Sleuthfest: Explosives and Investigation

The first session I attended while at Sleuthfest 2016 was to help me with some research. I’m thinking of doing another Mary Harrington book, and if I do, her counterpart, Jack Rossini, may need to investigate a bomb explosion. So at 8:30 am Friday morning, I was sitting in a too-cold hotel conference room listening to Paul Laska, a retired bomb squad commander, writer, consultant, and instructor, talk about about “Explosives and Investigation.” He wrote a book on this topic Bombs, IEDs and Explosives but you need to be really serious about this because the book costs around $75 and the Kindle version is even more expensive.

bomb explodid

Primarily he talked about the investigation after a bomb has exploded. He said that ideally there should be a 6-member team: (1) a leader (who obviously coordinates everyone); (2) a photographer; (3) a sketcher; (4) an investigator; (5) an evidence custodian; and (6) a safety officer.

There are also adjuncts that may be called in depending on how large a bomb and how big a debris area. The adjuncts include:  Bomb techs, adjunct searchers, specialty assistants, specialist, the medical examiner or coroner (if a body or bodies are involved), chemists, and engineers.

The American investigative model, when investigating a bomb explosion in what’s considered a “safe area,” is to proceed slowly and methodically. The crime scene area is cordoned off, pictures are taken, sketches made, and all evidence tagged, bagged, and recorded. The safety officer is primarily there to keep unauthorized people out of the area.

Laska said it’s different when the bomb explosion is in a battle torn area. In that case the six-man team works as quickly as possible because within 20 minutes there might be incoming danger. The team documents everything they can and then gets out of there. The safety officers in this situation are heavily armed and are there to protect the investigators. The investigators go into areas of this nature wearing combat vests that include 30 pounds of armor. They also carry 30 pounds of equipment. In a highly volatile area, it’s not unusual for the bomb investigators to be wearing 80 pounds of protective gear.

Laska said there’s an interesting difference in how the British and Israeli investigate a bombing. Both work a scene methodically but fast. They document the scene, collect evidence and get out of there. But when collecting evidence or writing up a report, the British want to do so in a way to reassure people, while the Israelis are always aware that they’re dealing with religious tenets.

Safety is the big concern for an investigating team. There are physical hazards: the possibility of secondary devices in the area, or the possibility of injury from bomb shards. And there’s what the investigators might breathe in: dirty bombs. If it’s a suicide bomber, there might be blood borne pathogens.

Laska showed lots of slides, and I am amazed that anyone can take the bits and pieces the search team finds and end up identifying the type of bomb that was used. Sometimes they’ll find a thumb print or DNA and be able to pinpoint exactly who the bomber was.

Yep, I think I’m going to have a bomb go off in this new wip. The question is where.

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6 Responses to Sleuthfest: Explosives and Investigation

  1. Melissa Keir says:

    I’m always amazed at what researchers can find after a tragedy. Bombs can have a fingerprint but they must really look to find the pieces. Methodical is what bomb experts are!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Methodical and careful were Laska’s main points, especially when it’s a large area. The ones who do an amazing job are the investigators in hostile areas. Not only do they need to find and collect the evidence, they have to do it quickly or they become targets.

  2. When I wrote Death Legacy, I needed information on construction of bombs as well. Even contemporary novels require significant research.

  3. Good information, thanks for posting. I missed this session at Sleuthfest.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks, Nancy. As usual, there are always sessions scheduled for the same time. I see tapes are available. I think I’m going to order a couple.