By Tim Dees
The explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) function is obviously a critical one, but it doesn't always make sense to create an EOD team and buy the necessary equipment if there's a resource you can borrow when you need it. EOD gear is very expensive, even if you purchase only the bare essentials. A bigger consideration concerns the people who staff the team.
Most bomb techs in the United States are trained at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Alabama. The school is run by the U.S. Army, and admission is gained only through a request by a public safety agency employing the student. The costs of training are paid by the feds, but travel, subsistence and the student's salary are the responsibility of his employer, so it's fairly costly. An EOD team requires a minimum of three techs available around the clock.
Finding a Team
If your agency is unable to commit the resources necessary to train technicians, equip them properly, and keep them current, it's best to find an EOD team that can respond to your area when needed. Other public safety agencies, as well as some military organizations and installations may be able to help, as can the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE).
The most basic piece of equipment is the bomb suit. This is a very heavy (50-100 pounds) protective garment that may or may not include a respirator, ventilation system, communications system and vision aids. Hand tools are made of non-sparking materials such as bronze, brass or ceramic. Basic electronic gear, such as continuity testers and multimeters, assist the tech with electrical circuit analysis.
Most EOD teams have access to portable X-ray equipment, water cannons, and fiber-optic video cameras with or without remote transmission capabilities. Remote-controlled robots bearing one or more of these tools roll up to the suspected device and do as much of the physical handling as possible. The robots and other equipment are costly, but people are never put at risk when a machine can substitute.
Digital x-ray gear is replacing film-based equipment because it doesn't use film that needs to be wet-developed and eventually expires, and the images are available immediately.
A containment vehicle is essential for most EOD teams. This is a barrel- or sphere-shaped container for transporting unexploded ordnance to a site where it can be detonated or otherwise disposed of safely. One- and two-barrel containers have sturdy walls that direct blast force upward or upward and downward if the material explodes prematurely. Sphere-shaped vehicles contain the blast completely. These containers are designed for a maximum load of 25 pounds of explosives, depending on the type and design.
EOD teams serving less populous areas are unlikely to get much experience, and both experience and continuing training are necessary to stay current and effective. The International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators (http://www.iabti.org) puts on high-quality training and an annual conference, which includes a trade show of EOD equipment. All EOD techs should attend.
Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.