Yesterday afternoon a young woman from Mosman in Sydney had a bomb strapped to her freaking neck in what seems to have been an extortion attempt. Terrifying. Thankfully, it turned out not to be explosive, but it made us wonder...how exactly would the pros safely defuse a bomb?
According to Lt Mike Jackson, Bomb Squad Commander of the Oklahoma City Police Department, 10 per cent of the improvised explosive devices the encounter are primarily dry ice bombs, chemical bombs or firework bombs. They're usually made by kids (thank you internet) for the purposes of blowing up mailboxes or other such mischief; they've also usually already gone boom by the time the bomb squad's called in. The other 90 per cent — and the ones to really worry about — are pipe bombs. When the ATF is called in for those, they employ several awesome gadgets to get the job done safely.
A pipe bomb is what it sounds like: explosives stuffed into a pipe (metal or PVC) and capped at both ends to create the pressure necessary to do some serious damage. The first thing the bomb squad wants to do is cut the cap off, and if possible, empty out all of the dangerous innards. They do this by "blasting it with a water-cannon". The cannon is called a PAN disrupter (that's Percussion-Actuated Nonelectric), and it is made of a length of shock tubing, a small explosive charge, and a just little bit of water (about 40mL). Fired 24-36 inches from its target, the stream of water it shoots can cut through a phonebook, or more importantly, a metal pipe. What holds and shoots the cannon, you ask? A sweetass robot, that's what.
Enter the Remotec ANDROS F6A (pictured) by Northrop Grumman. This little beast can not only fire the water-cannon, it can then pick the device up, empty it out, and dispose of it. It has a zoomable camera with image stabilisation, an extremely dexterous mechanical arm, patented articulating tracks for navigating rough terrain, and many other goodies. It can be wirelessly controlled from up to a half-mile away; they don't ever want to get closer than 300ft. from an explosive device. Unless, you know, they have to:
"When deciding to use the water-cannon, we ask, 'Can the area withstand the detonation if I set it off?'" says Lt Jackson. "If it's by a nursing home, for instance, that can't be evacuated, then I have to take it to a place where I can deal with it on my terms."
In those pants-shitting cases that the robot can't be used, that's when they send in the guys with the Hurt Locker bomb-suits and blast shield. They will attempt to use rope devices and hotsticks before coming anywhere near it with their hands. If it can't be destroyed on-site for any reason, they place it in a mobile containment unit (one capable of preventing human injury in the event that the device explodes while in transit), take it to a range, and dispose of it (read: blow the crap out of it with some C4).
So now you know what the pros do. Obviously, don't try this at home. The only technique you need to know is "dial 000".