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6 common myths about the inclusion of EVs in public safety fleets

Cure your skepticism as we discuss common electric vehicle disinformation

DALL·E 2024-02-05 15.00.40 - Visualize a modern U.S. ambulance, detailed with a neon blue outline that vividly contrasts against a dark gray gradient background. The ambulance i.webp


By Chief (ret.) Michael Benson, MPA EFO

While electric vehicle enthusiasts explain the benefits of owning and operating EVs, many public safety related discussions and publications focus on the fear, uncertainty and doubt around the new technology.

Let’s review some of these myths surrounding the use of EVs and debunk them from a public safety perspective.

Myth No. 1: The driving range for EVs is incompatible with public safety needs

The number one concern for incorporating EVs into EMS fleets is the vehicles’ range and the belief that EVs do not go far enough to meet the requirements of public safety.

Is that true, though? Have you looked at your fleet utilization to see how many miles your vehicles drive in a shift?

If you are operating ambulances and first response, chase or support vehicles, you should complete an evaluation of how often your vehicles are in operation; how long they dwell in specific locations; and how much range you actually need out of your fleet each day. This information will allow you to make an educated decision on whether an EV will work for you and what kind of charging infrastructure you will need.

Read more: EMS1 guide to ambulance electrification

Myth No. 2: EVs are unsafe

Another common refrain from EV naysayers is that they’re unsafe, due to the abundance of news articles detailing EV fires and the difficulty with extinguishing EV battery flames. However, the NFPA acknowledges that though EV fires are more complicated to put out, they are less common that internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle fires – with just 300 EV fires globally between 2010 and 2022 out of 16 million electric cars on the road worldwide.

Additionally, the native architecture of an EV with a battery pack centrally placed at the frame level lowers the vehicle’s center of gravity and equally distributes the vehicle’s weight, making them less top heavy, reducing the risk of turnovers. EVs also have a built-in auxiliary braking system because they regenerate energy, adding it back into the battery when your foot is off the accelerator.

Myth No. 3: EVs cost too much money

Another myth is the idea that EVs are too expensive for a locally funded public safety agency. While it’s true that EVs are more expensive up front, over time they will save your organization money. If you run a total cost-of-ownership analysis, you will see what your real cost is over a 5-, 10- or 15-year life of the vehicle. EVs do not need regular maintenance at the same rate of ICE vehicles, and the costliest portion of an EV, the battery pack, is dropping in price every year.

Myth No. 4: EVs are not that much better for the environment

Some people feel an EV is just shifting their emissions back to the power plant that generated the electricity the EV uses. While there is some truth to this, it ignores the impact of emissions displacement over time. Burning gas or diesel right next to you is an immediate concern, which is why many emergency stations utilize exhaust removal systems. The emissions of ICE vehicles are dirtier and last the lifetime of the vehicle. EVs do not emit any exhaust, making them much cleaner than their ICE counterparts.

Myth No. 5: Mining for EV battery materials is damaging to the planet

While it’s true we need to mine for the materials used in an EV battery pack, the amount of mining needed is less than the mining currently done to support the extraction of fossil fuels for ICE vehicles.

EV batteries are also recyclable – 95% or more of each battery can be reused to make additional batteries. Recycling on a large scale will reduce the amount of mining needed to power our vehicles over time; plus, used EV batteries can be used for stationary storage, giving them a second life before they are recycled. Fossil fuels will always require mining and extraction technologies, as you can only burn a drop of gas or diesel once and then it’s gone.

Myth No. 6: EVs put a strain on the electrical grid

Another common myth surrounding EVs is that they are bad for the electrical grid. Conversely, EVs are actually an asset to the electrical grid, as vehicles plugged into the grid can share a small amount of energy from their EV battery packs to offset the amount needed locally, such as for hot, oppressive summer afternoons.

The charging infrastructure needed for mission-critical fleets serving EMS, the fire service and law enforcement must be disaster-resilient and robust. A mission-critical microgrid based on renewable energy generation, storage and smart controls is the preferred system to support mission-critical fleets like electric ambulances. These types of systems are designed to operate on your worst day, so they are another available asset to make our electric grid smarter, better, and more efficient.

Don’t sleep on public safety EVs

Electric vehicles are not the answer to every agency’s fleet woes, but it’s important to evaluate new technology based on the facts, not conjecture. Use this knowledge and debunking of myths to your advantage as you plan for an electrified future.

About the author

Michael Benson is co-owner of Command Consulting LLC, focusing on municipal electrification. He is a retired public safety professional with 30 years of experience innovating for local and regional governments, improving services and lowering costs. Chief (ret) Benson has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Anna Maria College, a Professional Certificate in Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies from Stanford, and he drives an electric car.