Terrorism Response: Fire-EMS Response To Vehicle-Borne IEDs

August Vernon addresses the continuing threat of suicide bombers and terrorist attacks in the U.S. in the third part of this series.


In July 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) distributed an Information Bulletin to all state, federal and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. that addressed the threat of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The bulletin states that there is no specific or...


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In July 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) distributed an Information Bulletin to all state, federal and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. that addressed the threat of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). The bulletin states that there is no specific or credible intelligence indicating that terrorist organizations intend to use VBIEDs against U.S homeland targets. However, the growing use and frequency of lethal VBIED incidents overseas is cause for continuing concern.

It is also important to note that in the al Qaeda training manual, Military Studies in the Jihad against the Tyrants, bombings are described as one of the primary means for al Qaeda to accomplish its missions. Al Qaeda has extensive experience in conducting VBIED attacks using static vehicles and suicide operations. Several other groups around the world such as the Real IRA (Europe), Basque Homeland Freedom and ETA (Europe) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC (Colombia), have used VBIEDs successfully.

What does all this information mean for public-safety agencies and how should we address it?

If your agency receives a report about a possible "car bomb" incident or suspicious vehicle, what is the safest way to respond? How would your agency respond to this type of incident? These are just a few of the issues that each agency must consider when planning for a response to a car bomb. Every week on the nightly news, we see the scenes of chaos and destruction caused by car bombings around the globe. I have taken some lessons learned in the Middle East and other locations and applied them to first responder training points. This article outlines steps that fire and EMS providers can take to prepare for the growing threat of a potential VBIED bombing.

VBIED Overview

One way to prepare for the future is to review past incidents. Two notable VBIED events that have occurred in the U.S. were the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. In each case, a rental truck was used to deliver the device to the scene and the bomb was assembled from commercially available materials.

VBIEDs are one of the largest hazards in Iraq and Afghanistan that Coalition Forces face. In Iraq, dozens of "car bombings" occur each month. It is important to take the valuable and sometimes fatal lessons learned in Iraq and apply them to training and planning for terrorist events at home. VBIEDs have been proven a favorite and effective mode for terrorists to successfully penetrate a target and create injuries and chaos. Enemy forces are now using VBIEDs as one of the preferred methods of attack on Coalition forces, as this allows the attacker a standoff capability to initiate an attack, employ large amounts of explosives, cause maximum loss of life and then quickly escape the area.

In Iraq, most VBIEDs are unique because the builders must improvise with the vehicles and materials at hand. VBIEDs are also usually designed to defeat a specific target or type of target, so they will generally become difficult to detect and protect against as they become more sophisticated. They have been employed against U.S. forces by several means, including:

  • Using locally purchased, wireless, battery-powered doorbell devices, car alarms, cordless phones or cell phones to remotely initiate VBIEDs and other IEDs
  • Using speaker and similar type of locally purchased wiring to connect the explosives
  • Using decoy devices (bait devices or vehicles) out in the open to slow or stop U.S. forces in the "kill zones"
  • Using suicide bombers to guide a vehicle into a target (for additional information on suicide bombers, see "Fire-EMS Response to Suicide Bombing Events," Firehouse, September 2005)

Types of Attacks

VBIED attacks can typically be classified in four groups.

1. Single, stationary VBIED attack
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