FBI hosts blast investigation training at Eglin

  • Published
  • By Samuel King Jr.
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
Improvised explosive devices ripped through three vehicles sending debris up and out as far as 1,500 feet creating a sprawling scene of devastation across Eglin's ranges Nov. 30.

The explosions initiated the FBI's Large Vehicle Bomb Post Blast School for approximately 67 state and local law enforcement officers as well as Marine Corps and Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians. There were four explosions in all, creating distinct "crime scenes" that included a roadside bomb.

Crime scene investigators from 25 different U.S. agencies had to pick up the pieces--literally--from the scattered wreckage that set the forensic groundwork for a criminal or terrorist investigation.

"It's up to them to determine what kind of vehicle blew up," said Special Agent Kevin Miles, who taught the week-long school. "You'd be surprised at how much is left. The students just have to find it, and build a case from the clues."

This was the 120th post-blast school class and first ever held here. It was the largest class ever in the U.S. according to Special Agent Sam Mum, a bomb technician with FBI in Jacksonville, Fla.

"Eglin's large scale range made it a perfect size for a big group and also provided options for multiple scenarios," Agent Mum said. "We hope to continue the relationship with the base and host a school here once a year."

The groups were split into teams by specialty prior to arriving at the scene. The on-scene commander assigned the teams a task and scene to begin investigating. Their goal was to estimate the quantity and type of explosives used, vehicle type and blast range.

"This training will become a crucial tool in their toolbag," said SA Mum. "If there's an incident, typically local law enforcement is the first on scene. With this training, they are able to assess the situation, gather information and determine the best procedures."

Those assessments help determine if the blast is an act of terrorism. If it is ruled as a terrorist act, the FBI has the lead in the investigation. With the training, the students can better prepare the scene and the FBI for what to expect upon arrival.

Airmen from Hurlburt Field's EOD flight attended the school and Eglin's EOD was responsible for the controlled detonations. The Airmen worked directly with law enforcement officials and shared ideas and expertise when working through the case.

The training also helped the military technicians build off the training they already had, according to Tech Sgt. Justin Fleming, 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron.

"It is very much about networking with these other agencies and learning the procedures for stateside incidents," Sergeant Fleming said. "I've been to post-blast courses before, but based on the amount of explosives involved here, this is by far the largest I seen."

Detective William Punausuia, Leon County Sheriff's Office, was part of the preliminary team at the simulated crime scene and recorded evidence and locations on digital video at part of the investigation.

"(The course) gives us a better idea of what to be aware of and look for," the detective said. "If an incident occurs and without this knowledge and training, our departments would be left trying to catch up."

After the teams gathered their evidence, they presented their case to a prosecutor. For this class, Stephen Preisser, assistant U.S. attorney for Pensacola, Fla., grilled them on the details of their case to ensure nothing could be left to chance or circumstance and proper procedures were followed. After presenting their findings, the students see a video of the set ups, explosives and detonations to find out if their case was sound.

"This is such a great exercise and training," said Mr. Preisser. "A scene like you encountered, you'd be responding to bedlam and chaos. Your initial actions on scene are critical to saving lives and holding those accountable. What happens in those first few hours will determine the prosecution possibly years later."