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Departments : The Winning Edge

How To Handle Audio Exclusion

To realistically train for what you face on the street, turn up the noise and block your ears.

February 07, 2011  |  by Tom Wetzel

The art of listening can be a real asset for police officers. It helps you gather facts and is a tool for effective communication. Being able to hear well may even help keep you alive in a high-stress and dangerous situation such as tracking a violent suspect or defending yourself against an armed assailant.

But what would happen if you couldn't hear during a violent confrontation with a suspect?

Such a challenge might result from audio exclusion during high stress or injury to your ears from an accident or an attack by the suspect. For example, if you are in close proximity to a gun shot or a flash-bang discharge, your ability to hear properly can be replaced with loud ringing or compromised hearing. Any officer who accidentally forgot to put on "ears" in an indoor range while a round was discharged can attest to how rough extremely loud noises can be on your ears.

Other auditory problems can involve loud environments that drown out what you need to hear, such as radio traffic or the movements of a bad guy. This type of scenario occurs in loud machine shops, sporting events, concerts, or in confined spaces when fire alarms are blaring.

If presented with this type of disability, however temporary or long term, you could experience disorientation, panic, or expose yourself to added risk. But with prior training to this condition, you may function more safely and efficiently to accomplish an objective with diminished or lost hearing.

Equipment Needed

The tools needed for simulating diminished hearing during training are basic: ear plugs and range ear muffs to reduce your ability to hear well. These are very effective for creating scenarios that involve temporary hearing loss due to gun shots or other explosive sounds.

But this training is not just about losing your hearing from explosive noises. It's about operating under conditions where you can't hear very well. For example, you might get called to a really loud dance club. And to simulate that environment, I recommend loud stereo equipment.

Finally, another thing that you have to consider before you conduct this type of training is how to communicate with your students. They're not going to be able to hear you very well while wearing ear plugs or in a training room with loud stereo speakers blaring.

My preferred method for communicating with my students is through large colored cards. For example, you or your fellow trainers could raise a red card to signal to your students that the training should stop. Also, having other officers or trainers work as safety officers is important to maintain good communications as one of the officers' important senses-hearing-will be compromised.

Training Objectives

Training for hearing loss should include the following objectives to help prepare officers to handle a sudden loss or reduction in hearing.

  • Effective communications
  • Performing job tasks
  • Maintaining composure for clear thinking
  • Teamwork

Effective Communications

One of the first exercises you should practice is communicating through hand signals. Use a simple system that all participants can understand. It should include signals that indicate injury to an officer, suspect weapons, and tactical responses.

After instructing personnel on the signals, practice in pairs from different distances and under varying lighting conditions. Even if a situation doesn't involve any hearing problems, using these signals can be beneficial in situations where the officers need to maintain silence for tactical reasons.

Performing Job Tasks

By using earplugs and ear muffs, officers can simulate a reasonable degree of hearing loss. Once in this condition, practice defensive tactics techniques in drill form, with a partner or directed against a heavy bag, a trainer with FIST or RedMan gear, or on a training manikin. Despite the loss of hearing, you must still be effective in delivering strikes or practicing self-defense techniques.

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