Post-blast explosives detection
Real-world scenarios teach bomb dogs to sniff out secondary explosive devices
By Mike Herstik
An excerpt from the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s (DPS’s) mission statement readers: “…providing vital scientific, technical, and operational support to other criminal justice agencies…” In the spirit of that mission, Arizona DPS recently hosted a training day that offered bomb technicians and explosives detection canine teams some unconventional, yet potentially realistic, problem solving. This article is a firsthand account of the training and its results.
The day was overcast and rainy, but at one point a bright rainbow stretched across the dark sky. The facilitator, Lieutenant J.A. Leos of DPS, asked me to instruct the canine teams as they went through the scenarios and to provide problem-solving direction to the handlers as needed. Deployment scenarios focused on detecting secondary hazardous devices that might be intended for first responders. The canine teams deployed through freshly detonated residual material and actual carnage. In one of the scenarios, pig carcasses were detonated to simulate a post-blast bomb scene and provide serious distractors for the canine teams. Swine flesh is similar to human remains and often is used to train cadaver recovery canines when human remains are unavailable for that purpose.
In addition to the scenarios, a triaceton triperoxide (TATP) odor-recognition station was available to the canine teams. Approximately 90 grams of TATP, which constituted a threat quantity, were used for odor recognition. The material was securely set up within a small but stable structure of heavy, stacked, natural stones that blended into the setting. Because of its inherent volatility, most of the dogs had no problem learning to recognize and indicate on TATP.
In scenario two, a VBIED containing large sections of pig carcass was detonated using 10 pounds of C4. The resulting blast spread carnage and vehicle parts contaminated with explosive residue for more than 150 feet. Material was strewn across the ground and hanging from bushes, with remnants of flesh dangling from the twisted metal wreckage of the detonated Suburban. The resulting scene simulated the tragedy of an actual blast scene. Thirty yards away sat a large tanker trailer that had a 10-pound package of undetonated C4 lodged within its frame.
The canine teams started their search at the far edge of the blast perimeter and methodically worked their way through the carnage and explosive residue toward the source of the blast, then continued to the nearby tanker trailer to indicate on the undetonated C4.
Many of the dogs showed strong interest in the distractors—both the residual odor and the resulting strewn flesh. The handlers were instructed to motivate their dogs through the search in a positive manner until they reached the target vehicles, then to reinforce the desired indication. The concept is that the dogs are not trained to look for minute amounts of evidence, but rather to search for a device made of threat quantity explosives. Although it is unusual here in the United States, such training is standard for law enforcement in Israel.
With good handling, virtually all the dogs quickly overcame any confusion and succeeded in searching through rather than avoiding the distractors, then identifying the undetonated explosives.
1. Imprint and train on the unmixed ammonium nitrate. (preferably a reagent grade)
2. Test and reinforce periodically on actual ANFO to ensure recognition.
3. Set up fuel oil in odor-recognition training as a distractor to extinct indication on this non-target component. That helps the dog discern and indicate the correct target signature and to search in a neutral manner through fuel oil when it is encountered in a non-threat situation.
Incorporating that protocol helps reduce the likelihood of a false alert when working around diesel. It also helps with generalized recognition of the AN component in other formulations of explosives that use AN in their makeup.
Good training involves pushing the performance envelope in a challenging but productive manner. Performance strengths and weaknesses can then be discovered in a controlled environment rather than dire reality. Discovering weaknesses allows us to develop and integrate remedial protocols, provides a frame of reference and consequently should enhance performance skills. Bomb dog handlers cannot afford the luxury of simply trusting their dogs; rather, they must know their dogs.
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