Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have long been a major concern in combat zones and other areas of conflict, killing and injuring thousands of U.S. Soldiers, coalition forces and civilians. In order to combat this threat in combat zones and prevent from becoming a statistic, we trained, trained and trained some more until our response was second nature. Smooth and effective.
We trained in spotting suspicious items in the road, on the road side, in vehicles, in building and even on people and dead animals. We learned, developed and constantly rehearsed our tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) when dealing with an IED discovery, detonation and possible IEDs from reporting to marking and documenting and it proved to save lives.
The IED threat is no longer confined to combat zones and areas of conflict- it is here, on our soil and increasing.
Law enforcement officers have been directly targeted by criminals that have learned to build IEDs and many have been injured, it is a very viable and dangerous threat that must be addressed through proper training.
IEDs have a long history of being used here in the U.S. by the mafia to target their rivals to intimidate them and assert their dominance, they were also used to target law enforcement that posed a threat to their operations. Back then commercial explosives such as dynamite and chemicals like nitro glycerin (a very unstable chemical) were more readily available due to lack of proper inventory and tracking methods.
In addition, many mafia members owned legitimate construction companies which gave them easy access to explosives such as TNT and Dynamite used to make the IEDs used in these attacks. They targeted law enforcement vehicles, homes of officers and other targets of opportunity in order to send a message and many attacks ended in serious injury and death.
Although the mafia is pretty much non-existent and with materials to make explosives readily available to the general public, the issue becomes criminals and terrorists building IEDs somewhere in the U.S. on a daily basis with the intent to cause chaos, damage, injury and death.
So what is the relevance of the IED threat to Law Enforcement and why is it a viable threat that is not going away?
The answer is simple: Criminals hate Law Enforcement and authority in general and have proven that they have absolutely no regard for human life or property, as made evident by the war they have waged. Terrorists hate our country and Law Enforcement as it poses a threat to successful terrorist bombing attacks being executed.
The IED threat is very viable as we receive daily reports of explosive devices and IED making materials being discovered during searches of homes, storage facilities, vehicles etc. They are a weapon of choice due to the fact that materials to build them are readily accessible through household chemicals and online purchases and they are relatively easily constructed and usually deadly depending on the skill of the bomb maker.
Since 2015 there have been approximately 30 attacks directly targeting Law Enforcement with the use of improvised grenades, pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails and many other IED types, since 2017 there have been in excess of 15 IED attacks directly on Law Enforcement which have resulted in serious injury and damage to vehicles.
How IEDs integrate into the Active Shooter threat is also very simple. There have many incidents where IEDs were placed on the perimeter of a scene of attack and in the case of Columbine, doors were rigged with explosives and the attackers had them placed throughout different areas of the school.
This method is something that is rarely considered because the focus is taking out the shooter but it leaves First Responders from Law Enforcement to EMS and Fire susceptible to becoming a victim of a blast which complicates the entire situation.
This is a topic that needs to be taken into serious consideration, especially when conducting active shooter training, because they will be used again and again and the luck of First Responders will eventually run out. This is what we call in the military a complex attack; a complex ambush.
How IEDs integrate into regular patrol duties while officers on the road is also very simple. There have been no shortage of incidents where IEDs were placed on the side of the road and did not detonate for one reason or another. Again, that luck will run out.
In the case of the terrorist sympathizer in South Carolina that used a terrorist tactic- an insurgent tactic- he placed hoax devices (fake- used to distract from actual IED) and real IEDs on the road side in order to directly target an unsuspecting victim passing by he even hid one in a child’s teddy bear and placed it in the middle of the road.
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The pattern and method he used in placing these IEDs is exactly what we saw in combat, difficult to know what it was, hidden in plain view using the surrounding landscape and disguised using every day items. We cannot forget the incident in Colorado in 2019 where teenagers set an ambush for officers using and incendiary device, they did this by placing street signs in the middle of the road. To me, that would have been a key indicator that something was not right. In this incident, one officer was injured as well as an innocent civilian.
How IEDs integrate into SWAT operations is also simple to understand and very similar to the regular patrol officers with one distinct aspect: Breaching doors or windows when conducting a raid on a building. One of the most concerning IED threats to breaching a door is crush plate IEDs that detonate when stepped on. This occurs by connecting the wires, closing the circuit and detonating a directional IED that is aimed towards a doorway targeting those attempting to gain entry.
Remember, when someone is barricaded it is highly likely that they do not want to be taken into custody so they will set booby-traps for responding team members. There was an incident that happened earlier in 2019 when a shed blew up and injured officers because the IED threat was not a consideration.
Due to the speed that SWAT teams often enter a building there is no consideration of a rigged door or window but it must become part of the risk assessment process prior to entry to avoid injury and death cause by an explosive device.
In addition to the placed IEDs there are more types that need serious consideration and one of those is a Suicide Vest (SVEST) which occurred just a couple of weeks ago. This happened here, in the U.S; not a combat zone.
When called to an incident, Law Enforcement has no idea what is in store for them. The subject on a call was wearing an SVEST and could have, at any time, detonated it on officers as they entered.
Not to judge their response, but, as soon as these officers saw the wires, they should have immediately cuffed him and placed him face down on the floor and backed away. This would contain the blast reducing the risk of injury by the subject’s body consuming the blast.
Finally, one of the more deadly IEDs comes in the form of a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED) which causes an immense amount of damage and causes mass casualties and damage to anyone and anything in the area, as the blast covers a wide area. There have been incidents of VBIEDs being used by terrorists as well as criminals.
There is a right and wrong way to deal with both of these significant threats.
How the IED threat integrates into the general public safety issue is as simple to understand. When Law Enforcement is conducting operations in the vicinity of civilians where an IED or IEDs are suspected, proper evacuation procedures must be implemented in order to reduce the risk of innocent civilians being injured or killed by shrapnel. Again, there is a right way and a wrong way to do so.
You must ensure to understand the difference between blast radius and kill radius which are not the same thing. Improper evacuation procedure and/or distance or lack of evacuation of civilians is a recipe for disaster. The disaster would be in the form of death or serious injury as well as legal implications from those victimized.
This is also an issue with regards to vehicle placement when on scene of a shooting and an IED is placed in conjunction or specific IED threat. We have seen many times with incidents that happened where the vehicles were bunched up in choke points or lined up in close proximity of each other, civilians standing around just outside the perimeter. This is usually not sufficient to avoid damage and injury had the device detonated this is just more proof that this training is not only necessary but vital to everyone’s safety.
The final consideration regarding this threat is the Border Patrol aspect considering the landscape they patrol on a daily basis and the proximity to the violence happening just across the border to Mexico.
With the cartels working together with terrorist organizations we have already seen IEDs being used on Mexican security forces as well as civilians, and it will not be long before they begin to use IEDs on border roads that are used for human, drug and weapons smuggling directly targeting our Border Patrol Agents and vehicles.
This is of major concern as it will open up areas for the cartels to continue their operations as it will prevent border agents from patrolling certain areas. The miles of dirt roads are ideal to hide explosive devices and if border patrol is not properly trained, they will not expect the threat and will find themselves fighting another enemy- the IED.
Another consideration is a coyote or other “runner” wearing an SVEST to take out agents. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, it does not mean it won’t and you must be prepared.
In conclusion, there is a right and wrong way to deal with IEDs in general from discovery to detonation on patrol, traffic stops to pre-raid precautions and it starts with obtaining any information possible on the subject to see if they have any history of explosives.
Tactics, Techniques and Procedures that address the specific threat of IEDs is paramount and considered the new necessity training and must be developed, taught, rehearsed, rehearsed again and implemented on scene.
Most agencies only receive a general, classroom awareness briefing on what to look for and what IEDs look like and some information about pre-cursors and construction of devices but they do not receive the proper training on response to a discovery and detonation.
Our IED Response Lane Training program uses the military training model which has been revised to cater to the public sector for Law Enforcement and other First Responders. This training teaches a wide variety of topics relating to IEDs from building, vehicle and personnel searching and marking, learning signs and indicators, what to do when you see a hoax device, what to do upon detonation from casualty evacuation to vehicle positioning and many more aspects.
The IED threat will continue to increase and attacks on Law Enforcement and other First Responders will continue to occur with increased frequency and effectiveness.
Please contact for your department or agency’s IED Response Training before your brave officers end up on the wrong end of an IED incident as many others have in the recent past.
This program is long overdue and every agency or department needs this training in order to conduct their duties safely, effectively and efficiently, there is much more to proper response than to back away and call Bomb Disposal. The scene has to be completely secure, evidence must be marked in some way and the reporting is key in proper readiness for your Bomb Disposal Team, help them to do their job efficiently.
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