So, you've heard that a tactical flashlight strobe is good.
Do you know for sure?
Like many topics, there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet.
Let's set the record straight.
“Simply stated, especially at close range, and when a subject is dark-adapted, the effect of a strobe-mode on a Tactical Flashlight can be overwhelming. More often than not, eyes close immediately, heads turn, hands come up, and balance is disrupted. This is known as the “Kodak Moment”.”
Additionally, the subject's sense of your distance and their overall depth perception is confused and even unascertainable. Remember, however, this is an optional tactic, and the impact is not effective past room distance ranges. These are the conclusions of Ken J. Good, in his “Deployment of Illumination Tools – Law Enforcement Training Primer”.
How did we first discover the effects of strobe?
In the 1950's, the U.S. Military was concerned about the number of helicopter crashes. Surviving crew members were stating that they experienced dizziness and disorientation from the flickering effect of looking up at rotating helicopter blades. The rotor blades caused the sunlight to strobe in the eyes of the pilots, causing them to lose control of their vehicles.
A Dr. Bucha was engaged, and his analysis of this phenomenon became knows as Flicker Vertigo or the Bucha Effect. This is an imbalance in the brain-cell activity caused by exposure to low-frequency flickering (or flashing) brought on by relatively bright lights.
How effective is strobing?
With some, the effects of a strobe can even cause a seizure.
Only a small percentage of the population with epilepsy, however, are subject to this condition. In fact, given that 2.5 million Americans has some form of epilepsy, 5% or 125,000, of the epileptics, are subject to these phenomena known as Photosensitive epilepsy. Additionally, most of these 125K falls into an age range of 8-20 years old, and most of these are female (source – epilepsyfoundation.org).
Beyond the drastic effect of an epileptic seizure, the effects of strobing, especially at close ranges, can be dramatic.
As stated above, eyes close immediately, heads turn, hands come up, and balance is disrupted. This is known as the “Kodak Moment”. Additionally, the subject's sense of your distance from the subject is confused and unascertainable. This obviously enables your flight or flight options.
Since your eyes store images for 1/25 of a second, the eyes complex, built in adjustment system functions in an analog mode. When subjected to a strobing light, the eye/brain image generation capacity is seriously degraded and results in a serious deficiency in formulating an accurate picture of reality.
If you think about, entertainment and haunted houses have been deploying this concept for years to alter your perception of what is actually happening.
Additionally, contrary to popular belief, the strobing effect is minimal on the person using the strobe. It is in effect, a win-win situation for the person using the tactical flashlight for defensive purposes.
Finally, one of the most common disadvantages is that the person using the strobe has less perception of slow movements by the subject. Fortunately, few are aware of this phenomena to render the situation an issue.
Should you use a strobe?
Obviously, or at least hopefully, you would only use a strobe on a potential intruder or someone whom you felt was endangering you or your family.
To that degree, concern over causing an epileptic seizure would be diminished. First of all, the probability of a target being subject to this condition is extremely rare and secondly, if they were preconditioned, and truly were a danger to you, such is life.
Concern about your diminished ability to discern slow movements would also seem moot since most would never be aware of this possibility to take advantage of it, and the risk is still minimal.
The goal in using a strobe would be to disable and disarm a subject such that you stopped all possibility of a threat. Once you've achieved that situation you can take whatever other measures are necessary to incarcerate and continue to mitigate the risk.
In light of the effectiveness of a strobe and the limited risks, the use of a strobe should definitely be an option for use with a tactical flashlight.
How do the various tactical lights deploy a strobe?
This is where the story gets a little more cloudy.
The ideal situation, especially for a tactical light, would be to have a momentary on, a permanent on and a strobe condition, all accessible from a single switch, or from a single switch area.
Again, it needs to be remembered, that is a crisis situation, the adrenaline that is pulsating through the body will almost completely shut down fine motor movements. Thus only gross or major motor movements are available.
This is true, although a little less so, even for trained individuals. In any event, there is an automatic degradation.
Certainly, a tactical light that requires manipulation with two control functions – such as a tail button and a side button is out of the question. As is a light which requires a twisting movement to adjust.
Some units allow for controls and subcontrols from both tail button and side button positions. This is fine as long as the three requirement illuminations – on, momentary and strobe are all three addressed from at least one control point.
There are some who feel that a tail button with a partial push for momentary and a full push for permanent on, is not desirable since it is too easy to push the unit on permanently when the desire is only for momentary on. This may be stretching it a bit since I know of no tactical light which offers this option – that is a separate on and momentary on from the same control area.
There are lights which do meet almost all of these requirements, such as Klarus, which offers a tail button for permanent and momentary on, with an adjacent tail paddle that controls instant strobe. This seems to be the best of all worlds and I review such a light here on this website.
In the arena of gun-mounted lights, one company, and in particular, the Streamlight TLR-1s and TLR-1 HL units, offer a strobe when the momentary paddle is tapped twice. The gun mount light can be strobe programmed on and off by tapping the momentary paddle 10 times and holding on the last tap until the strobe is activated or deactivated. A review of these lights is available on this site.
It is also important to understand how exactly the strobe is activated on any tactical flashlight you purchase. Depending on how you wish to use the light, a strobe via the tail switch requires a different hold and presentation than a strobe via a side button. Although the tail switch is preferable, the side button can be used in certain situations. In any event, you need to know how the light is designed.
Without a doubt, the use of a strobe can be extremely effective, both with or without a handgun, and deploying a tactical light with a strobe should be something that is practiced and available as a defensive option.
To strobe or not to strobe? Strobe.
Always be prepared. Be well.