By Annette Dashofy
Citizens’ Police Academy this week was a real hands-on experience. Maybe a little TOO hands on. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.
The topic was “Recognizing the Explosive Threat” and our instructors were Detectives Andre Henderson and Sheldon Williams of the Bomb Squad. Class began with a Power Point presentation and lecture.
The Pittsburgh Police Bomb Squad has four certified EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) techs and a support system of eight. And one BULLDOG. Last year, they answered 51 class one calls. That’s a call that consists of some type of suspicious item or package. A class three call is a bomb threat. Eight of those 51 calls involved actual IEDs and four of them were simulated devices.
There are two common types of IED (Improvised Explosive Device): Non electric such as pipe bombs AND electric which are more complex and include explosives, a power source such as a cell phone or a batter, wires, and an initiator.
Another threat that you may not think of is the media. Specifically, live television feeds. Imagine this scenario: A suspicious package has been identified and the bomb squad called in. A live news truck sets up shop and reports broadcast that the area has been cleared and the bomb squad is going on. Meanwhile, down the street, the bomber is watching all this from the local K-Mart. He watches as the EOD tech approaches his package, places a call on his cell phone and…BOOM.
Okay, what should YOU do if you find a suspicious package that might be a bomb? RAIN.
Recognize the threat
Isolate the hazard (clear the area)
Notify the appropriate resources and authorities
Do NOT use your cell phone to make the call. Phones and pagers might set the bomb off. Use a landline OR move AT LEAST a football field away before calling on your cell phone.
Then we watched a video on the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, the only bomb squad school in the country that’s recognized by the FBI.
And, finally, back to that “hands-on” stuff.
Our class broke into two teams. One team headed to the “kill room” while my team were introduced to BULLDOG, the robot. Named after a former bomb squad member, the robot is an impressive-looking piece of equipment that takes a large portion of the risk away from his human teammates. BULLDOG (Bomb Urban Logistics Landmine Disposal Ordinance Guru) operates via fiber-optic wires and can be driven from a control board into a hazardous area to do certain tasks. Humans do ultimately need to go in and perform the hands-on work of handling the bomb, but BULLDOG can sometimes disable the threat or can at least help determine how much of a threat there really is.
BULLDOG has a very firm handshake. I can vouch for that fact as I somehow was “volunteered” to offer up my fist to be gripped by the robotic hand. However, his grasp only applies about 40 psi, so the operator must use extreme care in HOW a package is picked up, as it can (and has) slipped out. Dropping bombs is not good.
And my hand survived.
Next, the class teams swapped and we took our turn in the “kill room” where we were expected to locate and call out potential threats. Most were obvious. The hand grenade, the landmine, the sticks of dynamite. But the small motion detector with the blasting caps would have taken us all out.
One of the main points the detectives wanted us to “get” was that a bomb can be anything. Look around your own house. Hydrogen peroxide plus fingernail polish remover plus citrus fruit equals bomb components.
Back in the kill room we continued to look for suspicious packages, knowing that a bomb can look like anything. Another point that was stressed is to look for what does not belong. Like the homeland security book sitting on the table in the Hazelwood Presbyterian Church. THAT was the final bomb in our kill room. It was a hollowed out book that contained the IED.
To wrap up this week’s report, let me offer a couple of terms the insiders use. An explosion is called a “high order.” A fizzle is called a “low order.” The bomb squad aims to keep those high orders to a bare minimum.
Next week: Crime Scene Investigation