Proficiency Analytical Testing overhauled by USAFSAM experts

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WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — In the past two years, the United States Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine — part of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing — has overhauled the bioenvironmental engineering Proficiency Analytical Testing Program, resulting in a program capable of meeting the operational needs of the warfighter now and in the future.

The redesigned Individual Proficiency Analytical Testing program, part of USAFSAM’s Occupational and Environmental Health Department, supports more than 1,400 bioenvironmental engineering Airmen worldwide, all of whom need to be proficient and prepared to detect, respond to and effectively perform mission-critical health risk assessments on analytes of question in an occupational or unknown environment.

“Ten years ago, proficiency testing was done via manual grading, with manual data entry, and only one test was required per unit for compliance,” said Chris Humphreys, I-PAT program manager. “Even five years ago, when we had progressed to automated grading, we still required only one test per unit. The program suffered from decreased operator engagement and inconsistent participation.”

Then, in 2015, the I-PAT Challenge Module was created. The current program is fully automated and is geared to individual operators, with individualized testing — both written and practical — as well as exemption and skill-level tracking. Instead of one test per unit, each unit now has to have an 80 percent operator participation and proficiency rate in order to be in compliance.

“Today’s testing program encompasses the total mission concept, instead of focusing solely on validating equipment knowledge using a ‘group think’ approach,” Humphreys said.

I-PAT challenge development is a multi-month process beginning with topic area and scenario formation, Humphreys explained. Program personnel then begin sample development and stability testing to coincide with the scenario created. Test developers work with USAFSAM BE instructors and consultants to develop proficiency test questions that test applicable operator skills and knowledge of emergency response equipment and health risk assessment. Once operators receive their sample, they have one month to submit their test and sample identification.

“The I-PAT process is proven to enhance individual operator knowledge and skill over time,” said Humphreys. “The dynamic nature of the process allows us to tailor the test for the Airmen’s skill level, incrementally increasing the difficulty as they progress through their careers. At the same time, I-PAT allows us to standardize operational knowledge across the career field. Just as importantly, it allows for flexibility in meeting the needs of leadership by ensuring our BE operators are trained, competent and prepared to respond to emerging threats.”

In addition to conducting the I-PAT program, laboratory personnel create training videos that are housed in an on-line reference library, giving BE Airmen access to resources throughout their career. The laboratory provides support to 174 Air Force bases, processes more than 12,000 samples each year and conducts more than 700 consultations annually.