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New hearing protection gives officers operational advantage as gun violence escalates

Improve situational awareness with the all new NoizeBarrier technology

Content provided by OTTO Engineering

Active shooting incidents are on the rise. The first officers on the scene in response to reports of an active shooter are expected to attempt to subdue the shooter immediately to protect the safety and survivability of the victims. Before the Columbine shooting, patrol officers and security guards were trained to wait for the SWAT team to arrive.[1] Unfortunately, first responders are literally taking their lives in their own hands, as shown in a study of active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2010 done by Professor J. Pete Blair of Texas State University. According to Blair’s research, “In all the solo entries we identified where the scene was still hot, one-third of the police officers who made that solo entry were shot.”[2]

Shouted commands, firearms, flashbangs – the tools and methods that are often necessary and lifesaving in performing police work – are also the primary culprits of situational awareness loss, decrease in response time and in potentially causing life-long hearing damage. While products designed to provide hearing protection have been available for years, they can create a tradeoff between hearing protection and operational effectiveness, because traditional hearing protection does not discriminate when reducing noise. This means the same earmuffs that save one’s ears from a gunshot can prevent LEOs from detecting the target.

The NoizeBarrier Range SA with optional downlead that plugs into a shoulder mic, allowing officers to receive commands.
The NoizeBarrier Range SA with optional downlead that plugs into a shoulder mic, allowing officers to receive commands. (image/OTTO Engineering)

Without hearing protection, there’s a risk of short and long-term hearing impairment. With typical hearing protection using a foam earplug in combination with an earphone from the speaker mic, there’s no situational awareness, putting first-responders at risk of mistaking other officers coming from behind for the shooter, or worse, being ambushed by the shooter. In short, the risks are great if communication is impaired or not managed effectively.

Illinois-based OTTO Engineering, has been providing solutions to law enforcement since 1961 and manufactures hearing protection and accessories for seven out of eight of the world’s leading radio manufacturers. In fact, you have probably used an OTTO product sometime in your career and didn’t know it. Recently, OTTO has announced a new line of products that are available directly to law enforcement professionals that are still compatible with major radio manufacturers. OTTO is in the business of providing advanced solutions to eliminate such operational challenges through its suite of high-tech and field-tested solutions for police and military use.

NoizeBarrier Range SA and TAC

OTTO’s signature hearing protection is found in the NoizeBarrier line of products which includes two over-the-ear headsets, the NoizeBarrier Range SA and TAC. What sets these products apart from other noise-cancelling solutions is the proprietary advanced situational awareness capabilities. This product line has been developed with advanced technology to ensure that while users are protected from impulse noise, they also have 360° sound localization, giving officers the ability to actively hear threats while still being protected.

The NoizeBarrier Range SA is a set of electronic earmuffs that provide hearing protection, sound isolation and sound amplification, proving that situational awareness doesn’t have to be sacrificed for safety. In fact, the NoizeBarrier Range SA demonstrates that both can be enhanced simultaneously. The TAC offers the same hearing protection and 360-degree situational awareness found in the Range SA but has a noise-cancelling boom mic.

Consider this real-life use case reported by a LEO who used the Range SA while taking part in what he described as a high-risk search warrant of a multi-story residence with multiple subjects. “On approach to the target location, I was able to hear whispers from the point man at the front, as well as echoed information being called out from approximately four operators behind me.  The SAs allowed me to maintain awareness of footsteps through snow, idling vehicles approximately one block away and any movement the operators around me made with extra focus to the front.”

This experience demonstrates that, in addition to hearing protection, the NoizeBarrier Range SA boosts situational awareness by making it easier to hear the sounds LEOs want to hear. This includes the ability to communicate in whispers and soft voices to hide commands from targets. Rather than strict hearing protection, the headsets provide a selective sound amplification or suppression to maximize both safety and operational effectiveness.

Even though the SA model was not specifically designed for communications, OTTO offers a downlead that plugs directly into an officer’s shoulder mic allowing the headset to receive audio, while still using the push-to-talk on the mic for outbound communications. According to OTTO Director of Sales Jim Hubbard, the ability for the NoizeBarrier Range SA to transition from a range headset to a tactical gear solution in seconds helps prepare first responders for life threatening situations that would have traditionally left them ill-equipped.

Hubbard says, “Oftentimes first responders are not SWAT teams and not every department can afford to kit out every officer in full tactical gear. Our goal was to prepare officers in high-risk/high-threat situations to quickly have access to quality hearing protection and enhanced situational awareness, allowing them to make the best decisions during an operation. At $399 list price, it’s an economical solution for many departments, as the NoizeBarrier TAC can list up to $825 fully kitted out.”

NoizeBarrier Micro

The NoizeBarrier Micro’s battery will last up to 16 hours of continued use.
The NoizeBarrier Micro’s battery will last up to 16 hours of continued use. (image/OTTO Engineering)

OTTO also provides a smaller, in-ear alternative to the over-ear headsets. OTTO’s NoizeBarrier Micro High-Definition Rechargeable Earplugs deliver unsurpassed situational awareness and crystal-clear natural hearing, while providing rock-solid protection from loud noises. Like the over-the-ear headsets, the Micro amplifies soft sounds by 5x, while also providing hearing protection against loud noises, such as gunshots or explosions. This selective amplification provides the ability to communicate effectively and hear with clarity, while avoiding the risk of hearing damage. 

Consider a common scenario for LEOs – serving a warrant. These are situations where officers are subjected to loud noises and where they require additional situational awareness. As one officer told us: “The greatest benefit … is being able to increase my situational awareness by amplifying soft sounds around me that I normally wouldn’t notice. There have been multiple occasions where I was able to hear wanted subjects whispering or moving behind closed doors or in adjacent rooms that partners could not hear.  I have also been able to make out conversations between suspicious persons that have netted useful information and clues to whereabouts of wanted persons.”

The earplugs provide a base NRR of 23-28 dB depending on which ear tip is used. In either standard or enhanced hearing mode the earplugs provide maximum protection (up to 40 dB) from loud impulse noises and provide active situational awareness when sound levels are safe. The ear plugs will last for 16 hours straight of continued use and the case will charge the plugs 20 times over before needing to recharged, making it ideal for even the longest patrol shifts.

Bluetooth Revo NC2

OTTO’s all new Bluetooth Revo NC2 has HD audio, giving officers optimum voice clarity even in the noisiest situations.
OTTO’s all new Bluetooth Revo NC2 has HD audio, giving officers optimum voice clarity even in the noisiest situations. (image/OTTO Engineering)

The Bluetooth Revo NC2 features a revolutionary patented noise-canceling (NC) microphone for optimum voice clarity even in high-noise situations.

With HD audio, this speaker mic is no toy – it’s a professional, rugged tool for law enforcement. The speaker mic works with portable radios, cellular phones and mobile radios as well. The Bluetooth Revo NC2 has a battery to outlast even the longest shifts and with large and rugged buttons, there’s no fear of self-actuating.

Officers consistently offer praise for the sound quality of the Revo. As one told us: “The Revo NC2 is one of the best shoulder mics I have used. The noise cancelling abilities of the mic are impressive and could cope with diesel engines idling in the background, vehicles passing by on the interstate at 65mph or more and windy and stormy conditions.”  

Law enforcement officers put their lives at risk every day just doing their jobs.

As escalating gun violence continues it just makes sense to provide them with the equipment they need to protect themselves. Providing quality gear to every officer will not only improve communications, it will also protect the officer’s hearing and improve the effectiveness of his or her performance in chaotic, evolving and dangerous situations.

[2] Police Executive Research Forum, pg. 4

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