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Bombs Away: Getting a Unique Education at the Hazardous Devices School


Hazardous Device School graphicA message comes in out of the blue: a caller says he has planted a pipe bomb at a busy strip mall. The bomb squad rushes to the scene. They quickly find a suspicious backpack left underneath a stairwell. They analyze it. Looks like a bomb, all right, and it could go off at any moment. They carefully disable the bomb ... just in time.

A scene from a Hollywood drama? Nope. Just another day of training at the Hazardous Devices School, or HDS, an FBI/U.S. Army facility at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.

What is the HDS? It's the place where the nation's 2,600 bomb technicians are trained and certified—the only world class caliber institution of its kind in the U.S.

Who attends? Those assigned to accredited bomb squads or managing them: fire fighters, police officers, FBI Agents, and other federal investigators. More than 7,500 first responders have completed the Basic course alone since HDS opened in 1971. Just this past year, over 1,250 were trained at the facility.

What do they learn? From A to Z: The fundamentals of explosives. How to recognize, assess, and render safe hazardous devices. Post-blast investigations (what exploded and why). Decontamination and disposal procedures. Basic electronics. Fragment analysis. The latest on protective clothing. Specialty courses on state-of-the-art robots (see above photo). For executives, the ins and outs of managing a bomb squad. And cutting edge counterterrorism bomb training on how to respond to suicide attacks, large vehicle bombs, weapons of mass destruction, and mortar attacks.

Not just classroom training. Following a recent $25 million facelift, the nearly 300-acre campus includes 14 mock training "villages" that mirror real-life environments: bus and airline terminals, homes, apartments, a church, a warehouse, a bank, a strip mall, and a gas pipeline. Practical exercises now present challenges like curbs, steps, windows, and tight places that bomb techs—and their robots—might run into.

What's the FBI's role at HDS? Not only do we fund and administer the facility, we help the U.S. Army develop the best possible training by sharing our analysis of counterterrorism trends. We also provide standardized equipment and gear to the over 400 bomb squads nationwide.

The bottom line benefits? For one, bomb techs across the U.S. are better prepared to prevent and respond to attacks by terrorists and criminals. In addition, they build partnerships with each other—creating a professional cadre of experts who are conduits of intelligence and good to have around in a crisis.

Links: The War on Terror | Remarks by FBI Executive Grant Ashley at the Opening of the FBI Hazardous Devices School