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(January/February 2008) When first responders and security guards came to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s (S&T) Tell-Us-What-You-Need table, heading their list was an emergency escape hood worthy of James Bond. It must be, they said, a one-size-fits-all concealable hood weighing under a pound, folding to the dimensions of a DVD case, and doable in ten seconds. Moreover, the hood must be maintenance-free, and it must filter nerve, blood, and blister agents, remove toxic industrial chemicals, and fit two-deep into a breast pocket—one for the protectee, the other for the protector.
It was a pretty tall order.
Unlike Kevin Costner’s Bodyguard, the typical bodyguard finds his daily routine, well, routine. But the moment it’s not, the guard needs tools that are convenient, stealthy, and swift. Chemical and biological attacks can be accidental, but if a particular protectee is in a particular place, at a particular time, and comes under attack, it’s usually not a coincidence. Chances are good that those in the business and those they are protecting are not carrying around those undeniably unglamorous heavy masks or hoods for the possibility. Perhaps the S&T Directorate could come up with something better.
Done. In less than a year.
Through the Directorate’s open procurement process, Avon Protection Systems of Wiltshire, UK (with offices in Cadillac, MI), was selected in early 2007 to develop and produce a mask with some very tight specifications. Designated the EH-15 (for Escape Hood–15 minutes), this innovative mask, when packed, is only ¾-inch thick. It provides at least 15 minutes of protection against chemicals and biological agents, has a three-year shelf life, and has highly efficient particulate filters.
In October 2007, the EH-15 successfully passed the Directorate’s Design Review. In February, it will complete its Critical Design Reviews, followed by a demanding test process in March 2008. To date, 10 prototypes have been produced, and the first batch of EH-15 masks is to be produced by May.
If the Escape Hood passes its rigorous design reviews next month, it will get ready for external validation. If the hood is successfully validated, Avon will deliver more than 200 prototypes in October.
“Crime in this country has indeed included weapons of mass destruction…witness the anthrax attacks in 2001,” notes Jalal Mapar, the program manager for the EH-15 project. “A concealable escape hood like this will provide protection for both the guard and the protectee until both can get out of a dangerous situation. It was one tough assignment, but I’m glad that we were able to develop such a unique mask technology in such a short time.”