One of the cardinal rules for bomb threat planning “those who work the building should search the building” seems to be either not known or overlooked among emergency response protocols in the US.
Recently, there was a wave of bomb threat calls both in Washington State and elsewhere that illustrate a need for IED Awareness and SEARCH within bomb threat planning for the targeted institutions as well as any organization where a bomb threat call may be received, which in reality is almost everywhere.
On 16 November 2012 Washington State had bomb threat calls to 8 Courthouses all within a few minutes. In addition to Washington; Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Arizona, Nebraska, and Connecticut had similar bomb threat calls around that day. In all of the cases in Washington the response by the facilities receiving the bomb threat was potentially the wrong one: They immediately evacuated and left the searching up to first responders.
Each of the facilities relied on police teams to search the premises for a suspicious device. As anyone who has performed an IED search will tell you with any experience; when you are in an unfamiliar environment and searching for a suspicious device….EVERYTHING can be a suspicious device.
A cardinal rule in bomb threat planning was either broken, or perhaps not known, among the security managers of the facility. This cardinal rule is: “Those who work the building should search the building”. Contrary to some perceptions law enforcement, and yes even Police Bomb Disposal Units, do not have a magical wand that will detect IEDs with 100% accuracy in a working environment. Especially in a large areas, even K9 (Bomb Detection Dogs), which are excellent tools for detection, are not 100% reliable and also have a limited work span. In Washington State for example, where many threats occurred simultaneously, there exists the chance that the resources can either be not enough, or literally wear out before a thorough search is conducted of all the facilities. If your organization can take a work stoppage that last days, this is not a problem. However, if your organization and those it serves depend upon maintaining operations, each moment that you are shut down is a victory for the bomb threat callers intentions and a loss for your side.
Bomb Threat Planning should take this into consideration. Training must be performed to provide the workers of the building with IED awareness and SEARCH, and then they search the building. If a suspicious item is found, safe evacuation procedures are then instituted and the police called.
Evacuation then relying on police sets up a dangerous precedent at worst, and creates revenue loss by disruption of the operation in a potentially unnecessary evacuation for a threat.
Over 90 percent of all bomb threat calls are fake. Evacuating automatically sets up a very disruptive pattern of interruption of work. Interruption to work is a very effective weapon of the bomb threat call, and in some cases may be the callers only intent as the mere threat of a bomb will trigger an evacuation and work stoppage. By not following the cardinal rule, the building managers are playing into the hands of the bad guy.
Worse, evacuations have been known to place large groups of people in harms way by removing them from relatively secure areas with natural cover and now expose them in the open to an area that was less secure than the building they evacuated from. The evacuation may contribute to or allow the flow of the people towards the actual bomb. The decision to evacuate without an educated understanding of IED tactics and SEARCH potentially can contribute to a potential loss of life.
Israel, the UK, and many places in IED ravaged South of Thailand understand and practice the doctrine of “Those who work the building should search the building.”. Something the US should take note of an integrate into their planning process sooner rather than later.
There are a number of other considerations to be taken into account with Bomb Threat Planning, and this is only a very brief observation from experience that doing what Washington State did in November with automatic evacuations and relying on first responders for the search as the first answer is the wrong answer. If building managers make decisions based upon no information, rather than an informed decision based upon SEARCH trained observation and planning, the results could be needless work stoppage at best, and lives lost at worst.
Washington State Bomb Call locations**
NOV 15: Chelan County-3:15 P.M. (Chelan County Courthouse) *Evacuated, but around 4:20 P.M. People are allowed to be escorted back to get their possesions.
NOV 15: Clark County-3:20 P.M. (Clark County Courthouse) *Evacuated
NOV 15: Thurston County- 3:30 P.M. (Thurston County Courthouse) *Evacuated
NOV 15: Benton County- “Thursday Afternoon” (Benton County Justice Center) *Evacuated
NOV 15: Columbia, Douglas, Adams, and Pacific also had bomb threats during Thursday afternoon. All Evacuated.
The last 10 years have seen a dramatic shift in the capability and experience of the US military Counter IED and EOD forces against various simple and complex IED threats. Both on a technical level as pure IED response, and also as an integrated component of the larger Counter IED effort, US military EOD forces have a wealth of experience and knowledge valuable to Homeland Defense. Yet, is the integration of military EOD experience into the Homeland Defense sector as robust as it should be? Are we utilizing all avenues to cross level the valuable knowledge, skills, and experience gained overseas to the domestic agencies that most need it?
Why look to the US military EOD? Prior to 2003; the UK, Israel, and some full time police bomb squads in the US were the leaders on IED technical knowledge, with only a few US military units focusing on the IED aspect. Instead, with some exceptions Unexploded Ordnance was the main focus of the US military EOD units at that time. However, all that has changed.
With the large volume of IED incidents that the US military has experienced across all services, combined with a wider range of training that includes Electronic Countermeasures, Home Made Explosives, Electronics, and Advanced IEDs, Forensics, etc. the level of capability for US military EOD technicians at the Team Leader level has now in many cases surpassed the three prior CIED leaders to become foremost in the world.
But just as the capability of the US military expanded over the last decade of conflict, so too did the capability of bombers and bombing groups. And unlike the US government; the information and capability of the terrorist is not bound by jurisdictional restrictions or bureaucratic process. For the bombers, it is as easy as logging into the internet, talking with a friendly mentor, or even being an astute reader of the news. This means that the ability to initiate very lethal IEDs here in the US is high. And not just among terrorist groups. Criminals, and even just the curious teenager are able to procure all the materials and knowledge within minutes, and bring to bear a lethality against first responders that was once reserved for military engagements overseas.
So how do we leverage the military experience effectively and efficiently to where they are most needed for homeland defense? Especially in this age of reducing budgets?
For the next month, this blog will be focusing on those questions, and potential solutions to them. Feedback is welcome from the various members of the community to share information from their perspective of where the best use of resources can be applied.
The bombing wave last weekend in Thailand illustrates an important lesson for American First Responders in recognizing and understanding what to do in the face of this lethal IED tactic. This lesson is instilled in both the US Military and Thai police continuously because it is so lethal, and is one of the most important points of safety in any bombing incident.
The secondary device is one that is taught in almost all IED awareness classes. But for most of the instruction I have sat in on to observe, the correct emphasis is just not there. Usually this lack of emphasis seems to be due to the instructor or course writer never having been in an IED incident, much less complex ones with lethal secondaries. But for those in the US military, and for first responders in places like Thailand where a modern IED campaign is occurring, the secondary (and tertiary, quaternary, etc) device is the item that will be emphasized the most, as it is usually the one that will kill the first responders, and / or the most people after the initial event has occurred.
Secondary devices are not new. The tactic is almost as old as the IED. The primary device is either placed to go off or be seen and subsequently draw in the first responders, good samaritans, and others in response to it, while the secondary device is positioned to explode when and where the attacker believes that the intended crowd size or composition is present. The first bomb in other words is the “lure” to bring in the true targets.
Commonplace now in Thailand are events that will see three or four such devices placed. The initial effect of the use of secondaries to attack first responders is that it created a delay in their response to the incident. Creating a perception of either incompetence or fear. Perceptions that suited the goals of the bombing groups among the public. Later, the Thais accepted a certain amount of risk in responding in order to not delay response to the public. This initially was accompanied by large casualties, but later, with the units training on SEARCH, the casualties were reduced.
The incident last week in Thailand was not unique in the use of secondary and tertiary devices, but was unique in that all three were Vehicle Borne IEDs (VBIEDs) or car bombs, and appear to have been coordinated with the Lee Garden Hotel VBIED hundreds of miles to the North. On Saturday, the initial car bomb was detonated in a crowded street in the southern city of Yala. Half an hour later, another car bomb was detonated about 100 meters up the road from the first car bomb, right where the crowds had gathered to observe, and many of the first responders were staging to put out the fires created by the first bomb, and begin the investigation and recovery. About 15 minutes after the second bomb went off, another bomb exploded nearby, killing and injuring even more people. The first responders now had three incidents to deal with. On a regional/national level. One hour after these three IEDs went off in Yala, a VBIED was initiated in the basement of the Lee Garden Hotel in Songkhla city to the north. This attack was especially onerous as Songkhla was not as heavily hit by IEDs as Yala, and is viewed as relatively peaceful when compared to the three southern provinces which are the center of the Thailand IED campaign. Now there were four IED incidents, the three in Yala created a mass casualty incident, and the one in Songkhla was very visible and created a media impact Thailand and the region, even though it did not generate many casualties. All of this occurred in less than two hours.
Most of the deaths due to IEDs in Iraq were against Iraqi first responders. While the US tended to focus naturally upon attacks against the US forces, the insurgency targeted police, ambulance services, firemen, etc in many areas. The ability to separate the people from those the government and society place to protect them is a powerful tool in the hands of the insurgent and terrorist, and one that causes the most fear. If the first responders are afraid and paralyzed by an attack, the impact is tenfold upon the peoples consciousness who rely upon them for safety.
Another very successful attack by secondaries in Thailand was the use of a combination of timer, and victim operated devices that targeted the forensics teams that were set in. The secondary devices were timed to hit about an hour after the initial event when the forensic teams entered and began to search the area. Another variation to this was the device that was placed “off the beaten path” from the initial post blast area, that medical and police would not usually enter, but forensic investigators would in their search for pieces of forensic evidence that was blown about from the initial bomb. This was an intentional target, as forensic investigators are a “high value” target that are difficult to replace in many jurisdictions. The amount of training required and time to build up experience in post blast investigations made loosing one in a region very damaging to the overall effort to locate the bombers and bring them to justice.
Thailand also has some of the most effective IEDs for attacking the EOD techs as well. Devices created specifically to kill the EOD technician. When the Thais began using robotic means to render safe the IEDs (when the budget allowed a team to obtain a robot, which is very rare), secondary devices were used to attack the robots on approach, and tertiary devices to kill the EOD technician on approach afterward were then developed.
But we don’t have to look abroad for lethal uses of secondary devices. The incident a few years ago near Portland Oregon had a primary hoax device, and a secondary live device that sadly killed a police EOD technician. The use of a primary hoax device also serves occasionally to lull the responders into a false perception that the entire incident is a hoax. Many times the initial device that is placed to be a “lure” is a hoax device.
The only effective measure to protect against secondary devices is a training system that can accurately convey how these devices are being used worldwide, as well as the myriad ways that they are used to “lure” first responders into the secondary IED trap. SEARCH training, is the second part to this, which trains first responders in a realistic way what to look for and what to do when you find it. It is especially important to react in a way that helps keep you out of danger once the first device is found, or initiates.
And always remember that if there is an IED found or detonated, the incident is not over or contained to that area. With IEDs:
The one you see won’t hurt you.
The recent Valentines Day bombing attempt in Bangkok contains a great lesson learned for US first responders, that many are not aware of. The practice of graffiti marking is however, well known in the context of gang activity to mark territory or activity of a particular group or individual. But how many in the US would react if they saw a sticker, commercially made, bearing the single word “Sejeal” upon it?
56 such stickers were found post incident plastered along routes in Thailand, potentially marking escape routes, attack paths, or targeting locations. 300 were found in the home that was being rented by the Iranians in the failed plot, 100 at the Nasa Vegas hotel where Leila Rohani stayed, and more inside a motorcycle that was used by the terrorists.
“Sejeal” is in reference to the Sejeal Stones that were legendary stones dropped by birds during a battle between Mohammad and Yemenite tribesman. The stones scared away the elephants that the Yemenis were using in the battle, and effectively turned the tide of the conflict. More recently, Sejeal is a label given to improvised missiles being used in the Middle East.
How many US responders and citizens would be aware to this fact? In Iraq, flags, graffiti signs, and other markers were used for similar purposes, some with symbols, but others with various names or slogans. Just as police are tuned into gang symbols and understand the meanings when a gang symbol appears in a new area, so to must they be educated on various symbols that terrorist “gangs” and individuals can use for a more insidious and deadly purpose.
The Thais are very alert to bombings, having endured almost a decade of a very large bombing campaign in the South of Thailand, and take the IED threat very seriously. Earlier Bangkok was the scene of a wave of bombings during New Years 2007, another failed attempt by an Iranian group to use a Large Truck Bomb (LVBIED) during the 90s, and other IED devices used in everything from civil unrest to domestic disturbances. As such, they are attuned in a way that many in the US should be aware of and emulate at home. The Department of Homeland Securities “See Something, Say Something” campaign is only as good as the information that people are given, and many remain unaware of indicators of terrorist activity.
As I sit during a brief pause in my travel in Pattaya, an event occurred here yesterday which illustrates this point. Everyone in Thailand is aware of the Sejeal sticker information. Here in Pattaya, an alert citizen Mr. Tawee, spotted three suspicious men plastering stickers along Soi (Street) 2, and spraying graffiti. The stickers had the word “Napalm” on them and the tags the word “C4”. He duly reported it to the police, and the investigation quickly located the culprits who were foreign gang members with a misdirected sense of timing and words while on vacation. I wandered Soi 2 yesterday and there was a mix of farang (foreigners) and Thais and nothing out of the normal eclectic bustle that is Pattaya, yet Mr. Tawee was alert and not afraid to report what he thought was suspicious. Good call on his part; as this time it turns out to be gangs, but next time might just as easily be terrorist bent on destruction.
Recent headlines have focused in on the failed Iranian bombing cell in Bangkok, and while there are lessons learned there for US First responders, the real lessons from Thailand are not to be found there, but hundreds of miles south in places you have probably never heard of: Yala, Pattani, and Natariwat. In these three southern provinces the Thai police, military, and civil assistance volunteer members face a barrage of IEDs that at times dwarf Iraq and Afghanistan both in intensity and complexity. Even more startling since this was an IED campaign that didn’t start in a vacuum of power after a conflict. It was home grown from the bottom up in a peaceful and stable paradigm.
Imagine if the domestic disturbances in the US during the 60s and 70s occurred with todays technology and you have what Southern Thailand looks like, and it is eye opening to say the least. Northern Ireland was 20 years ago, the Intifadas in Israel were 10, but Thailand is today, and tomorrow may well be the US. It is to this that we must study and learn from what the Thais are going through.
As my plane takes off from Seattle on the 16th trip to Thailand since 2007 (back when I was an EOD Company commander fresh from Iraq), I read another article on the Bangkok Valentines day plot in the paper. Filled with information that is not relevant to first responders. The articles will nevertheless be copied and spoken of to US responders in a dangerous repeat of information that misses the real lessons learned on how to take this and other examples, and apply them to real measures that can be taken in the US to prepare to protect against the growing hazard of IEDs.
For the next few weeks this blog will be focused on some of these incidents. Keep in mind that much of the information can not be put out in a public forum, but what can will be, and will be given a focus that hopefully puts it in the perspective that a US first responder can learn from the blood, sweat, and tears of fellow first responders half a world away, who are daily facing a terrible menace in their duty to protect their jurisdictions and families. Lessons that US first responders so vitally need.