- Interfacing of law enforcement equipment: Nolan says incorporating holsters, scopes or gloves could become an issue. "Will the weapons tear the gloves, or ... hinder the handling of the weapon?"
- Garment durability: Unlike fire department personnel, law enforcement may have to run and jump over things, he says.
- Heat stress and comfort: Heat can build up, especially if the wearer is active, which can have a compromising effect on performance.
Heat stress is such a huge issue that in its guidelines, Seminole County wrote that no one should be in the ensemble for more than 2 hours, says Allen.
Another problem is that the ensembles make wearers feel constricted, says Allen. Their field of vision is compromised, it's hard to operate equipment and there's a loss of sensation, especially tactile, he says. PPE manufacturers are aware of these and other concerns and are responding in innovative ways (See "Innovative solutions to PPE challenges" on Page 26).
"Still," says Allen, "we've been pushing NIJ to write standards for law enforcement so we can push manufacturers to make ensembles for us."
Nolan hopes the next standards on the horizon will be those for SCBA/APR equipment, but currently, the CBRN PPE committee is tying respiratory needs standards into garment standards. He expects the proposed standards to be public in August 2008. (Editor's note: As of publication, a final proposal was not available.)
He says departments can decide their PPE needs by breaking them down into three categories: (1) air-permeable, which allow some air to pass through but still have a liner that will capture toxic vapors; (2) semi-permeable membranes, designed to wick away body heat while stopping contamination; and (3) barrier material, constructed to block out everything, resulting in more heat stress but optimal protection. If they can afford to, agencies should try to mix it up.
As it stands today, departments purchasing PPE gear can buy what they like, if they're purchasing out of their own budgets, Nolan says. "But if you're going to use DHS funds, the purchase has to meet a standard and the NFPA standard is the main one out there," he says. "The problem is, not all [gear] will meet the NFPA standard."
Allen, who teaches an NTOA course called "Tactical Operations in a Hazardous Environment," says he sees mistakes in the procurement process. He calls for more law enforcement involvement in the development process.
"We're trying to get people involved in committees and focus groups," Allen says. "There are all kinds of committees and focus groups and we see a lot more involvement from other agencies like fire, public health and emergency management."
PPE manufacturers could be impacted by the proposed standards, and may have to change their products, Allen concedes, although he says this could create a whole new user group. Manufacturers are looking forward to reviewing the standards, and it is hoped the revamped standards will lead the law enforcement community a step forward, says Armando Lopez Jr., vice president of government programs for Tex-Shield Inc.
"Law enforcement missions are very different from most fire and hazmat missions," says Lopez. "No one who really understands integrated incident response wants to equip law enforcement like firefighters or hazmat technicians."