When it goes down in the dark, are you ready?

The majority of armed confrontations occur in low-light conditions. Are you training for that reality?


A presenter at a national training symposium appealed to police trainers and rangemasters to ensure their facilities are equipped for nighttime work and suggested that if necessary, they seek the use of alternative locations to ensure this training is possible. He went on to share how with several extension cords, some low-cost clamp lights and a homemade control box he was able to equip his outdoor range to accommodate nighttime drills with very little investment and the potential for a very high return.

Two important things to keep in mind about adverse lighting conditions

1. You can be thrust into a low light situation during a daytime shift. Low-light training can save your life if you’re required to enter a windowless basement, a darkened building or any other setting with limited or no light during the day.

Nicotine constricts the blood vessels in your eyes and can decrease your ability to see in low light by up to 20%. (Photo/PoliceOne)
Nicotine constricts the blood vessels in your eyes and can decrease your ability to see in low light by up to 20%. (Photo/PoliceOne)

2. Visually adapting from bright light to low light takes time. More than just a brief exposure to bright light can put you back at visual ground zero if you transition from a low light setting to lit surroundings. Once your eyes have adjusted to low light, protect that adaptation by avoiding bright light, if possible.

13 tips to improve performance in low-light conditions

Follow these tips to help improve your performance and safety:

1. Wear effective sunglasses during daylight hours. It’s worth the investment to buy a good pair. Sufficiently shielding your eyes from bright light will improve your ability to adapt to darkness more quickly if that becomes unexpectedly necessary.

2. Although yellow- or amber-tinted sunglasses can increase contrast in certain low-light settings, they do not enhance night vision. Tinted glasses coupled with a tinted windshield can significantly reduce your vision while driving at night.

3. If you wear prescription glasses, have your lenses treated with an anti-reflective coating that will increase the amount of light reaching your eyes in the darkness. Anti-reflective lenses can also significantly reduce if not eliminate bright reflections off your lenses that can give away your position during nighttime tactical maneuvers.

4. Use weapons and ammunition that produce the least amount of muzzle flash. The bright light produced when firing can temporarily destroy your eyes’ adaptation to a low-light level.

5. Keep your windshield and eyeglasses clean. Fingerprints, road grime and other smudges will disperse incoming light causing a glare that can destroy your low-light adaptation.

6. When driving at night, keep your instrument panel at the lowest possible light level that still allows you to readily read it.

7. At night, avoid bright white light inside your unit. Turning on your dome light moments before you exit your vehicle, for example, can be detrimental to your ability to more quickly adapt to darkness. Eliminate bright light inside your squad by:

  • Lining your overhead dome light with heat-resistant red tape or spray paint;
  • Replacing your current dome light cover with a red taillight cover;
  • Replacing the white bulb in your dome light with an amber or red bulb.

8. Don’t smoke. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels in your eyes and can decrease your ability to see in low light by up to 20%.

9. Consider taking Vitamin A, which can improve night vision. Check with your physician or local pharmacy for recommended amounts.

10. When moving from a bright-light to a low-light setting (e.g., walking into a darkened building during a day shift) keep your sunglasses on up to the point where you enter the building instead of on your approach. This will help protect your eyes from the sudden blast of bright light that would occur if you took your sunglasses off while you were still exposed to sunlight.

11. When trying to focus on an object in extremely low light, looking just off to the side of the object will help you see it better. The center of your eye consists of cones that detect color and detail and perform poorly in darkness, resulting in a blind spot in the center of your visual field. The periphery of your eye is made up of rods that function much more effectively in low light to detect form and movement.

12. If you're temporarily exposed to bright light after reaching a level of low-light visual adaptation, you can preserve night vision in your targeting eye by closing it until the light is eliminated. Note that closing one eye will reduce your peripheral vision and adversely impact your depth perception so this should be done for as short a period as possible.

13. If you’ve just entered a darkened room where a suspect has been hiding, you may be at an extreme disadvantage if he’s had time to visually adapt to the low light. He may be able to see you, but you can’t see him. A technique that can give you the tactical edge in a situation like this is to shield your eyes and briefly turn on the lights, thus blowing the suspect’s night vision and allowing you to have the upper hand when the lights are turned back off. If at all possible, it’s best to flip the light switch from a position of concealment. Warn your partners before you do this so they can also shield their eyes from the light.

What low-light tips work for you? Share in the comments below or e-mail editor@calibrepress.com.

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