From the Chief’s Corner: Taekwondo and the Emergency Responder Communications Enhancement System (ERCES)...

Alan Perdue taekwondo

Posted on August 21, 2020

Whom do I believe? Whom do I trust?  Who really knows what they are doing?  These are some of the comments I most often hear from the AHJs, license holders, and building owners about the industry. 

This issue really came to light recently when I received a call from a developer. He had a situation on one of his sites where one integrator, who also sold ERCES systems, conducted a site evaluation test and informed him that he would need ERCES in all the buildings on his project. Not feeling good about his experience on-site with those conducting the test, he then had another test conducted by a third-party testing firm who evaluated the same site – but determined that systems were not needed in the buildings as there was sufficient signal to provide coverage within the buildings. 

The end result from this back-and-forth: a less-than-satisfied building owner who said, and I quote: “Alan, this whole thing is a scam. These guys are just out to sell equipment and systems without considering the impact on the building owner or the first responders. Why would a contractor tell me I need a system when I don’t? Unless it’s just to make more money? Can you guys require that only third-party testers be allowed to evaluate a site? I spoke with two other developer friends of mine and they ran into the same exact issue.” 

This reminded me of that famous quote from the 1995 motion picture Apollo 13: "Houston, we have a problem." That problem could be our Chuck-and-a-Truck peers, or possibly related to knowledge and experience. I inquired about how long the first company had actually been performing ERCES work, and about their experience. This article will examine the latter.

Winston Churchill, while making a speech in 1942 at London’s Mansion House, said: “Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” So what was Churchill really saying? My interpretation (sounds like the code doesn’t it): It's an alternative way of saying "we're nowhere near the end of this yet."

When you think about most processes, you have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  But if you break it down one step further you have: a beginning of the beginning, a middle of the beginning, an end of the beginning; a beginning of the middle, a middle of the middle, an end of the middle; and a beginning of the end, a middle of the end -- and an end of the end. Sounds like some really deep stuff, right, but hang with me I’m going to clear it up for you.

But before I do, let’s take a look at the definitions of Knowledge and Experience (per Merriam-Webster).. 

Knowledge: The fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or education

Experience: Practical knowledge, skill, or practice derived from direct observation of or participation in events or in a particular activity

“Although additional knowledge on a subject can be gained through experience, experience cannot be gained through instruction. True experience only comes with time, exposure, and practice. It is based on hands-on real-world application rather than theory.”

At first glimpse, knowledge and experience look very similar to one another. In fact, these two words appear in each other’s definitions and those definitions seem very analogous. However, there is a clear distinction between knowledge and experience.

Knowledge underscores theory and the understanding of concepts and information, while experience, stresses practice, or the application of that knowledge, over a continued period of time. During the period of application, one continues to reinforce their understanding of subject matter or, in our case, an Emergency Responder Communications Enhancement System (ERCES).  

Although additional knowledge on a subject can be gained through experience, experience cannot be gained through instruction. True experience only comes with time, exposure, and practice. It is based on hands-on real-world application rather than theory.

For me, my Taekwondo instructor Grand Master Young Yu made that point abundantly clear one day in class. In our study of Taekwondo Martial Arts, students had to work their way through the ranks symbolized by 10 different color belts beginning with a white belt and advancing to a black belt.  

The white belt stage symbolized purity and the beginning of knowledge. The next step in our journey to black belt was the yellow belt. It’s important to understand that to be invited to test for the yellow belt, the student had to complete 24-28 classes and demonstrate their understanding of all that had been taught. The yellow belt represents that the student has accumulated a wealth of fundamental martial arts knowledge.

So herein lies the correlation for those in the ERCES industry. If you are just beginning to work in the ERCES and radio frequency (RF) industry, you’re a white belt. If you’ve attended a few classes and passed a test or two, you’re a yellow belt. Now, here’s the most important lesson Grand Master Yu taught us upon obtaining our yellow belt. Don’t miss this… He said: “You’ve learned a lot over the last couple of months about Taekwondo. You’ve learned defensive moves, kicks, punches, and other important concepts. But the most important thing you need to understand is this. You’ve learned just enough to get your a** kicked…”

Now. while I hope those of you in the ERCES industry don’t actually get you rears kicked, you can create a lot of issues if you think you have arrived by attaining your yellow belt. Ever since that day I’ve had a better understanding of the terms knowledge and experience.

As I became aware that each belt color had its own meaning, I became proud of each new belt as it signified my personal growth in the art of Taekwondo. The same holds true for those who provide any aspect of an ERCES. Remember the phrase “A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step.” The expert in anything was once a beginner, and it’s ok to be at the beginning of the beginning or the end of the beginning. To a non-martial artist, to have a black belt is to have mastered the art. To the student, it symbolizes just the beginning of their mastery of Taekwondo.

Your knowledge and experience are critical to not only your success, but to the quality of the service and systems you are providing. As humans, we only know what we know. If you don’t know it: ask; don’t BS you way through it. It reflects poorly on you, your company and our industry as a whole. More importantly, understand that these are real-life safety systems, systems that can be the difference between life and death of our first responders and the people they have sworn to protect.

Albert Einstein once said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”