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Best Land and Mobile Radio Training Programs

Written by Copper Darlinger

The fundamentals of good police work lie in the ability of officers to use their equipment to protect citizens. Many large-scale incidents of late underscore the need for officers from different agencies to be able to work together and communicate to coordinate efforts and more efficiently perform their duties.

At the heart of this need is radio technology. Every law enforcement radio user needs the ability to “switch modes” to communicate with other law enforcement and federal agencies, school districts and fire personnel when responding to a large-scale emergency.

Officers are usually required to perform regular firearms qualification testing each quarter to ensure they are fully trained on their duty weapons. If an officer is lucky, he will seldom have to use his duty weapon during his career. However, the radio he carries is used multiple times a day, either to request backup, to determine the location of suspects or for mutual aid. Wouldn’t it make sense then that radio training be completed on a regular basis as well?

If asked what they need from their radios, most first responders would simply reply, “I need it to work when I push the button.” Officers don’t have the ability to configure their radios every time they need to use them; they just need them to work. They also need to know how to use their radios so they can get their call to the right person when they “push the button,” every time they need it.

From the Ground Up

When a new radio system or a significant upgrade to an existing system is purchased, a training program is usually rolled into the overall pricing. The training methods from which the agency can choose usually include: 1) instructor-led classroom training (also known as “train the user”), 2) “train the trainer” instruction, 3) hands-on instruction and 4) self-study using computer-based software and other audio-visual tools.

Train the User

A number of benefits exist for having the radio system vendor train users directly. Vendor trainers have a lot of experience instructing the law enforcement community and are also very familiar with the capabilities of the radio equipment. In addition, because the trainer is on-site, users can ask him questions about the system and receive direct, knowledgeable responses.

Train the Trainer

In this method, an agency designates a representative who receives training on the radio system and then brings this instruction back to the agency to pass on the knowledge. While this method might be less expensive, it also has its drawbacks. Agency trainers usually do not have the same technical background as vendor trainers. Furthermore, the train-the-trainer method suffers the same issues as a game of “telephone” in which the message is distorted as it passes through multiple channels.

Hands-on Training

The scheduling of training courses in accordance with the implementation schedule of the radio system is just as critical as the other factors discussed for a successful instructional program. Radio users and dispatchers should receive hands-on instruction of the new equipment as close to actual operation as possible to ensure that the training is fresh and end users can immediately start utilizing the acquired knowledge and skills.

System administrators are typically involved in the planning of the radio system and will require training to support solid decision-making on the configuration and operation of the system. Hands-on instruction on using the management applications for day-to-day operations should be conducted just prior to using these tools.

Computer-Based Training

Computer-based training and other audio-visual aids such as videos are excellent tools to include in an ongoing training program component. A properly designed and developed Web-based training program is an ideal solution for refresher training. It can be used whenever it is needed, from any location that has Internet access. Online training courses should comprise 3 to 10 minute sessions.

Computer-based training is cost effective. Courses are self-paced, highly interactive, and can be developed utilizing animation and other multimedia tools to help keep users engaged, thus increasing retention. In addition, training content can be updated quickly to reflect changes in equipment operation or functionality. Training delivery is consistent and structured to ensure that learning objectives are met, and the software makes it easy to track student progress and generate reports.

Never Stop Training

Training should be ongoing throughout implementation and must take place when new users and agencies join the system. Radio training is never a “one-size-fits-all” proposition and should not be treated that way in any department. Today’s radios and new IP-based (Internet Protocol) systems have the capability to manage thousands of talk groups, hundreds of frequencies, and include intuitive displays that make operation easier.

As radio systems upgrade to new technologies, adding a number of features over time, updated training materials and collateral should be pushed out to users to provide ongoing instruction on radio operations.

Hands-on by Management

Management needs to be involved in identifying people who need training and ensuring that those users are available when the training is conducted. If additional resources are required to support training activities, such as equipment and facilities, management assistance will be needed to acquire these resources.

Additionally, management must understand and support the need to revise existing policies and procedures due to implementation of a new radio system. Chances are high that the system will provide new functionality and capability that will change how day-to-day business is conducted. These changes must be reflected in revised policies and procedures, which will be integrated into the training program.

Final Considerations

The number one contributor to the success of a radio training program is incorporation of user input. This input can be used to develop the program, and these users can become trainers for the department. Involve the dispatchers in radio training. When under stress, users in the field won’t think about tactical operations or certain interoperability capabilities that are available to them. The dispatcher can be a useful aid and make suggestions to link users together and work on behalf of the field users.

Develop reference cards which act as a “go anywhere” training reminder. Keep them simple and concise. Don’t use too much technical terminology or jargon. These reference pieces can be wallet-sized or the size of the overhead visor in police cars. Like the overall training program, these materials should be developed with input from the users. Refresh the training as new capabilities and features are added to the radio system. Consider a “top-down” approach in which the command staff leads by example.

Copper Darlinger is the senior communications specialist for the Broomfield Police Department, Broomfield, Colo.

Dana Hansen is the regional sales manager for Harris Public Safety and Professional Communications.

Photos courtesy of Matter Communications.

Published in Law and Order, Jul 2010

Rating : 5.5


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