Empowering Bomb Squads With DIY Innovations
It takes a special kind of person to be a bomb technician ... someone who is brave, disciplined, determined, levelheaded, and creative. Operators must effectively employ critical thinking and problem-solving skills while working in stressful, potentially life-threatening situations.
As a result, bomb technicians’ ability to expect the unexpected and adjust accordingly has created a consistent pipeline of do-it-yourself (DIY) inventions to solve everyday issues they face, and the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) works to validate and distribute these new capabilities.
Focusing On Smaller Solutions Can Have A Big Impact
Necessity is the mother of invention, and S&T has proudly helped bring many new scientific solutions into this world through its Response and Defeat Operations Support (REDOPS) program. REDOPS supports public safety bomb technicians across the nation by providing a collaborative structure for addressing improvised explosive device (IED) capability gaps.
The REDOPS program consists of three focus areas: Bomb Squad Test Bed, Traditional Research and Development (R&D), and Micro R&D. Since it was stood up in 2016, the Micro R&D portfolio has worked with bomb squads across the country to identify useful DIY tools created by their team members to meet specific needs. All products are assessed for safety and effectiveness prior to being shared with the broader community via the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s secure online Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal.
Father-Daughter Team Charged Up and Ready To Go
The job of a bomb technician is unquestionably dangerous, which is why their equipment must be unfailingly reliable. Unfortunately, the batteries that power bomb technicians’ X-ray generators often lack battery power indicators to let the users know when charging is required. To avoid having an X-ray generator run out of power during a response, bomb technicians often measure the voltage with a multi-meter. This method is time consuming and introduces a complex process that requires ancillary expertise to successfully complete.
Sergeant Arlin Vanderbilt (left) of the San Francisco Police Department Bomb Squad recognized the problem and knew he could find a better solution. It turns out necessity isn’t just the mother of invention—sometimes it’s the father and the daughter, too. Vanderbilt sought out help from his 14-year-old daughter, Hanna (left). It seems for the Vanderbilts, family bonding time means inventing emergency response capabilities.
Now that it has been thoroughly assessed by other bomb squad technicians and evaluated by S&T, detailed instructions for how to build and use the voltage measuring tool are being securely shared with bomb squads across the country. Their invention will increase technicians’ confidence in their equipment before going down range of an IED and will help countless colleagues avoid equipment failures.
Slicing Through Obstacles
The spirit of innovation can be found in all ages. While Hanna Vanderbilt may just be beginning her journey of ingenuity, James Jackson is an experienced expert. Now retired, Jackson dutifully served as Commander of the New York State Police Bomb Squad and is the most published bomb squad inventor in the country. His six published inventions have him sitting comfortably at the top of the leader board and the REDOPS team is still reviewing other inventions by Jackson for possible publication on the FBI’s secure online portal.
His suite of bomb squad solutions includes the Whale Blade, which he developed to assist in IED render-safe operations. REDOPS team members saw the original Whale Blade during a Raven’s Challenge exercise in Oriskany, New York, and redesigned the blade so that any bomb squad across the country could reliably build it.
Since its publication in 2019, at least 15 squads have built the Whale Blade.
A Shockingly Useful Invention
During a visit from S&T’s FRRG and REDOPS, as well as FBI and others, the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) Bomb Squad demonstrated a DIY Shock Tube Dispenser (below), designed by Mike Klag, Jim Abbes, and Mike Agnes, that they had been using during explosive response operations.
The visiting officials immediately knew this tool could provide value to the broader bomb squad community and recommended NJSP document their development and publish it. Recognizing the challenge for first responders to take time out of their schedule to develop such documentation, REDOPS offered their support.
Team REDOPS wrote two FBI Special Technicians Bulletins: one described a manually deployed shock tube dispenser and the other a robotic deployed shock tube dispenser. Since publication, the manual version has been implemented in the FBI Tactical Bomb Technician program and squads across the country are currently making and using this tool with great success.
So far, more than 200 bomb squads have built Micro R&D tools to fulfill all sorts of mission requirements.
The REDOPS Micro R&D program is a demonstrated means of delivering quality capabilities to bomb squads across the country quickly and for minimal cost
As the former Kentucky State Police Bomb Squad Commander, Jim Adkins, recently put it, “We look forward to participating and appreciate all of the work you are doing with the REDOPS program. It really means a lot to those of us that operate on a shoestring budget.”