The Ocu-Alert K-9 system
When Havoc, partner to Peoria (Ariz.) PD Officer Aaron Brewer, is on the mat (inset), the Ocu-Alert K-9 system automatically senses him. PHOTOS ELIZABETH JACKMAN, PEORIA TIMES
The Ocu-Alert K-9 system
FEATURED IN VEHICLE OPS
Too much heat can be deadly for a K-9 unit, especially in the Southwest U.S., where an 85° day is a “cooling trend” and 115° is the norm in the summer. In these temperatures, and even cooler, it takes only a few minutes for the temperature inside a sealed cruiser to become deadly. According to Blue Force Dynamics, inventors of the Ocu-Alert K-9 detection and alarm system, an enclosed vehicle’s inside temperature can rise to 110° on an 85° day in just 20 minutes and to 123° in only 45 minutes.
K-9 officers regularly leave their dogs in their cars while working calls that don’t require a four-footed presence. Often, those cars are left running with the A/C on or the windows down. But what happens if there’s a mechanical or electrical failure while the officer is away, or if the dog is inadvertently left in the vehicle when it’s not running?
There are systems that have “hot-and-pop” features that open the doors and sound alarms if there’s a dangerous temperature change, but they offer only localized notification through alarms or pagers. These systems activate when the vehicle is started, but can’t detect if the dog is in the cruiser. Some older systems require manual activation and deactivation, leaving the potential for mistakes. So there’s a recognized need for patrol vehicles to be smart enough to detect when a dog is in the vehicle and be able to communicate to dispatch when a heat emergency develops.
A Proactive & Reactive Solution
Enter Brian Shackelford and Justin Meyers at Blue Force Dynamics. With Meyers as a current officer and former electronics engineer and Shackelford as a long-time K-9 handler at the Glendale (Ariz.) Police Department, both wanted an automated system that could sense the presence of a dog and warn dispatch if something went wrong. The solution is the Ocu-Alert K-9 detection and alarm system. According to Shackelford, the dog “completes the circuit” on the system, meaning there’s no way the animal can be in the car and not have the system activate.
The Ocu-Alert’s premise is two-fold. According to Shackelford, its first duty is proactive and addresses the issue of monitoring an unattended dog in a vehicle. The second duty is reactive and addresses the dangerous heat issue, whether it’s caused by vehicle failure or because a dog was forgotten in a vehicle.
The system’s design is simple and ingenious. A two-ply rubberized mat with sensors sandwiched between its layers replaces the standard mat found in K-9 enclosures. The mat can detect a dog exerting as little as 3–4 lbs. of pressure. Once detected, the system monitors exterior ambient temperature and bypasses the ignition to keep the vehicle running with the A/C on if temperatures rise above a pre-set level. The officer can remove the key, and the car will remain running. This is the design’s proactive side.
The system’s reactive side engages if the temperature inside the vehicle exceeds approximately 90° F and a dog has been detected. If the vehicle isn’t on and the mat sensor is activated, an internal warning tone will sound in the vehicle for two minutes while the system powers up the in-car radio. If the situation isn’t rectified in those two minutes, an external siren that is separate from the normal siren box sounds for another two minutes. If nothing changes, the system activates the emergency button on the radio console, thereby notifying dispatch of an emergency with the officer, K-9 and/or vehicle.
The system is essentially “goof proof.” Put the dog on the mat, and the system activates. Remove the dog from the mat, even with the engine running, and it shuts itself and the car off in 10–15 seconds.
Shackelford says, “There is so much going on in the car, and with this job, [and] a system like this makes it so the officer doesn’t have to be a part of the activation or deactivation process. It just happens anytime the dog is in the car.”
It’s important to note that all of the Ocu-Alert’s reactive features work regardless of whether or not the car is running. If the officer leaves a running car and the interior temperature rises, the same warnings and e-button activation occur.
In the Field
The Ocu-Alert is currently being evaluated by Peoria (Ariz.) PD Officer Aaron Brewer in his department-issued Ford Expedition. A seven-year veteran, Brewer has a two-year-old Belgian Malinois named Havoc, who is dual trained for narcotics and patrol. Brewer is one of three K-9 officers who work with the approximately 250 other officers to serve Peoria, a city located just outside Phoenix and well within the “heat belt” of the Southwestern U.S. desert.
Brewer speaks highly of the Ocu-Alert system. According to him, the sensor pad fits perfectly in the back of his Expedition, and he likes that it works automatically any time Havoc is in the back.