Letter Re: IED Awareness

I received the following from an embedded mil-blogger friend.  His personal information has been redacted:

If I may, I would like to share some information with you.  Some is based on personal experience, and some comes from experts I know and trust.  What you do with this is up to you, but I wanted you to have it to think about just in case.  

First, I can commend an I-phone app (should be available for other platforms as well) that the Army had suggested to me called IED Aware.  It is actually pretty much the basic Army awareness course (pre-deployment) done as an app.  Maker is ForceReadiness.com, that does other education and training apps as well.  Not sure if it is free or not, but quite a few of the study apps are.  

Something I can share with you based on experience is that situational awareness is the key.  But, not just in trying to spot something — you need it to be prepared for realistic options.  

Visually and otherwise scout your AO immediately.  You are not just looking for potential IED sites, you need to get an idea of cover options.  Concealment is NOT cover.  Things that can hide you from view are concealment, not cover.  Cover is something that can protect you from bullets, blast, and fragments.  Cover is concrete, it is thick metal as in armor or even the engine block of a car, it is a ditch, a culvert, or other thing that can stop/deflect incoming.  And, yes, cover can help deflect a blast wave, as they are strange creatures that can and do bounce, deflect, and reflect.  Buy me a beer and I will tell you of one (non-IED generated) I know first-hand caused a relocation of a wall without breaking a pane of glass in that glass wall.  

You need to know cover not just for yourself, but if something happens you need to be able to direct people away using as much of that cover as realistically possible.  So, scout, plan, and plan options so that you do not have to think about things if something happens, but can assess and be proactive in an emergency.  Having to stop and think can and does get people killed.  Plan ahead. 

Then, scan the area thinking of where an IED can be easily concealed (trash can, paper bin, etc.) and check those for anything suspicious.  It looks suspicious, call out and call in.  Clear the area, and hunker down in a place that gives you as much cover as possible yet still allows you to control the cleared area to keep idiots and others from wandering in.  

If the area is clear, scan for distance markers.  One of the most common currently is a plastic grocery bag tied to a branch or otherwise secured; but, the key is to look for something out of place and or a series of things that also happen to be a uniform distance apart.  Just as we use distance and aiming stakes, so to does the enemy.  While it is often that such a bag or other signal marks the spot of the IED, it can also be a trigger point so that a vehicle or group moving at a steady speed will be in the blast zone if the remote detonator is triggered as they pass that point.  Using this method, someone can be at home or a nearby bar watching an event on television and know when to dial the phone or press the button.  If you see something that could be a distance/location marker, call out and call it in.  If that marker is near a culvert or sewer line under the street, it needs to be checked out immediately.  Admittedly, IEDs in such are mostly for vehicles, but… 

It is doubtful that most terrorists would try to bury anything, but do keep an eye out for a freshly plowed or dug flower bed or such, just in case.  

Watch for suspicious behavior.  Someone moving a bit too nonchalantly, exceedingly nervous, obviously drunk or on drugs with a coat or such over themselves (amazing how many suicide bombers have to have chemical enhancement to do the job), or someone who may or may not be praying but has a look on their face and/or in their eyes that really can’t be described other than to say that when you see it, you know it.  They will usually move confidently and force their way towards their destination no matter what, and one hand is usually at their side or in a pocket.  It’s not just someone moving in quickly, dropping a backpack or other container and then moving away, it is a host and range of behaviors that don’t fit the norm.  If you spot someone like this, don’t approach if at all possible, but here stay calm, talk normally and call in and have LE come and intercept the person.  

If an IED goes off, take cover.  If possible, choose cover that provides overhead cover as well.  Roll under a vehicle, concrete bench, etc.  If there is no cover, go flat:  shrapnel tends to go out in a cone, and if you can get under the cone, all you have to deal with immediately is blast effect.  Quite a few wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan from incoming happen because people kept trying to run to a duck and cover or other shelter, instead of going flat.  You hear blast, or get an incoming warning, you go flat if you can’t make shelter in about five seconds.  

Keep in mind that immediate shrapnel is only part of the issue:  blasts like that tend to toss things in the air, sometimes substantial things.  That’s why if you can get to cover that provides overhead cover, you should.  Keep in mind that in Boston, parts of the bomb were found on a rooftop some ten stories up.  Debris can be coming down for up to a minute after a blast.  If there is no cover, after the initial blast front and shrapnel wave has passed, you go turtle (legs and arm under you, head back so your helmet goes over back armor as much as possible) or squat with your feet flat, knees to chest, back to blast, and hands over head so that you make the smallest possible area from a vertical perspective.  

Next, know that there are likely to be more explosions, as various online manuals (and generally smart terrorists) will do secondaries or even tertiaries to get first responders.  You will have seconds to a couple of minutes to regroup, try to get people moving in a safe direction, and get set for the next blast.  Use it well.  

For any form of IED, tourniquets are essential.  In Boston, we saw a lot of improvised and it is likely that we will have to do so at need as most IGR do not have combat tourniquets.  People are going to be screaming, there’s going to be blood and debris, and triage needs to be with traumatic amputations first and foremost.  If a limb is gone, or just about gone, get the tourniquet on as low as possible on the limb and as quickly as possible.  Then worry about shrapnel wounds.  Know that if they follow standard doctrine, bleeding is going to worse because the shrapnel was coated with rat poison, warfarin, which is known medically as Coumadin.  It is an anti-coagulant, and the idea is to get as much as possible into the wound to make the victim bleed out.  

Now, to something I put last because it is against most current doctrine.

One thing that is not to the liking of academics and other rear-echelon types is that you want to see if there is a dump point in your immediate AO.  A dump point is something that will reduce blast effects and shrapnel.  Good foxholes have a grenade sump for this, when you are on foot or at an event, you don’t have that but you do have other options.  Keep in mind that blast waves, no matter how powerful, like to follow the path of least resistance as much as possible.  You want to spot a dump point in advance because sometimes you roll snake eyes don’t have a lot of options.  A dump point can be a concrete road barrier, a dumpster, a sewer opening, or anything that gives thicker sides and no top or a weak top.  You dump an IED into such, it will be destroyed, but most of the blast and shrapnel is likely to go up, not out; and, what does go out will not go out as far.  

Two quick scenarios under this heading.  First, someone drops a bag of some type nearby and takes off running.  If they do that, things are out of control on both sides and your options are very limited.  If they have dropped it, and there is no boom, the odds of it having any form of movement trigger are slim to none.  If they are running, they are panicked and no longer thinking and can trigger immediately or even forget to do so.  If it is a timed bomb, then they may be running because time is running out — but you have time to think and act.  Right then, you have to make a choice.  

First thing you do, is get people to get down and/or move away as quickly as possible, because even if it is someone playing a “joke” on security, you have to treat it as real.  If you are that close, there are few realistic options for survival unless you have a dump point planned.  Get the bag to the dump point, then try to get people and yourself away if no immediate boom, and do so as low as possible.  If you hear any noise from the direction of the bag, go flat.  You can’t help anyone if you are dead.  The second scenario is a suicide bomber near/next to you.  Your only viable option is to try to control them, get them into the dump point, and try to get away.  Odds are you won’t, but you are pretty much out of options at that point anyway.  If you are within about 15 feet of either, odds are that you are going to die, the only difference being how many die with you. – X.

– Michael Z. Williamson (SurvivalBlog Editor at Large)

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