Sunday, March 12, 2006

IPSC Safety

At a recent club match in the Columbia Cascade Section of USPSA, the Match Director made a special announcement about an incident which occurred during the match.

After a competitor had completed a stage, and the targets had all been pasted or reset, the Range Officer started the next competitor only to discover (after the competitor actually started shooting at targets) that 'someone' was still working on the stage and was, in fact, downrange of the competitor.

As soon as the presence of a downrange person was detected, of course, the competitor was stopped and the person downrange returned to a safe area. Nobody was injured, and since the competitor was only likely to engage targets which were obviously backed by a berm, the situation never presented a great danger of the downrange person being harmed.

Still, when so many of the 'fail-safe' measures which are an integral part of IPSC safety rules have been faulted, the question remains as to what can be done to make this a safer shooting sport.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usThe central issue seems to be that Vision Barriers, used to force a competitor to follow a pre-planned mode of target engagement, constitute an intrinsic flaw in the attempt to make IPSC as safe as it can possibly be.

The same opaque barriers which add an aura of mystery to a competitor's engagement of multiple target arrays make it difficult for the Range Officer to easily scan the shooting bay to determine that all personnel have returned to a safe area before the next competitor begins to engage the targets.

The responsibility of ensuring a safe shooting event is primarily on the Range Officer. This person, assumed to have been trained by the National Range Officer Institution in the safe operation of an IPSC match, is responsible for every thing that happens on a single stage during an IPSC match: Scoring, time-keeping, a fair accounting of each competitor's performance -- these are all important functions of the Range Officer.

But most important is the primary responsibility of the Range Officer: Safety.

In this endeavor, the Range Officer is supported by many people. The score-keeper not only faithfully records the time and score for each competitor's performance, but also keeps track of incidental events during the competitor's stage performance: foot-faults and adherence to the published stage procedures are just two of the score-keeper's duties.

The score-keeper also is responsible for helping the Range Officer to determine that all IPSC targets have been completely pasted, all steel and moving targets have been properly reset, and that the range is clear of all personnel, including especially target tapers and people who are picking up used brass.

The individual squad members have their own responsibilities. They must help the Range Officer and the Score-keeper in the effort to ensure the safe operation of the range, and they are also responsible for being aware of the safe location of every person on the stage.

Often, it's difficult for the Range Officer and the Score-keeper to keep track of all of the squad members and spectators -- who may not be an official member of the squad, but who may be helping with the target-resetting and brassing duties.

When a new shooter comes to the line, the Range Office may or may not declare "The Range Is HOT!" in an effort to announce that all persons must return up-range of the starting position, if they are not already there. Usually, the Range Officer has already (with the assistance of the Score-Keeper) made the determination that all personnel have retired from downrange. Anyone who is downrange at this time is responsible for immediately notifying the Range Officer that the range is NOT clear.

After this point, the Range Officer directs the next competitor, in a loud "Command Voice":

"Load and Make Ready!"

A certain time passes while the competitor loads his pistol and in all respects makes ready to engage targets on the stage, then assumes the starting position according to the published stage procedures. This may take from five or ten seconds to over a minute, depending upon the circumstances.

Then the Range Officer asks the Competitor: "Are Your Ready?"

Lacking any negative response from the Competitor, the Range Officer announces:
"Stand By", indicating that the time will start within the next three to five seconds.

Finally, the Range officer presses the time-start button on the timer, which causes the timer to to make an audible sound signaling the Competitor to begin engaging targets.

Usually, this is a drawn-out process with many loud audible clues that the next competitor is being prepared to engage targets. It should, under almost all circumstances, provide plenty of opportunities for everyone on the stage to be aware that a new shooter is on the line and being readied to engage targets. Anyone downrange should have been able to hear the commands, and appreciate that his person is in a position where he should not be.

This SHOULD be adequate preventative measures. I myself have, while acting as a Range Officer, failed to note that a person was downrange (bent over, picking up brass) in a cul-de-sac formed by two solid vision barriers, when I gave the command "Load And Make Ready". Fortunately, other members of the squad were more situationally aware than I. The immediately shouted "Stop! There is someone downrange!" or words to that effect, and I stopped the competitor from drawing his pistol before we could ask the brasser to please clear the range.

Free Image Hosting at Because the existing procedures are demonstrably a point of failure of existing safety rules, the Columbia Cascade Section is taking measures to remove what we sincerely hope is the last source of failure of safety precautions: the member clubs are beginning to replace solid vision barriers with perforated barriers,Free Image Hosting at which look like the familiar 'orange snow-fence' (be they orange or black) and which provide better down-range visual access.

This won't happen immediately, of course, but at least one club has already scheduled a "work-credit" night (when the club members who participate are rewarded by a decrease in their annual dues, proportional to the time spent in the effort) to replace all solid vision barriers with perforated material.

I have been competing in IPSC matches for over 20 years, and this is the first time I have ever heard of a person being 'caught down-range' when the timer goes off. I've probably participated in over 800 matches (40 matches a year for 20 years) involving at least three hours per match ... say, 1,600 hours in competition. This is the first time I've ever heard of this kind of complete break-down in range safety procedures, especially because it requires that EVERY PERSON PRESENT failing to observe the basic safety procedures.

Once in 20 years is 100% too often. It won't happen again.

I applaud the Columbia Cascade Section Coordinator, Mike McCarter, in his bold decision to invest time, money and personnel to make IPSC as practiced in the United States Practical shooters Association an even safer shooting sport. I encourage every club in the country ... indeed, as IPSC is an international sport, every club in the world ... to follow his lead.

Mr. McCarter informs us that he will soon submit an article to the Front Sight Magazine (the official publication of USPSA) describing the efforts that the Columbia Cascade Section is making to promote the sport and to make it safer. I understand that this change in policy will be prominently featured.

No comments: