Case Study: Emergency Preparedness Program for Improvised Explosive Devices Incidents


By Benjamin Nieves, MA, MEP, CPP, CEM, CHPP, Homeland Security an Emergency Management Consultant

Historically, terrorist groups have carried out different types of attacks against their enemies using different kinds of weapons to cause economic and social destabilization and death. The main goal of terrorist groups is to induce fear among their enemies and the general population. The challenge of fighting against terrorists’ groups is their unpredictability; they always find innovative methods to create inventive and new attack strategies, targets, and weapons. That is where the Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) come into play. IEDs are simple, inexpensive, accessible, concealable, and effective.

From shoes to pressure cookers, in the past decades, terrorists have surprised authorities with their ingenuity and creativity, by developing unconventional IEDs.Some of the best examples of how terrorists astonished the government with creative IEDs are: the Boston Marathon bombers that created an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) using a pressure cooker in 2013; Richard Reed the “Shoe Bomber” when he tried to detonate some plastic explosives that he concealed inside his shoes while being on the American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami in 2001; and the “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk, who tried to detonate plastic explosives concealed in his underwear while flying from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009. IEDs are designed to defeat a specific target. In addition to the general population the next desired target is the emergency responders. IEDs are difficult to detect and protect against to, this is why emergency responders should be trained and exercised to prevent, detect, respond and protect from IEDs.

Three essential steps should be carried out to develop an Emergency Preparedness Program for Improvised Explosive Devices Incidents.

The first step is planning. Every jurisdiction and organization should have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) that includes the following protocols: Bomb Threat, Parcel Inspection, Suspicious Package, and Bomb Search Teams. The planning process begins with a risk and vulnerability assessment to the facility. The plan should also include preparedness, response, mitigation, and recovery strategies in case an IED incident occurs within the facilities.

The second step is to provide adequate awareness training to all response personnel. Emergency responders are more likely to encounter homemade explosives than military weapons in their day-to-day response activities and will be the first line of defense if these deadly weapons are involved in an incident. There is an old saying that says “You train as you fight, fight as you train.” Emergency responders should always train using their current resources, capabilities and within realistic scenarios. Their training should include: IEDs awareness at an incident, stand-off distance, safe evacuation strategies, secondary devices, information sharing, risk communication, situational awareness, protocols activation and scene preservation/protection.

“You train as you fight, fight as you train.”

The third and most valuable step is to Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. The best way to engage an adult learner is by practicing and having a “Hands-On” experience. Exercises play a vital role by enabling emergency responders to test and validate plans and capabilities and identify both capability gaps and areas for improvement. A well-designed exercise provides a low-risk environment for testing capabilities, familiarize personnel with roles and responsibilities, and foster meaningful interaction and communication across organizations. Exercises bring together and strengthen the whole community in its efforts to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from all hazards (DHS, 2018). Several best practices should be incorporated into the exercise part of the training program. Some of these are:

· Design an exercise based on realistic scenarios

· Establish “SMART” objectives – Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Task oriented

· Develop a comprehensive exercise plan

· Consider all safety and hazards issues that may arise during the exercise

· Incorporate digital simulations, actors and role players

· Never lose control of the scenario

· Train exercise evaluators

· Train exercise controllers

· After the exercise, write an After Action Report and an Improvement Plan

The steps mentioned above and best practices could be implemented in any private or public organization. It is essential to keep a common methodology throughout the emergency preparedness process to ensure a consistent and interoperable approach to plan, train, and exercise. Some of the factors that should be considered when developing an emergency preparedness program for IEDs incidents are:

1. Potential Threats and Hazards

2. Risk Analysis and Potential Loss

3. Emergency Response Capabilities

4. Emergency Plans and Protocols

5. External Resources Requirements

6. International or National Regulations

Improvised Explosive Devices’ Incidents are a current and evolving threat. Emergency responders cannot feel complacent when responding to an incident and should never underestimate the enemy. Just remember; the only two things that a terrorist needs to execute an attack with an IED are intention and creativity.

About the Author

Benjamin Nieves is an internationally known homeland security and emergency management consultant, court expert, university professor, planner, and academic. Mr. Nieves has a Master’s Degree in Emergency Management and Homeland Security from Arizona State University with the distinction of Summa Cum Laude. Mr. Nieves is the author and designer of the first Joint (Federal and State ) Disaster Operations Plan for catastrophic incidents. The plan was based on the comprehensive research that Nieves developed during the response and recovery operations of the category 4 Hurricane Maria in 2017. Nieves was part of the authoring team that developed the All- Hazard Emergency Operations Plan, Public Information Plan and Medical Countermeasures Plan for the Washington, District of Columbia (DC) Department of Health in conjunction with the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA).

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