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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  • First responders must proceed with extreme caution for their own safety as well as the safety of the public.

Scene Management

The incident management system is one of the best tools for agencies to use to deal with these types of events. Upon being notified of an actual or suspected suicide bomber the incident commander should implement the "5 Cs Rule":


One major issue to be aware of is the method of a "double tap" attack, when minutes after a suicide bomber attack, a second bomber will attack the first responders or gathered crowds.

A suicide bomber response is similar to a hazardous materials response with "zones of control":

  • Hot zone (where the device is located)
  • Warm zone (where the perimeter will be established)
  • Cold zone (location of unified command post and staging)

All appropriate agencies, fire, EMS, law enforcement, bomb squad, emergency management office and hospitals, should be notified as soon as possible if there is a report of an incident or possible incident.

According to several guidelines the minimum safe evacuation distance for a suicide belt loaded with 10 pounds of explosives is 1,100 feet. The minimum evacuation distance for a suicide vest with 20 pounds of explosives is 1,400 feet. This is something to think about when there could be dozens or even hundreds of people within that range that will need to be quickly and safely evacuated away from the "hot zone" or the moving bomber.

Training Demands

It must be recognized that there are serious domestic and international threat groups/individuals that are willing and able to design and use IEDs against the public and first responders. One important note to remember is that there are active hate groups and extremists located in all 50 states and many foreign countries.

It is also important to remember that several of the public safety agencies involved in the response to the July 7, 2005, attacks in central London, including the London Fire Brigade, had been training for large-scale terrorist attacks since 9/11 and stated that the training paid off during the July 7 response.

Preparation is the key to a suicide bombing incident and that includes a clear idea of your actions before the incident occurs. The first step in your preparation is providing proper training to all response personnel. This should include an awareness of the hazards associated with suicide bombers and the proper steps for the responder to take. Awareness or recognition training can easily be done for first responders in as little as a few hours.

If there is a local bomb squad or hazardous devices unit in your area, ask for its assistance with your training and planning. Most bomb technicians will be glad to provide your agency with training on their procedures and equipment since they will require your support (fire, rescue, hazmat and EMS) during an incident.


For public safety agencies and special operations teams that are involved in planning and training for suicide bombers and other terrorist incidents it is critical that Operations Security (OPSEC) be utilized in their planning and training efforts. Terrorists and organized criminals can take weeks and months to select their targets and plan their operations. To be successful, they need specific information about personnel, response plans, capabilities, and infrastructures. OPSEC is a five-step risk-management process used by military and security professionals to protect sensitive information that adversaries could use.