SHOULD OFFICERS BE EXPOSED TO CHEMICAL AGENTS DURING TRAINING?
What do you think?
Arguments always arise on the subject of intentional officer exposure to chemical agents during training. There are probably just as many proponents as there are opponents. Usually opponents to exposure state that you dont shoot officers with weapons to demonstrate their effectiveness this is true, but there is a great difference between an act
of deadly force (firearm) and non-lethal force (chemical agent). Any officer who truly blurs these lines doesnt understand his departments deadly force policy or use of force continuum. Subjecting the officer to a chemical agent is done for survival purposes and not a harassment or disciplinary technique, as some opponents expound. Is exposure required every time chemical refresher training is conducted?--probably not, one exposure should be sufficient. If repeated exposure is pursued, harassment may be the perception.
So, why should officers be exposed to chemical agents during training? As a proponent, I think officers should experience actual exposure to their issued chemical agent. My reasons focus on officer survival. The officer will now know what to expect of the agent and not panic, upon exposure in the field. In the future, the officer will focus on recovery instead of pain. This training is intended to raise survival instincts to a higher level. All experienced officers know that the likelihood of an officer being exposed to chemical agents on the street is a virtual certainty.
Exposure may occur from a variety of unintentional conditions such as; blowback, cross contamination, accidental discharge, over spray, chemical agent container malfunction, direct assault, malicious discharge etc. Blowback occurs when the officer has deployed an agent into the wind, of course there are times when the officer will have no other choice. Cross contamination can occur when touching a contaminated subject, object, or
from being in a contaminated area. Accidental discharge can occur in the excitement of the moment, or by snagging some devices on foreign objects. Overspray can occur, when the target subject moves or by poor aiming. Some chemical agent containers may fail, developing leaks through broken parts or weak containers. Direct assaults on officers can occur through the use of a privately owned agent or the officers own agent. Malicious discharge falls into the category of pranks. There will be no pranks, once the officer has experienced the seriousness of a chemical agents effects! Of course, training should address all of these conditions, in order to decrease each exposure source.--but exposure may sometimes be unavoidable. Remember, if the officer has experienced the agent he will respect it and use extra care in avoiding unintentional contamination.
During exposure training, the officer should be trained on counter measures. The officer should attempt the following; temporarily hold their breath to avoid inhaling a substantial quantity of chemical agent, move out of the contaminated area, cover the face area with a hand or any other object if being sprayed, close the eyes momentarily and turn away from the agent, call for assistance as soon as possible, and attempt self-decontamination, if alone. Self-decontamination will be greatly enhanced by using an active decontaminate such as Bio Shield. If an active decontaminate is unavailable, a water source must be located if at all possible. All officers who carry chemical agents should be issued an
active decontaminate. At a minimum, active decontaminates should be stored in each patrol car perhaps with first aid kit.
How can chemical agent exposure training be conducted realistically, without forfeiting safety? In the past, when only natural/passive decontamination methods were available, problems could occur. Students were often sprayed with a full blast of agent, then copious amounts of water and fresh air were all that was available as far as aid. The
natural/passive decontamination method can take from 30-60 minutes or longer to work. This is far to long to let officers suffer the painful effects of an agent. Now, the active decontaminates on the market offer relief in a much quicker time span. An active decontaminate such as Bio Shield can render relief in as little as one to two (1-2) minutes, and offer complete functional recovery of OC effects in 7-20 minutes. Relief from CN/CS is even faster--full recovery may be realized in three to four (3-4) minutes.
If exposure to an actual chemical agent is incorporated into a training program, the instructor must be prepared, in order to make the learning experience effective and safe. First, explain to the officers: why exposure is important; what effects they will experience; exposure steps, and decontamination steps. Use peers as assistants, they will practice post-exposure management and decontamination procedures. The instructor
should be willing to serve as the first volunteer, if the officers are extremely reluctant to participate. Of course, other instructors must be available to assist one another.
Exposure is important for officer survival! Once the officer knows what to expect from exposure to his chemical agent, panic and tactical mistakes may be averted.
Different agents produce different effects. CN (Chloroacetophenone) is a lacrimator agent working on the glands of the eye. The subjects eyes will become irritated, profusely tear and voluntarily close. The nose will become irritated often causing a constantly draining mucous discharge. CN is also a skin irritant which can effect open wounds. Respiratory irritation will also occur causing the subject to cough. Subjects exposed to CN may panic. The first reaction sign may occur in as little as one to
three (1-3) seconds, and may last from 30-45 minutes. Chemical Mace (Phenylchloromethylketone) is a highly refined form of CN suspended in a solution and placed in a canister under pressure for delivery. Reaction time, effects, and recovery time are the same as CN. CS (Orthochlorbenzalmalononitrile) is an irritant agent effecting the eyes and skin. CS is more powerful than CN. CS irritates the eyes causing burning
and involuntary closure--this effect may be overcome with effort. CS also irritates the nose causing mucus discharge, and the skin causing a burning sensation. There may also be a constrictive sensation in the chest, airways and throat. Some subjects may display a slight equilibrium problem, and experience nausea/vomiting. These physiological effects may cause the subject to become disoriented or confused. The first reaction sign, which is usually more intense than CN, may occur in three to seven (3-7) seconds, and last for 30 to 45 minutes. OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) is an inflammatory agent which causes a burning sensation to all exposed skin.
The subject may also experience an inflammation of the eyes, nose, mucus membranes and mouth. A burning sensation, inflammation, and feeling of constriction in the throat may occur. The subject may also involuntarily close the eyes, due to pain. These perceptions of blindness and suffocation may cause intense panic, and the loss of the will to fight. The first effect may be felt in one to two (1-2) seconds and last for 30-60 minutes. Combination agents (Hybrid) are a combination of CN, CS and OC mixed to act as both irritant and an inflammatory. The effects, reaction time and recovery time will be similar as those stated above for each agent.
To expose an officer to an actual chemical agent, apply the agent to a cotton swab then wipe it under the eye/cheek area of the student. Remember, dont spray the agent on the swabs while indoors. Once the agents effects are noticed, immediately direct non-exposed officers to begin active decontamination procedures. Once active decontamination measures are complete the student should be required to fill out a Chemical Agent Exposure and Decontamination Form. The instructor must avoid
exposing too many students at one time or monitoring will be insufficient. While the exposed student may not get the full effect of a sprayed face, the effects will be enough to build confidence in their chemical agent, active decontaminate, and reduce the possibility of panic on the street. During this demonstration, the students will likely observe one of their fellow classmates who is able to fight off the agents effects. This exposure concept is important in demonstrating that chemical agents are not 100% effective. The exposure portion of the class should be held in a large, well lighted/ventilated area, free of trip hazards. The area should be well lit, due to the possibility of temporarily diminished eye sight.
Even though the agent was only placed on cotton swabs, ventilation may be required due to cumulative amounts reflected by the number of exposed students present. The area should be large and trip hazard free to avoid injury, if a student panics and begins to run.
Monitoring instructors and students should be briefed on a number of precautions prior to exposure: #1 Avoid cross-contamination, while leading the contaminated student to a designated decontamination area. #2 Calm and reassure exposed personnel that the effects are temporary, and that an active decontaminate will be applied to relieve their discomfort. #3 Have the exposed student breath normally, avoid rapid breathing, direct
them to talk and breath. #4 Make sure they do not rub any affected areas. #5 Students should have removed contact lenses prior to exposure, but if not, have them do so now. #6 Direct students to remain still and avoid exertion. #7 Do not cover the face, when decontaminating. #8 Continuously monitor the students to determine the level of distress, discomfort, and for any signs of a resulting medical emergency.
Signs and symptoms of medical emergencies may be masked by the effects of chemical agents. Close observation and monitoring, by instructors and students, should allow for the determination of developing medical problems. The instructor should look for respiratory distress, cardiac distress/shock, allergic reaction, and other general symptoms. Respiratory distress is identified by shortness of breath, rapid or slow breathing, unusual breathing sounds (wheezing) and abnormal respiratory effort.
Cardiac distress/shock can be identified by chest pain or pressure, rapid, slow or irregular pulse, blue/pale skin color, sweating/cool skin, and low or high blood pressure. Allergic reaction is recognized by the development of a rash, swelling of the face or eyes, constriction/swelling of the throat, and itching. General symptoms to look for are,
anxiety/restlessness, decreased level of consciousness/confusion and nausea/vomiting. When any of these signs are observed seek medical attention immediately. Students should be monitored for a minimum of two hours after exposure. This does not mean everyone just sits and watches, other class room instruction can continue during monitoring.
The benefits of exposure to chemical agents during realistic/safe training are numerous. The officer will gain experience (a powerful learning tool) by learning what to expect upon exposure, avoiding surprise, panic and helplessness, all potentially deadly circumstances on the street. The officers survival instinct will be sharpened by employing counter measures, fighting the agents effects, and focusing on recovery instead of pain. Officers will respect the chemical device; exercising care in
avoiding unintentional exposure. Also, the importance of decontamination
procedures and products will be fully understood by all exposed participants.
Physical and psychological experiences are difficult to convey in words. Without the true experience, impact and understanding are often lost. Properly, well-planned and executed chemical agent exposure training will turn a negative experience into a positive, valuable survival tool. The benefits far outweigh the deficits. A small amount of discomfort is a pittance to pay for a street survival technique.
What do you think?
Information about the Bio Shield active decontaminate can be obtained by
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