There is increasing recognition of the importance of conducting HazMat and CBRNe training for first responders in the most realistic conditions possible.
But that need for an authentic training environment isn't always best served through the use of actual detector equipment - whether due to health and safety risk, environmental considerations or the increased administrative burden of working with potentially hazardous simulants.
In such situations, the use of intelligent electronic simulator detector equipment can offer significant benefits in terms of CBRNe and HazMat training outcomes.
Arguing the case for simulator detector technology
Given the choice, many instructors will opt for a simulator detector over an actual detector when planning their training scenarios. Arguing the case for the training benefits of simulator detectors isn't a difficult one. They offer safe and realistic hands-on training opportunities in any setting, exercises are easy to set up and replicate, there is vastly reduced administrative effort and freedom from regulatory constraints.
But given that the purchase of simulator detector technology inevitably comes at a higher price than buying an actual detector - how can instructors best argue the case for procurement of such equipment for their training?
A key factor when comparing using real detectors with using simulators is to calculate the actual lifetime cost of ownership of each device, taking into account all the costs (direct and indirect) that may be involved in purchasing and operating that product over its lifetime.
If you are deploying actual detectors in your training scenarios, for example, then it will be necessary to budget for the acquisition, transportation and handling of any simulant chemicals, gases or radioactive sources - all of which are subject to significant regulatory control with associated administrative cost.
Using real detectors will also rely on the purchase and fitting of essential replaceable consumables - such as hydrogen cylinders or sieve packs. If these consumables are incorrectly fitted there is also the risk of damage to the device. Also of course is the teaching time lost due to lack of availability of functional detectors.
Assessing the true cost
Another key consideration in using actual detectors for training is whether you can afford to risk damaging valuable detector equipment in the process. While an electronic personal dosimeter (EPD) might be a less onerous item to replace, when it comes to more sophisticated items of detector technology, some of which could be worth in the tens of thousands of dollars, the unplanned replacement of damaged stock is a major financial consideration.
We also know that training exercises don't always go to plan and that, whether through accident or misuse, trainees don't always get things right. The question is whether you can afford using your actual detectors for the purposes of training if there is a risk of those devices being compromised?
Using actual detectors will, at best mean having to allow for the decontamination and servicing of your detector equipment to ensure operational readiness. At worst, you could be looking at having to completely replace an item that's been damaged beyond repair.
Simulator detectors, while they may be more expensive at the outset, can prove a more cost-effective option once whole of life expenses are taken into account. Simulators require little in the way of consumables (aside from the replacement of batteries), and will need no regular calibration and no preventative maintenance.
And in situations where it is important for students to practice the replacement of consumables, a well-designed simulator is able to replicate that consumable so the student can safely carry out the procedure. Clever use of technology also means that trainees can experience the effects of contamination of their equipment, but without the use of any simulant or substance that could potentially harm the device.
Safeguarding operational readiness
Perhaps most crucially of all, the use of simulator devices for CBRNe and HazMat training exercises safeguards the operational readiness of actual detectors to ensure that all safety-critical equipment is available when it’s needed.
When assessing the true cost of your CBRNe or HazMat training systems it can definitely pay to look beyond the initial purchase price in order to evaluate the true total cost of ownership.
The performance and operational readiness of actual detectors should never be compromised in favour of training. And it is here that simulator devices can fulfil a crucial role in ensuring the highest levels of authentic training with no risk to safety-critical detector equipment.