A Checkered Future

A new ANSI/ISEA standard for incident command could become a reality by the end of 2006.

The arrival of checkered high-visibility reflective trim for incident command is coming soon, most likely before the end of 2006. Not only is this a new frontier for preparedness and prevention, it soon will be an integral part of personnel accountability.

To become familiar with this new form of identification, protection and organization, here is a short history and primer on what to look for and how to prepare your department.

Take a look at nearly any international incident that has occurred since 2000. The London Underground bombing of July 2005 is a good example. From the incident photos, you can see for yourself how easy it is to quickly identify the officers in the crowd and their department simply from the checkered trim affixed to their uniform or high-visibility jacket.

The ANSI/ISEA High-Visibility Products Group Committee which sets the standard for high-visibility garments was asked by the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC), an organization of public safety professionals, to investigate and develop a standard that better fits the needs of public safety employees performing emergency tasks. The NTIMC's interest in improving high-visibility garments was piqued after a scanning tour of Europe, not to mention a decade of data that shows that traffic incidents are the leading cause of death for law enforcement officers. Sadly, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that since 1998, more U.S. law enforcement officers have lost their lives to traffic accidents than have been killed by a felonious act. By the end of 2006, colored trims likely will be an option that satisfies the Public Safety standard. After the ANSI/ISEA committee is finished with its recommendation, it will be sent out for public comment over the summer.

A Need to be Seen

In the United States, there is a significant current need for recognition and differentiation among departments and, as always, there is a critical need for enhanced safety on the scene. Not only do first responders need to be visible to the public, they need to be identified by the public and immediately associated with their emergency services department.

Four color combinations of checkered trim have been identified internationally to signify different responders: blue for police, green for emergency services, red for fire and orange for DOT first responders. This instantaneous identification is valuable to subsequent fire, police, emergency, Department of Transportation and other cooperating agencies that arrive at the scene before an incident is fully assessed.

Imagine arriving and just as quickly ascertaining who is who. Interaction among responders is remarkably enhanced, while color recognition adds value during times of commotion, a multitude of lights and initial chaos. Cooperation and communication between key personnel are improved to mitigate an incident in the safest, most expedient manner. Not only does the checkered trim help responders get organized and orchestrate and manage a situation more quickly, it also provides color and enhanced visibility, even at night in heavy rain and under low-light conditions.

You Can See it Coming

One example of a trim that meets the proposed standard is Reflexite. The material featuers microprismatic technology, a critical benefit to the visibility factor of the trim. Instead of glass beads, this visually gridded trim is composed of cube corner-shaped retroreflective elements bonded to a polymeric film that is weather-, moisture- and dirt-resistant. The economical use of the cube corner shape itself presents more inner surfaces to refract light. A light strikes each of three prism surfaces in a precise configuration and returns the light to its source, creating significantly greater visibility in low-light, nighttime and adverse weather conditions.

In addition to the color-coding system, the checkered trim and the high visibility factor, there are other enhancements in the works for design and performance characteristics of high-visibility garments. In addition to differentiating departments from one another and distinguishing their own, different product features such as breakaway shoulders and snap-up design for holster access will ultimately be incorporated into checkered trim garments. Although the current expected use of checkered trim is as an added option to high-visibility garments specifically for identification, we all can foresee a day when it will ultimately be a standard addition to the uniform.

Emergency incidents are now happening on local, national and international scales. Improving the standard and supporting the concept of a professional, controlled response to these incidents is an ongoing process and, thankfully, one with some real progress being made.

Checkered trim on garments already is being sold and currently is being tested and used in the United States by forward-thinking responders. Keep an eye out and you'll be amazed at how well it works at the next emergency response situation you are involved in or drive past.

Greg Hayward is chairman of the ANSI/ISEA High Visibility Products Group Committee to improve the standard for high-visibility garments. He also is the general manager of ML Kishigo Manufacturing Co. in Santa Ana, Calif. Contact via [email protected].

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