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Jim Wagner: How to Handle Bomb Threats

Jim Wagner: How to Handle Bomb Threats

Bombings are the most favored method of attack by terrorists. In recent years, bombings have only increased, not decreased. The following paragraph was taken from an al-Qaida training manual that was found in a safe house by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. It reads:

Explosives are believed to be the safest weapon for the Mujahadeen (trans.: holy warriors) that allows them to get away from enemy personnel and to avoid being arrested. An assassination using explosives doesn’t leave any evidence or traces at the operation site. In addition, explosives strike the enemy with sheer terror and fright.


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For those of us who live, work or travel through big cities, a bombing or bomb threat is part of our “reality.” Therefore, it is important that you know how to detect a device (pre-conflict), what to do at the moment of attack (conflict) and how to recover from the attack (post-conflict).

In this piece, we will focus on pre-conflict device detection.

Jim Wagner on Bomb Threats by Phone

The most common crime dealing with bombs is a bomb threat called in by phone.

Although most bomb threats turn out to be false, many criminals and terrorists will give a warning before detonating their dangerous package. These callers are mainly interested in destroying property, not killing people.

Because this form of terrorism is the most common, it is important that you know how to handle such a situation.

When you receive a bomb threat, you need not immediately panic. If the caller wanted to blow you up, he would have. The goal is to stay on the line as long as possible with the caller in order to gain intelligence (or “intel”) for the police.

Near the phone, especially for high-risk businesses, you should have a bomb threat card that lists the following questions and where you can write down the answers as the caller is speaking:

1. Name of the person who spoke to the caller
2. Telephone number that the call was received on (in cases of multiple lines)
3. Date and time of the call
4. Exact words of the caller
5. Background noises (street sounds, machinery, etc.)
6. Information about the caller:

  • male or female
  • estimated age
  • accent or speech impediments
  • attitude (angry, calm, disguised, etc.)
  • educational level (professional, street slang, etc.)
  • familiarity

Searching for Devices During Bomb Threats

If you do receive any bomb threats by telephone, it is important to know how to search for an improvised explosive device.

Many people think that the police will automatically come, evacuate the building and put all their resources into searching the building. However, that is not always the case. If the police reacted like this to every bomb threat they received, they would be doing that job exclusively and every criminal, terrorist and practical joker would be taking advantage of the police.

In most situations involving bomb tghreats, the police will rely on you to let them know whether it is a credible threat — and they will most likely have you or your associates look for anything suspicious. After all, you are familiar with your surroundings and would know whether something is out of place, whereas the police would not.

They will warn you not to touch anything should you find a suspicious object, but you will be the one to find it and alert them to it.

Sinister Motivations for Fake Bomb Threats

If you are the type to panic and evacuate everyone outside because you think the place is going to blow, then you may be herding people into the “kill zone.”

Many terrorists “test” an organization’s security system and evacuation plan by calling in false bomb threats, then doing surveillance on the location to see where everybody goes. Then they may come back at a later time and plant their deadly device.

The next time they call in the bomb threat or pull the fire alarm and everyone goes rushing outside to a predetermined location, they have a car bomb or other device waiting for everyone.

A Systematic Response to Bomb Threats

If you are tasked to search a building, you should have a systematic approach. The one I teach goes like this:

Responding to Bomb Threats — Step 1

First, go into the middle of the room, then stop, look and listen. If you have a partner, he can take the other half of the room.

If you have not observed anything unusual, then begin a search from the bottom up. Start with items on the floor and work your way up toward the ceiling one imaginary level at a time. Think of searching upward like a three-layered cake until you come to the ceiling. This method is called the sweep pattern.

The first layer that you search will be from the floor to your waist. The second layer will be from your waist to your head. The third layer will be from your head to the ceiling.

Responding to Bomb Threats — Step 2

After you’ve completed the sweep pattern, pay particular attention to other areas such as the following:

  • closet areas
  • stairwells
  • trash receptacles
  • removable panels
  • light fixtures

Responding to Bomb Threats — Step 3

Don’t just look for the obvious (like bombs you see in the movies: taped sticks of dynamite, wires and a ticking clock) but for any item that looks suspicious. Bombs come in all shapes and sizes.

For those in government positions, you have to be even more thorough in your searches because you will be looking for C-4 (plastic explosives), FOAM-X, Semtex or any other type of RDX or PETN variation, which can be molded into any shape imaginable. (These explosives look like modeler’s clay and are usually gray or brown in color.)

Palestinian terrorists have taken fire extinguishers and filled them with explosives and replaced the target area’s fire extinguisher with their own. Of course, explosive detectors or bomb-sniffing dogs should be used if they are available.

Responding to Bomb Threats — Step 4

Inspect areas containing classified documents and computers. Such zones are often targeted.

Responding to Bomb Threats — Step 5

Conduct a systematic exterior search. Look in containers, around heating and cooling systems, on the roof, etc.

Suspicious vehicles parked nearby also should be reported. Car bombs should not be ruled out.

Responding to Bomb Threats — Step 6

Do not use radios or mobile phones within a two-block area because some bombs can be activated by remote control, and radio waves may set it off by accident.


About the Author:
Jim Wagner is the author of two detailed books on subjects revolving around personal protection and survival in the age of terrorism — Reality-Based Personal Protection and Defensive Tactics for Special Operations — as well as two reality-based personal-protection training DVD series.

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