Take It from a Dummy

How the FBI supports occupational health and environmental programs in the Intelligence Community

May 27, 2021

Ivana Heremore has a job that nobody else wants.

She straps on hearing protection and sits in noisy environments to test how well the protective equipment works. A recent assignment had her sitting next to a sniper in training as the rifle blasted several times in a row. Sensors measure the volume of noise that reaches her ears. The data is then analyzed to determine the level of hearing damage a human will sustain wearing the protective equipment.

FBI Personnel with Ivana Heremore

FBI Personnel with Ivana Heremore

Luckily for Ivana, she is not one of those humans, just a mannequin head used by the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in a broader program designed to improve occupational safety and environmental sustainability.

You can think of the FBI’s Occupational Safety and Environmental Programs Unit as a testing and incubation center for innovative solutions to big problems. When it comes up with a good solution, it shares best practices with the Intelligence Community (IC) through meetings and annual off-site work sessions.

Environmental Programs

Catherine Shaw, the program’s Unit Chief, says the environmental side of the program has broad application. First it works to assure compliance with regulations that govern such things as power plants, generators and water quality. Second, it seeks to improve the efficient use of resources, including water and energy. Third, it focuses on sustainability, including how buildings are designed and recommissioned, and how recyclables are handled.

The recycling program is a good example of how Shaw and her team are pushing the boundaries of innovation. They developed a system to sell valuable recyclable material, which not only accomplishes the goal of environmental sustainability, but also brings in revenue to the tune of $2 million over the last several years. The revenue is then reinvested into the environmental program.

Those successes and others like them generate good will toward the initiative and make it easier to reinforce good office recycling habits.

“Now there is an expectation that there is a recycling container in every office,” Shaw says.

Environmental initiatives also include electric vehicle charging stations on FBI campuses, which can be used for the FBI vehicle fleet as well as personal vehicles. Employees who use the stations to charge their own vehicles are charged back the cost.

Shaw says it’s important for the FBI and other agencies to set a good example on environmental issues, especially when the law enforcement agency is investigating public companies for breaking environmental laws.

“We have busted other companies for things like not disposing of hazardous waste properly, so we lose credibility if we don’t do it right,” she says.

Occupational Health

The other side of the equation is occupational health, which also has a long list of initiatives. The timeliest initiative, brought to the surface by Covid-19, is the challenge of pumping clean outdoor air into facilities and increasing airflow. Another initiative is the study of how climate change and hotter summers can affect the health of employees, including agents.

But one that is attracting a lot of attention right now is the initiative to protect the hearing of agents who regularly train with weapons that can severely damage the agents’ hearing. This is where Ivana Heremore comes in.

The Mannequin Goes to Work

Ivana Heremore – a name based roughly on the phrase “I wanna hear more” – makes the rounds to different environments to gather measurements on the decibel level of noise and how well different protective devices function. Industrial hygienists combine that data with other audiogram data to gain insight into what protective devices work and which do not work in real life conditions.

While the FBI has equipment, such as ear protection worn over the ears like earmuffs and in-ear “foamies”, that works well, it is not as functional on the firing range because agents wearing the devices must take them off to hear someone; for example, when the instructor speaks. The team was able to help recommend a new type of hearing protection that fits in the ear and includes a switch that can be easily activated to hear a human voice.

The Team That Does It All

Even though Shaw’s scope of responsibility is broad, and her team’s work fans out across the IC, she says her unit is small. When people think of the FBI, she says, they think of special agents, not environmental specialists.

Yet she is always on the lookout for young professionals or fresh college grads who have studied environmental science, occupational health, public health, industrial hygiene and other related fields.

It’s a great team, she says, and Ivana has been known to send out holiday cards too!