Science and Technology News

Monday, April 25, 2011

Protecting Law Enforcement from Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Threats

By John Ohab

This is a guest post from Debra Stoe, program manager for the National Institute of Justice’s Body Armor and Standards and Testing programs within the Office of Science and Technology. Her areas of interest include development of standards, certifications programs, test methodologies, and Indian Country research. Maureen McGough & Matt Acocella also contributed to the post.

Here at the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) Office of Science and Technology, we are tasked with establishing and maintaining performance standards for law enforcement technologies. Recently, we developed a standard for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) protective ensembles used by law enforcement. This standard establishes a minimum level of protection for law enforcement when dealing with CBRN hazards. CBRN hazards are very serious, and include chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals, biological agents, and radiological and nuclear particulate hazards that may inflict bodily harm, incapacitation, or even death.

The new CBRN protective ensemble standard will be a tremendous boon to the law enforcement community, allowing them to more effectively perform their mission in CBRN environments. Previous standards for CBRN protective ensembles were geared towards firefighters, who have vastly different needs than law enforcement officers. As a result, the old standards did not address the unique needs of law enforcement officers within the first responder community such as stealth movement, manual dexterity, and physical combat. NIJ recognized that a performance standard addressing law enforcement needs was essential to ensure officer safety.

We convened a Special Technical Committee (STC) comprised of practitioners with expertise and experience in CBRN, as well as technical subject matter experts from engineering and scientific organizations, test laboratories, certification organizations, and other standard development organizations. The STC identified relevant technical needs and requirements for effective protective ensembles. The STC then determined that while some applicable standards are already in existence, some requirements were not yet standardized. The STC then identified performance criteria and test methods to demonstrate performance of these requirements.

NIJ issued the standard in November 2010 and is currently in the process of approving a Certification Requirements document that specifies requirements for conforming to the standard. Once it is published, manufacturers will be able to submit their CBRN ensembles for certification testing.

NIJ is also in the process of approving a Selection and Application Guide that will provide guidance for law enforcement and corrections agency decision-makers, procurement officials, and end-users. These documents will be published simultaneously in the coming months.

For the full text of the new standard and for other information about standards under development, please visit the NIJ Standards and Testing Program

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