Tough cases

An extra layer of protection can save laptops from drops, drips — and more

When a department is purchasing new laptops, decisions are focused on hard drive size, processing power, screen size, and other aspects of the computer itself. Next, thoughts turn to additional capabilities, such as Wi-Fi and maybe even portable printers. How the new laptops will be transported isn't always considered — at least not until a laptop hits the pavement or is needed by first responders during a hurricane evacuation.

To protect a computer from accidental drops and exposure to moisture, Michael Bircumshaw, owner of Fuerte Cases, says a case is needed any time a computer is stored or transported from one location to another.

Dinis Jablonski, product manager for Hardigg Cases' commercial markets, describes the role of cases in three words: mobility, flexibility and access.

"A case can protect your most important information tool from a host of risks," Jablonski says.

Any type of drop, vibration, shock or water could potentially cause adverse effects to a hard drive or LCD.

Soft bags offer convenience: they allow a computer to be carried with a carrying handle or a shoulder strap but they're not made to protect a computer from drops (nor are they waterproof). Chris James, sales manager with Pelican Products, knows this from experience. Going through an airport, he had his computer with him in a soft bag when he approached the passenger screening area.

"I was trying to get my shoe off and my bag slipped off my arm," he recalls. "My laptop hit the floor and that was pretty much the end of it. I think anyone who has had to travel with a laptop has dropped their laptop at one time or another."

Officers on harbor patrol who drop their computers can expose them to other risks including water, saltwater or sand.

"Law enforcement professionals are among the toughest on technology of any other profession," says Brian Thomas, director of sales and marketing for OtterBox. "They can be exposed to rain, dirt, dust or be instantly launched into altercation. Their job is very unpredictable, so the need to be prepared for any situation, at any time, is always there."

Reed Berry, sales and marketing coordinator for T.Z. Case, puts it this way, "Just like you wouldn't drive a car without having insurance, you shouldn't transport a computer without a case. It's a relatively inexpensive way to make sure your equipment will be adequately protected so it will be in proper working order when you need it."

When a city or county can pay upwards of $2,000 to $2,500 for laptops, it only makes sense to protect that investment, James says. Protective cases not only provide a higher degree of protection, or "a piece of insurance," they also provide "peace of mind," he says.

In most cases, Bircumshaw says the cost and hassle of replacing lost equipment and data easily justifies a department's investment in protective cases. With today's continual advances in computer technology, he points out one case likely will serve many computers before it needs to be retired.

Do ruggedized computers need cases?

If departments have ruggedized laptops, they may wonder do they really need protective cases. If a computer will be transported frequently, the answer may be yes.

It's important to look at the primary function of the laptop. A computer that's put to work in a mobile office (patrol car) has different needs than a computer that's transported in a car but used at the crime scene.

Departments do not need to pay a lot for a computer to have a protected computer, Thomas says. Depending on where a laptop is used, he suggests some departments may be able to save money by purchasing a computer and a protective case instead of a ruggedized computer.

Tough enough for law enforcement?

From nylon soft bags to aluminum or plastic hard cases, there are different types of cases. Each has its own benefits. An important question for cases used in law enforcement is: how tough is tough?

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