Hidden Dangers Are Closer Than You Think

Last month I was in Alabama teaching a class regarding IED Awareness and safety to a group of first responders.  The bucolic setting was the farthest place one would imagine housing dangers from IEDs or Explosives (home made or otherwise).  Yet an incident in class re-enforced for everyone just how close some dangers really are.

As I was entering the Home Made Explosive (HME) portion and showing simulated examples of common explosives used in terrorist incidents globally and in the US, I noticed one Sheriff tilting his head and narrowing his eyes at the case I held up illustrated what ANFO looked like, the explosive used in the Oklahoma City bombing, and frequently used in places such as Thailand and Afghanistan.  He peered forward and I was initially not sure how to take his very visible interest.

During the next break  he approached and asked “So you say Ammonium Nitrate plus XXX (second precursor omitted), makes it explosive and was what they used in that video we saw?”  The video he was referring to was a particularly graphic one that illustrates a secondary device that was used in Thailand to sadly lethal ends.  “Yes” was my reply, “and it has also been used in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.”  He leaned back and told me he had something to show me after the break.

Within 15 minutes he was back and held a commercial product in a jar complete with a receipt.  The Sheriff had travelled two blocks from the classroom and purchased it at a local pawn shop. Sure enough, contained within was Ammonium Nitrate and inside that was a small ziplock baggy with XXX.  There were no warnings on the jar, no restrictions to purchasing, just 7 oz of what when mixed was a cap sensitive explosive that was a favorite of terrorists worldwide.  The directions stated to open the bag, pour in contents, and then fill either a gun target, or shoot the jar directly for an explosive effect at your next shooting event.

The Sheriff was now alert to the dangers, and had talked a bit with the store owner who was his friend.  The owner had purchased a number of these “target enhancers” from the internet, again with no restrictions.  The only warning being in small, non highlighted print:  “Do not transport once mixed”.

This illustrates a hidden danger that many within our first responder and law enforcement community are unaware of.  The ability to purchase at sporting goods stores or pawn shops an item with little to no restrictions upon it, and yet possessing a very real explosive hazard when simply mixed together by shaking as the directions pointed to.

Two jars of this was the amount in the device in the video which killed a man, and injured three others.  Two jars that are allowed to be sold to anyone off the street including children.  Luckily the Sheriff was very alert, and remembered seeing the product, and put two and two together during the IED Awareness class.  He was also very conscientious  and during the lunch break went back to talk with the owner who was equally concerned for the safety of the community.  As a result the store owner voluntarily took down the product until he could work out a way to restrict in a responsible way the sales of this product.

The owner also contacted the local ATF EEO, but unfortunately there is nothing the ATF was able to do as the product is technically two separate non-hazardous materials that are only hazardous once mixed.

First responders need to be aware of these hidden sources of explosives in the middle of their communities.  This and many other examples of common items that can be combined to make explosives needs to be a priority for local law enforcement and first responders.  Especially in this emerging reality where the hidden dangers of IEDs are much closer than you think.

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RISC Article Featured in IABTI Journal

Life in the Fast Lanes – Ravens Challenge V (PDF format: 477KB)

Featured article by RISC Consulting Management on Ravens Challenge V in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of The Detonator, the official publication of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators.  If you or your organization are interested in further training against any of the scenarios listed in the article as well as participation in Ravens Challenge VI 2011, please contact us at the maryj@riscmgmt.com or 1-877-USA-RISC.  The consultants at RISC are veteran leaders and innovators in domestic and global counter-IED training for first responders, bomb technicians and EODs.

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Deadly Cargo

The latest headlines have drawn attention to the vulnerability of packages shipped via commercial airlines and probing techniques, the reality is that probing techniques occur with startling frequency and a knowledge of them one of the best defenses against them.  Sadly, many of the very people who need knowledge of trends in terrorist attacks, probing techniques, and methodologies and threats from various groups against their area, never receive it.  Security guards, clerks, cargo handlers, and the worker level of many organizations are the best eyes and ears an industry can have to guard against these types of probes/attacks and yet they are usually the last to be trained on even basic awareness.

The most successful strategy in decreasing the threat of bombings lies in providing a broad awareness of what to look for and what to do when you find it.  In order to appropriately face such extreme situations, you are best served by highly skilled, experienced instructors who not only know how real bombers think and act, but also have expert tactics on realistic capabilities and surprisingly easy methods to screen and search for IEDs that guarantee a safer, less vulnerable area in your organization.

This is simply the initial step to security.  There is never a 100% solution to any problem, let alone a threat of bombings from multiple groups worldwide against the US; however, the current trend of leaving most people in the dark about what to look for and what to do when you find it is sadly leaving success up to luck for a majority of people.

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A Promise is a Promise

There are many bonds in this world, a bond between a parent and a child, a bond between friends, and a bond between those who share difficult experiences together.  Combine all of these and magnify them a thousand-fold, and you will begin to have a faint shadow of a bond that transcends language and location.  This is the bond between Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) techs.   It is one such bond that developed four years ago between a group of American EOD techs recently returning from Iraq and a group of Thai EOD techs who were facing their own Iraq in their home country.

At that time, a group of EOD techs bridged monumental barriers in Thailand, where even though neither side spoke the others’ language, they understood each other far deeper than those who share a common language.  The Thais exchanged information with the Americans on how they were coping against a raging IED war in their country without adequate equipment and without many of the basic support systems the US  techs considered vital when dealing with IEDs.

It was during one such exchange when the Thais were showing the effects against their techs that the  American team made a promise to help.  “We couldn’t stand to watch our brothers suffer due to poor or nonexistent equipment, equipment that in many instances can save a life.”

The team took the lessons learned from the Thais back to the US where they trained American first responders on the lessons of IEDs from first responders from Thailand.  In exchange, they brought an appeal to the Americans to donate safety equipment to the Thais.  The response was overwhelming. Over 7 tons of equipment was amassed in a few weeks as the result of this request.

RISC Management donated storage and transport fees to Thailand, when after two years of a paperwork battle to clear the items through the US government into Thailand, they then provided a team of trainers to close the first chapter of the keeping of a promise between EOD brothers.

Despite endless delays, mounting expenses and a growing logistic problem, the RISC team would never abandon the project.  “When an EOD tech makes a promise to another EOD tech, he will see it through no matter how difficult.” It is nearly impossible for anyone else to understand the feeling of the “long walk,” where you approach the IED and possibly your own demise.  Alone, step-by-step into deeper isolation and possibly annihilation, this long walk is well known by the Thai brothers, and this is the foundation that formed such a deep bond.  You cannot let your EOD brother down.

So again, RISC sends a team to Thailand to not only help them with the donation items promised so long ago, but also to continue to analyze and internalize recent and relevant information on IEDs to help further prepare US first responders.

This trip was especially poignant for some RISC members as it would be their last prior to returning to temporary military duty in the Middle East.  Many of the lessons learned from the Thais waging their war in the south can be integrated in US missions across multiple countries where they will be responsible for not only IED response but also training and advising over 20 nations, US Embassies and other critical agencies in the Middle East.  When the Americans first came to Thailand in early 2007, they were bringing many lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan to the  Thais, but now, the Thais are providing experience and training unparalleled against the increasing threat our world is facing.

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