Explosive education: Bomb techs get IED training in Tulsa
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Saturday, April 28, 2012
4/28/12 at 7:05 AM
Donald Sachtleben went shopping the other day.
He bought a box of sugar, some brake fluid, a jug of ammonia, some swimming pool chemicals and a few other ordinary things that anyone could purchase without much notice.
It could be the makings of a busy weekend at home ... or some dangerous mayhem.
Sachtleben is one of the founders of the Center for Improvised Explosives Research and Training at the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, and he used those ingredients to cook up some explosive education for a group of local bomb technicians this week.
Sachtleben and OSU Associate Professor Jarrad Wagner started their first class Tuesday at the school's west Tulsa campus and brought it to an explosive high point Thursday with a demonstration of some homemade explosives for members of the Oklahoma Forensic Research Consortium at a safe spot outside the Tulsa Police Academy.
Sachtleben and Wagner used the items from the shopping excursion and a little distressingly public information to teach these students how to make (and identify) some explosively dangerous stuff that local police are sure to encounter.
"When you take two clear liquids and mix them together and put in a blasting cap and it blows up, you're a believer," Sachtleben said.
Thursday's demonstration started with some simple incendiary mixes - combinations of commercially available materials - that made smoky, fiery storms in plastic cups. They're the sort of concoctions that animal rights terrorists have used to set delay-burn reactions inside fur coat stores, Sachtleben said.
Progressively, the group showed more explosive materials that real-world cops have found in the hands of real-world terrorists and experimenters. One blast demonstrated the explosive potential of a small amount of the same materials used by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Demonstrations of commercial and military explosives were paired with the improvised materials to compare the materials' destructive powers and distinctive characteristics.
By the end of the show, the demonstration's explosions were shaking the ground and setting off car alarms in distant parking lots.
Sgt. Jacob Thompson, Tulsa police bomb squad commander, was one of the students in the center's premier class. Courses on improvised explosives are some of the most sought-after training in the field, Thompson said.
"It's really on the forefront of our mission," he said.
In the past 18 months, the Tulsa bomb squad has had to deal with at least five calls of people using precursor explosive chemicals and this week's training was valuable for that kind of incident, Thompson said.
Sachtleben said illegal improvised explosives aren't new, but they are perniciously available to the idle experimenter and the dedicated radical now.
In the 1960s, books like the Anarchists Cookbook spread recipes for destructive formulas, but the Internet has put DIY explosives only a few clicks away from everyone.
Sachtleben, a retired FBI agent who led a team investigating the Oklahoma City bombing and was on the entry team at Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's Montana cabin, said local police face dangerous chemistry when they investigate the basement labs of would-be bombmakers.
Wagner, an associate professor of forensic sciences at the OSU Center for Health Sciences and a former FBI chemist, said a focus of his research will be methods for trained bomb technicians to recognize and deal with dangerous situation.
"We really want them to be able to recognize these materials," Wagner said. "These guys aren't chemists, but they need to have a little bit of knowledge so they can know what they're facing."
In addition to research, the center's focuses are training and testing - making sure military and civilian bomb squads have the chemical knowledge to recognize dangerous situations and know what to do to respond to them.
This week's class is just a beginning, Sachtleben said.
There are 7,000 bomb technicians in the nation - 3,000 civilians and 4,000 military - and more on the international scene, and Sachtleben envisions many of them traveling to Tulsa to be part of training sessions that could be running
Sachtleben said he was offering similar training through the FBI for years, typically in a tent thrown up near the landfill, where students could experiment and explode the same materials that their suspects would be using.
But, he said, the OSU campus, with its state-of-art teaching lab and access to the Tulsa Police explosives range, makes a unique opportunity for training on a different level.
"I walked in here and I said, 'This is where we can do something meaningful,' " Sachtleben said.
Original Print Headline: Bomb techs back to basics
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
A single blasting cap is used to blow up a melon in a display of its explosive power at the TPD academy rifle/demolition range in Tulsa on Thursday. The melon-blasting exercise was part of a demonstration of homemade explosives. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Oklahoma Highway Patrol bomb technicians detonate one of several commercial and homemade bombs 70 yards away at the TPD academy rifle/demolition range in Tulsa on Thursday. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
A charge of TNT is detonated at the TPD academy rifle/demolition range in Tulsa on Thursday as part of a demonstration of homemade explosives. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
Jarrad Wagner and Don Sachtleben, both professors at the OSU Department of Health Sciences, use common household items (including powdered sugar) to mix up an explosive at the TPD academy rifle/demolition range. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World
A Tulsa Police bomb squad technician sets off 100 feet of detonation cord, with a burn rate of 26,000 feet per second, 70 yards away at the TPD academy rifle/demolition range in Tulsa on Thursday. MICHAEL WYKE/Tulsa World