Public safety professionals constantly work in close proximity to traffic. Each driver’s ability to see, recognize and maneuver around responders amongst split seconds of visual clutter is crucial in preventing tragedy.
Several factors determine how much responders stand out on scene: weather, time of day, smoke, traffic volume and your own conspicuity. Out of these, your vehicle and personnel conspicuity are both able to be preemptively improved with these 5 lifesavers:
- Retroreflectivity and fluorescence. (Some quick definitions: Retroreflective surfaces reflect light back to its source with little scattering. Fluorescent colors, on the other hand, powerfully reflect more visible light than they receive by changing invisible UV light into visible light.) Used on vehicles and on apparel, these technologies work in tandem to improve visibility in both daytime and nighttime conditions.For responders that need to be seen at all times (e.g. Firefighters), retroreflectivity and fluorescence are employed with prominence on both vehicles and responders. For responders that need the ability to switch between visibility and stealth, graphics on vehicles can be strategically placed to determine from which angles they will be seen or not seen. On personnel, some choose the adaptability of outerwear with pull-down panels or reversibility, but most choose the traditional effectiveness of ANSI vests. Choose a vest with breakaway seams in case you get caught by a passing vehicle or in a struggle with a bad guy.
- Warning lights. These ubiquitous attention grabbers on public safety vehicles are first responders’ “go-to” warning devices. Color and flash patterns powerfully call the attention of drivers in many conditions. The size and purpose of each vehicle in your fleet will determine the quantity, placement and purpose of each mounting. Hard-wired exterior lights can be augmented with dash and visor lights for adjustable protection. Add surface-mounted lights if you need to address hard-to-light areas or to bring your vehicles up to code.
- Speakers and sirens. Drivers that might miss your visual cues – due to conditions, obstructions or other vehicles – will not miss this next line of defense. Your arrival on scene is heralded at approximately 130 decibels with a call for action at almost a primal level. These workhorses quickly clear traffic and help secure areas that responders need to access.
- On-scene warning. Multiple devices help establish and control a scene. Traffic cones, flares, barriers, collapsible signs and VMS (variable message signs) can all be deployed quickly to statically but efficiently change traffic flow. Traffic whistles and wands combine sound, light, color, and your own motion to direct traffic flow.
- Awareness. Even if you use everything above, the best defense is something you already have – your senses. You sometimes face urgent chaos but traffic safety can’t be taken for granted. Situational awareness, watching for distracted drivers and noting road conditions can all help you predict an on-coming danger and give you a few precious seconds to react.
There are many resources to help you meet the prescribed safety standards for your profession. Below are just a few links to find out more information:
Several agencies also address elements on this topic: