Fire & EMS Response To Suicide Bombing Events

August Vernon presents the first in a series of articles that will address the growing threat of suicide bombers in the U.S. and how public safety agencies can effectively plan for and respond to these events.


This is the first in a series of articles that will address the growing threat of suicide bombers in the U.S. and how public safety agencies can effectively plan for and respond to these events. The articles will cover such issues as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, pre-incident...


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This is the first in a series of articles that will address the growing threat of suicide bombers in the U.S. and how public safety agencies can effectively plan for and respond to these events. The articles will cover such issues as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, pre-incident planning, post-incident response, suicide bomber tactics, explosive devices and other timely topics and will focus primarily on the fire and EMS response to these types of incidents. Please follow local guidelines and procedures. This article is for informational purposes only.

Modern suicide bombing was introduced in Lebanon throughout the 1980s. Suicide bombers, or "homicide bombers," as coined by the current Bush administration, are individuals who carry IEDs on their person to detonate in a location with the intention of taking the lives of bystanders as well as their own. Suicide bombings have proven to be one of the most effective ways to successfully penetrate a target and create injuries and havoc. The suicide bomber is also a very difficult threat to counter.

Every day on TV, we see the scenes of chaos and destruction caused by suicide bombers in cafes, buses and streets. It is a very simple and inexpensive process to make a suicide belt or bomb. Could this be one of the possible future threats we are facing in the United States of America? What type of impact would a similar event cause in the United States at a major sporting event or on a crowded bus in your jurisdiction? The suicide bomber has become one of the few remaining ways for terrorists to effectively target their enemies. First responders at all levels must learn to work together to deter suicide bombers from attacking locations in their jurisdictions, and to safely respond in the event an attack occurs.

One way to plan and prepare for future terrorist events is to look at incidents that have already occurred in the United States. Below are two case studies for events that have occurred in the United States.

In the early morning of July 31, 1997, an informant in New York City reported to the New York Police Department (NYPD) that two individuals from the Middle East had built suicide devices and were planning to detonate them on the New York subway. A day earlier, a massive suicide attack occurred in Jerusalem using the "double tap" method that inspired the two men to move forward with their plans.

Upon investigation, it was determined by NYPD to be in fact a credible report. The two young men had successfully built four large pipe bombs "salted" by dozens of four-inch nails. The plan was to strike the Atlantic Avenue B subway line, which is heavily used by the Orthodox Jew population, during the morning rush hour. With just under four hours of investigation and planning, the NYPD Emergency Services Unit (ESU) successfully raided the location where the two individuals were armed with the devices. At 4:50 A.M., the ESU made entry into the apartment, shooting and injuring the two suspects, one of whom was able to flip one of the devices' toggle switches, arming the device, prior to being shot. Fortunately, the devices did not explode. In 1999, both terrorists were sentenced to prison. One has since been released from prison and been deported to the Palestinian Authority. He has since disappeared. The other is serving out his life sentence at the "Supermax" prison in Florence, CO.

In October 2004, a discharged Tennessee National Guardsman with neo-Nazi leanings was arrested after planning to attack the local National Guard Armory, take hostages, murder them and set off explosives. The FBI was contacted after a search of his home and vehicle turned up additional bomb-making materials and weapons, detailed sketches of the armory and plans to suicide bomb a local synagogue. He told investigators that he planned to wear a trenchcoat stuffed with explosives and get himself "as close as possible to children and the rabbi to cause the greatest amount of damage possible."

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