He’s on the front lines of making the nation’s first responders safer, and his service on a federal safety standards board also puts Lawrence in a good position in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster.
Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin is one of only a relatively few law enforcement officials in the country appointed to the federal government’s 70-member InterAgency Board, which works to better prepare first responders for all types of disasters, including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive incidents.
“The threat exists and there will be another event,” Olin said during a recent interview. “It’s just a matter of when.”
Appointed to the volunteer board in 1998, Olin’s decade-long service gives him intimate knowledge about the many threats and dangers being addressed by federal agencies. It also gives him input on what tools police officers and firefighters are equipped with to respond to emergencies.
During twice-yearly meetings in different parts of the country, the law enforcement, federal, firefighter and medical representatives get together to develop equipment standards and make communication among first responder agencies seamless.
“It’s a voice for trying to standardize those parts that make everything work better together in the field,” Olin said.
An example of the board’s work is a standard the board created a couple of years ago that requires manufacturers of firefighter equipment to create identical equipment connectors, so all brands of fire equipment will work together in an emergency.
“Those are the kinds of recommendations that seem intuitive, but at the same time they’re not being done,” Olin said.
The board also gave input into the National Institute of Justice’s standards for bulletproof vests worn by law enforcement officers to ensure agencies purchase the most protective vests, rather than just what’s new in the marketplace.
During IAB meetings, equipment manufacturers brief board members on existing cutting-edge technology and future technology in the works. The board then reviews the equipment and determines what’s acceptable for first responders to use. In October, the board will meet in the Kansas City area.
Olin’s involvement on the board allows Lawrence Police Department to be recognized in equipment reports distributed to fire and police agencies nationwide.
Olin said he’s gained valuable connections to the nation’s top security agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and Department of Justice.
“I can pick up the phone and have an answer to a question that I would not have access to, had I not participated,” Olin said.
Representatives of the federal agencies provide briefings to the board about what they’re working on. In return, Olin and other board members are able to give them feedback about what they believe the federal agencies’ priorities should be.
Olin said it’s important for federal leaders to gain insight from local-level leaders, as they’re the ones who would make the most immediate decisions following a disaster or terrorism event until federal agencies can respond.
“The more that we can get the local people ready, then the safer we all are,” Olin said.