3 Public Safety Diving Courses to Consider for 2015

by Dr. Thomas W. Powell:
ERDI PSD ClassPublic safety diving is a realm within the scuba community that has continued to see growth over the past two decades. Teams around the United States face differing issues and problems with every operation. These problem factors often lead to the recognition that more training is needed to keep divers safe. Almost every team out there has a mixed bag of certifications that have come from different agencies at different times under the tutelage of different instructors. With this understood, Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) has worked hard to meet the needs of almost any team working in any environment while following NFPA and OSHA standards.

Many public safety dive teams make the decision to get the team to where it needs to be in regard to training, and then maintain that status. The problem with this mindset is that environments change, old leaders leave, and Murphy’s Law will always bring new concerns to light. To make potential problems manageable, training can never end. A team must review where it stands and how it can be better. With training, failure points can be discovered and plans can be developed to prevent future failure. A few training ideas to help improve team capabilities in 2015 are listed below.

ERD 1
Too many teams today have taken core recreational courses and consider themselves to be operational public safety teams. These teams often have a few older members who know how to bag bodies or recover evidence, and they provide verbal guidance as needed on scene. In the modern court room, this system is no longer plausible. Instead, team members are expected to be trained to meet OSHA, NFPA, or at least state medical examiner standards. The ERD 1 Course is the first benchmark for any team. This course reviews basic scuba skills but then integrates tender work, encapsulation, and recovery techniques. Skills are practiced and reviewed while each student rotates through every position on a potential dive operation. If the newest member has had the experience that allows him or her to know how stressful command can be, he or she will likely be more supportive and helpful during a real-world operation. Similarly, ERD 1 opens the doorway to team specialization and ERDI specialty work that may benefit the team to a great degree.

Contaminated Water
On almost every training day, public safety divers have a habit of asking if they can dive wet. The problem with this action is that teams must train to react and perform as they would during a live mission. Live missions often require encapsulation due to unknown and known contaminants. The modern world has developed new and interesting bacteria, chemicals, and other dangerous soups into which public safety divers enter. Every dive operation environment must be considered hazardous unless proven otherwise. How many times have dive teams reported ailments and issues that develop due to various contaminants? The concern is that team members do not know how to stage, plan for, and perform the necessary activities associated with contaminated water diving. To combat the lengthy process surrounding diving in hazardous environments, the ERD Contaminated Water Ops Course teaches divers how to recognize contaminated environments, plan for proper diving techniques, and perform decontamination procedures following a dive. decontamination If every diver has learned to be proficient in regard to diving in contaminated environments, the team will be better prepared to care for team members and team equipment when these types of environments come into play. Similarly, the team will be better trained to quickly perform necessary actions in a proper and successful manner.

A Specialization
Finally, education never ends and a team can always work to become better. If a team has completed ERD 1, the smartest next step would be to specialize in a field that could be beneficial in that team’s area of operation. Some of the available specialties from ERDI include Night Diving Ops, Hull Searching Ops, Confined Space Ops, Ice Rescue Ops, Threat Assessment, Swift Water, Small Boat Ops, Helo LZ Technician, and many others. Any one of these courses can help a dive team improve or expand its capabilities in a fashion that may help the team better serve its local community. For example, in the northern states, learning and training for ice operations may allow the team to perform recoveries where they previously could not. Similarly, if a team’s area of operation includes any harbors or ports, hull searching and threat assessment programs may allow the team to better protect those locations if needed.

To find out what is available and who can teach these courses in a specific region, all you have to do is walk into your nearest SDI/TDI/ERDI Dive Shop or call Headquarters in Jensen Beach, Florida (or your Regional Office). You can also search for instructors and facilities on SDI/TDI/ERDI website, here. An instructor can be found to meet your needs. The objective is to help any team become more proficient at serving it’s community in a safe fashion, no matter how broad.

– Dr. Thomas W. Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba – Garner, NC

Recovering Evidence at Depth

by Dr. Thomas W. Powell:2 PS Divers recovering evidence

Evidence recovery is a primary function for almost all public safety dive teams in the United States. Team members often hope to be available to perform rescues or bring closure to families, but in truth, dive teams are frequently called in to look for evidence that may assist in a legal case. In many of these cases, law enforcement personnel have exhausted all other options and require a sub-surface team to search where others cannot. Essentially, a dive teams’ skills in regards to sub-surface evidence collection may be responsible for solving a case, or conversely, letting it slip through a detectives fingers.

Law enforcement officers are trained to handle evidence, and follow chain-of-evidence custody procedures to ensure any recovered items are handled in a manner that may allow those items to be admissible in a court room. The reality is that many dive teams are not made up of law enforcement personnel. In recent years, Emergency Response Diving International (ERDI) has made an effort to develop classes designed to better train public safety divers to follow chain-of-evidence protocols, and ensure proper evidence collection procedures. These efforts are apparent within courses such as the Underwater Crime Scene Investigation program. The objective of these types of courses is to train any public safety diver to document and handle evidence in a manner that follows standards required by law enforcement personnel and/or crime scene investigators.

Evidence collection is a process that can be time consuming and task heavy. First, team leaders and tenders must monitor dive times, gas consumption, and diver safety. Divers must be prepared to find, mark, and document any item. The location of an item must be mapped and documented, and any evidentiary photos or videos must be recorded. These actions take time, and can cause a diver to expend gas and energy. These levels of expenditure can create dangerous situations, which further demand attention from leadership and support personnel in regards to monitoring the safety of any sub-surface team member.

Deep diving brings complications into the process of evidence collection and recovery. Deeper depths and the possibility of more dangerous environments further reduce dive times. Similarly, gas may be consumed at a higher rate and physical exertion may increase due to mental distress or the potential effects of deeper water. Dive team leaders must plan and train for scenarios such as this, especially if the dive team is willing to take on any mission regarding evidence collection at deeper depths.

Dive team operating procedures must be developed for different types of missions at various depths. Essentially, if a diver consumes gas at such a rate that a 20 minute dive at 25 feet allows for enough remaining gas to return to the surface, deal with any minor foreseeable issues, and undergo decontamination, that same diver must be restricted to a shorter dive at deeper depths to account for increased gas consumption. The team must also plan for back-up or secondary divers to be prepared to complete any tasks not completed by the initial diver(s). If an item must be recovered that requires a heavy-lift capability, or lift bags, the team must also plan for the extra equipment, set-up time, and controlled actions to ensure essential evidence is not destroyed in the recovery process. These actions and processes must be streamlined.

Evidence collection is a process that can be tedious, but can also provide information that otherwise would not be available. Dive teams must take the time to understand the evidence collection process, and then practice this process until actions become fluid and methodical. In many cases, one might want to involve local law enforcement crime scene investigators in training operations. Personnel of this type may even be invited to participate in an awareness-level ERDI class to better understand how a dive team performs actions underwater. Finally, teams must also recognize where problems can occur and plan out emergency scenarios. No evidence is worth the life of a diver. If a team develops standards, practices those standards, and follows the evidentiary guidelines maintained by law enforcement departments, sub-surface evidence collection can be a valuable capability maintained by any public safety diving unit.

PS Divers at depth 2 PS Divers

-Dr. Thomas Powell – Owner/Instructor Trainer at Air Hogs Scuba in Garner, NC