

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