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Back to Archives | Back to September 2008 Contents 

New NIJ Standard for CBRN Protective Equipment: A Time to Speak Up

By David McBath, Staff Inspector, Field Command Section, New York State Police, Albany, New York

n important issue is currently being discussed at the federal level that will have an impact on law enforcement agencies who receive federal homeland security grant monies and use them to provide their members with personal protective clothing equipment. The issue involves a new standard recently released by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), U.S. Department of Justice, for law enforcement personal protective ensembles for use in a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) hazard environment. Incidents involving change are coming, and law enforcement leaders now have an opportunity for their perspectives to be heard on these issues.

Vendors can, and some do, tell agencies anything to make a sale. But how can an agency be sure that the equipment it purchases will perform as promised? The best way to verify the performance of a particular product is through independent, third-party testing in combination with recognized performance standards. Buyers should always ask every salesperson about availability of third-party testing data before making a purchase. In some cases, the response from the salesperson may very well be a vacant stare.

CBRN agents are some of the most dangerous challenges law enforcement officers will ever encounter. Existing performance standards for CBRN protective equipment have served the fire service community very well over the years, but the role of law enforcement officers in maintaining public safety requires different performance requirements for this equipment. In response to this need, the NIJ has embarked on the difficult task of developing a standard specifically for CBRN protective equipment to be used by law enforcement officers. The standard focuses on ensembles designed to provide full body protection against exposure to CBRN hazards. This hazard-based standard is being written with considerations for specific law enforcement missions and threats, such as those associated with responses to, and the processing of, clandestine methamphetamine laboratory crime scenes.

The NIJ organized a Special Technical Committee (STC) in 2007 comprising subject matter experts, many of whom are members of the law enforcement community. The STC includes representatives from the IACP; the National Sheriffs’ Association; the National Tactical Officers Association; the Fraternal Order of Police; the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board; the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA, which writes these same standards for the fire service); the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); the Department of Defense; the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hazardous Materials Response Unit; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center; and national third-party testing and certifying organizations including the Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

The NIJ has worked particularly close with the NFPA and the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense to leverage its related efforts in this area to expedite a release of the new NIJ standard. As of August, the new standard is available on the NIJ Web site for stakeholders to review and submit their comments and questions. In all likelihood, the future ability to use DHS grant monies to purchase law enforcement personal protective equipment (PPE) will probably be tied to this standard once it is finalized and published by the NIJ. Currently, only NFPA-approved CBRN PPE ensembles can be purchased with DHS grant funds. The IACP representative who attends these meetings is ensuring that the law enforcement voice on the STC is being heard from all the organizations present. But now there is an opportunity for the entire IACP membership to review the work on this standard and to let individual voices be heard.

The draft standard is currently available on the NIJ Web site at The IACP has posted the information and link on its Web site. The comment period will last only until September 24.

Leaders are strongly encouraged to have their “equipment people” review this standard and comment as they feel is appropriate. It is an opportunity for the law enforcement community to speak up on a standard that will no doubt have an impact on the protective equipment the profession will be using in the future. ■

For more information about this standard, readers may contact either the author at 518-457-9579 or via e-mail at; or Cassey Robinson at the NIJ at 202-305-2596 or via e-mail at

David McBath, a member of the IACP Homeland Security Committee, manages the New York State Police weapons of mass destruction response program. He represents the IACP on both the federal Inter Agency Board (IAB) for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability and the NIJ Personal Protective Ensemble, Special Technical Committee.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 9, September 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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