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How Not to Disarm a Suspected Bomb


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Security guards often are the first people to notice suspect bags and items left around their site so it is important that they are well trained in identifying potential explosive devices, but more importantly what to do when one is found.

I was a team leader of a security guard team when one of the guards radioed through that they had found a suspect black brief case near a public door.

Suspect object

The main purpose for explosive devices is to cause massive harm and injury to people in a relatively small location. Security guards are trained to look closely at any items that a left near heavy public use areas for this reason.

Where this item was had close to 200 people in the near vicinity that could be injured by a device and surrounding secondary fragmentation.

Response action

I instructed the security guards to immediately begin isolating the area by not allowing any more people in and letting the natural flow of people leave the area calmly and safely without arising unnecessary panic. The best way to do this is to just let people know that they is an incident being managed and they are not allowed access to the affected area without mentioning anything about the reason.

Isolation and safety zones

This is the hardest part of the response plan because you have to clear a safe area around the potential device without really knowing exactly what its capability is. You need to assess the size and components of the device and compare this to the building environment it is placed in for secondary effect hazards.

A simple method is to assume at least a 20 metre radius around the suspect item as the smallest recommendation for anything the size of a lunchbag as comparison. I do stress that you need to take the advice of experienced responding guards/law enforcement specialists for each reported item as they can vary widely in effects.

The suspected device

The black brief case was looked at by a senior manager who decided to cut open a small section of the case to view inside to make a better decision regarding evacuation distances. He then applied a small incision that obtracted his view because it was packed with a grey foam substance and the cut was stopped. A gentle movement of the item indicated it had a heavy weight.

The size of the case indicated a possibility of 5-10 kilograms of explosive potential. Evacuation of the area became immediate and the security guard team cleared the area in under 2 minutes without any panic or confusion.

Police attendance

The local police members arrived on scene first and started to wait for the bomb squad. However, after a brief period of time they thought it would be better if they also inspected it.

One of the police officers went to the back of their car and got a small painters respirator to put over her mouth while putting on thin latex gloves on her hands. She then started to walk across to the suspect item while the rest of us where still confused about her actions.

Respirators don't protect against bombs

If it wasn't so dangerous it would have been funny to see how a thin cardboard mask will protect her from an explosion. The security guards all took up positions further away and behind concrete structures for safety and waited.

The police officer walked into the isolated zone and approached the brief case. By kneeling down and looking at it for 10 seconds she determined that it was safe fof her to disarm the device.

How not to disarm devices

She reached out and with a sudden motion flicked the catches on the brief case and opened it.

No explosion so everyone looked out and saw her carrying the case back to the police car. Inside the brief case was model car pieces stuck in solid grey foam. The security team couldn't believe how someone could risk all the damage and their own lives just for the sake of waiting a few more minutes for the professionals to attend.

© Copyright 2008 by Paul Baker

Information supplied by Paul Baker

Over twenty years security & risk management experience across Australia to protect corporate clients from critical incidents and security risks.

Previously served in the Military and expert in explosives, weapons, and information gathering techniques.

Achieved formal qualifications in a wide range of security risk management skills and commendations for crisis response operations

Security Manager
03 9642 0599


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