The MPD Bomb Squad Performs
Thursday afternoon the four person bomb squad of the Midland Police Department gave a public demonstration of some of the tricks of the bomb defusing trade.
As recently as last month there was a suspicious package found at the Wal-Mart store that caused quite a scare. It turned out to be a false alarm, of sorts. It was a brick in a box that someone planted in the store. But the bomb squad had to take charge, make sure everyone was safe, and do whatever it took to render the device harmless. A news roundup of the incident can be found at Bert's Blog.
In the last couple of years there have been 33 bomb alerts in the city of Midland to which the bomb squad had to respond. Most of them were false alarms, but a dozen of them involved actual explosive devices.
The first priority of the bomb squad is to try to make sure that no one is going to get hurt. Once the area is secure they try to determine what the device is. And they have to decide whether to deal with the thing right there or haul it somewhere safer. They've got an x-ray machine to look inside of a container, but that's not practical for everything.
The PAN Disrupter
One of the most common devices used by law enforcement and the U.S. military to disable a bomb is a device developed by Sandia National Laboratories, and the first usage made public involved the Unabomber's last bomb. More recently, they disarmed the infamous Shoe Bomber's bomb.
It's the Percussion Actuated Non-electric Disrupter. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? ("Sandia: making things, not names.") Practitioners of the bomb defusing trade know it as the "PAN Disrupter."
As recently as 2002, the workings of the PAN Disrupter were kept secret due to security reasons, but now the devices are in use by bomb squads across the country. And according to REDECOM Magazine, the U. S. military Explosive Ordnance Disposal units have been using it on unexploded ordinance for years. Furthermore, a brief Google search turns up some very detailed information about it. So don't worry about any classified info getting out here.
The PAN Disrupter consists of a hollow stainless steel tube secured to a frame. The tube actually serves as a gun barrel which uses a blank 12 gauge shotgun shell and a projectile of a type deemed necessary for the type of bomb they are dealing with. The PAN Disrupter is loaded, and it's aimed at the bomb. The shotgun shell is discharged with a spark sent though a long thin tube strung out a safe distance so that the technicians can stay far away when it fires. Ideally, the projectile disables the bomb. Or there's a possibility it could blow the bomb up.
But, someone has to set the PAN Disrupter up near the target, and the bomb suit is supposed to protect that person while he/she is doing it. It's a hazardous job, and some jurisdictions send a robot in to do all of that close up work.
Another trick of the trade is to use water bombs to blow packages apart to expose their contents. The bomb squad demonstrated that technique by loading small explosives devices in two plastic water bottles and aiming them at a cardboard box. An electric charge ignites them simultaneously, and the force of the water literally blows the box away while leaving whatever was in the box intact. In this case, it was a few sticks of fake dynamite.
If they have to haul it somewhere safer they can use the $26,000 Bomb Trailer purchased though a Department of Homeland Security grant. It has a crane to hoist a potential bomb and load it into the tank. The wall of the tank consists of a thick steel outer wall, several inches of Styrofoam, and an inner steel wall. It's open at the top so that the force of any explosion within the container will be projected upward.
So are we safe?
Hardly a week goes by in which we don't see headlines about a terrorist's bomb going off somewhere in the world. The first line of homeland defense is to go find the terrorists and neutralize them before then can do something destructive. But, many people say that it's only a matter of time before another act of terrorism occurs in the U.S. So we all have to stay alert. And if we are lucky enough to find a bomb before it explodes, then it's very reassuring to know that we have a bomb squad as proficient as this one.
The bomb squad boss is Lt. Jim Reynolds. And the guys on the ground are Sgt. Brian Rackow, officer Dave Edwards, and officer Troy Hively, who prior to joining the MPD, was a military explosive disposal team member in Bosnia with the job of disarming unexploded ordinance. Thanks for all you do, fellows. And stay safe.