PSD Night Operations
Public safety dive operations are, by nature, complex and often performed in less than ideal conditions. It may be the middle of summer in sweltering heat but you still need to wear heavy vulcanized rubber dry suits. Or it may be the dead of winter and you are worried about how hypothermia may affect your entire time. Once you add nighttime to this mix, the complicating factors only increase. Many modern dive teams do not operate at night unless there is the potential for a rescue. In reality, this standard is not a bad one. Why add any complication when evidence is not going to get up and walk away? Despite this, sometimes night operations are essential.
Should we dive?
First and foremost, night operations require care and planning. Why would you dive at night? Do you have a good reason? Before your team ever enters the water for a night operation, you should ask yourself this question and ensure your answer justifies activity. Second, you must ask yourself if your team has the ability and equipment to operate in an effective manner at night. If not, can these holes be filled through departmental assistance? If your team cannot operate at night without assistance, call for assistance. If assistance is unavailable, do not dive!
If you have made the decision to operate at night, it is probably a smart move to still call for assistance. For instance, with visibility on the water reduced, resources such as wildlife officers can help keep boaters away from a search area on the water. Fire departments can assist with decontamination, and emergency medical technicians can help keep a close eye on the wellbeing of your divers. Why would you not call them if they are available and “free” for you to use when in need. After all, the dive team itself is being used because there was a need others could not accomplish.
The one unique piece of equipment needed for night diving is light. Your local fire departments often have large lights and generators to set up for unique scenes. Remember, your divers may be used to little or no visibility in the water, but your surface personnel must be able to function and your tenders need to be able to see the surface of the water. Find lights and do not operate without them. Make sure your scene is well lit before you begin operations.
Similarly, night is a unique time when marker lights on your divers may assist tenders and other surface personal in regard to tracking diver locations. Make sure your divers are marked and make sure every diver has signaling devices that are functional. Test them before you enter the water, if for no other reason than to ensure the diver knows how to use them. These devices may include whistles, strobes, or basic flashlights. The tender should also have identifying markers where possible to make sure that a disoriented diver can easily identify his or her tender if he or she is forced to surface.
Planning and Communication
Another action to take before entering the water is to review the basics. Check the batteries on your communications systems and review line pulls with each diver. Night time is not when you want to practice a total loss of communication. Also, review standard operating guidelines and discuss emergency actions. Make sure the diver knows what will happen if communications go down. If the diver becomes disoriented and cannot right his or herself, what will take place? At what point will a safety diver be sent to assist the operational diver? This discussion makes sure that all parties review what happens when things go bad, but it will also make sure the diver knows his or her team is there and ready to handle any situation.
Lastly, teams working at night must know their limits. At what point does the team cease operations? Remember that night time is when divers and surface personnel alike are going to get sleepy. Being tired can dull the senses and cause personnel to lose focus. Do not let complacency take over. Just because you are tired, you cannot halfway decontaminate a diver and send the diver home. Every task must be performed in a proficient manner. If the team has reached its limit, the team leader must call the dive and come back when the team is rested.
To find the limits for your team, training is essential. Practice night operations before you attempt them in the real world. Simulate difficult scenarios and watch how your team functions when members would typically be asleep. Emergency Response Diving International’s (ERDI) Night Operations course is a great first step toward determining how well your team can operate at night and where you have issues that require improvement. Night diving in the public safety realm adds risk that may not always be needed, but when it is make sure your team is trained and ready.
– Thomas Powell – Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC