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What are Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) Attacks?

IEDs Explained

An IED is a Improvised Explosive Device. This is a homemade bomb and/or destructive device meant to destroy, incapacitate, harass, or distract. IEDs are used by criminals, vandals, terrorists, suicide bombers, and insurgents. Because the devices are improvised their design is limited only to the imagination of the bomb maker. IEDs range from small pipe bombs to sophisticated device capable of causing massive damage and loss of life. IEDs can be carried or delivered in a vehicle (vehicle borne), placed, or thrown, delivered in a package; or concealed on the roadside ("roadside bombs"). The term IED came in common usage during the War on Terrorism primarily with the start of the Iraq War in 2003. These types of devices are often seen in terrorist attacks where they are deliberately targeting civilians like the attacks that took place at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Just because your not in Iraq or Afghanistan does not mean that you are safe from these threats.

How are IEDs constructed?

IEDs consist of multiple components which include an initiator, switch, main charge, power source, and a container. IEDs may be constructed with additional materials in order increase their effectiveness. These enhancements can include nails, glass, and/or metal fragments designed to increase the amount of shrapnel propelled by the explosion. Devices may also incorporate other hazardous materials. 

Learn about the explosive materials used in IEDs

Effects of IEDs

The extent of damage caused by an IED depends on its size, construction, placement, and whether incorporates a high explosive or propellant. The chart below provide recommended evacuation distances based on the volume or weight of explosive equivalent to TNT and type of device. 

An explosion in or near a building or public transportation venue may blow out windows, destroy walls; shutdown building systems such as power, ventilation, fire suppression, water/sewage, etc. Evacuation routes may be blocked or destroyed, smoke and dust may travel upward through stairways and elevator shafts making it difficult to maneuver. 

Recommended Evacuation Radius

Secondary Devices or Multiple Explosions are a Possibility.

It is a very real possibility that an attack could consist of multiple explosions. Terrorist are known to use secondary devices to target first responders, those fleeing the initial site, or bystanders. Another known tactic is the detonation of devices at multiple locations in order to hinder response efforts and strain resources.   

Secondary Hazards of an IED Detonation.

The initial detonation of and IED can result in secondary explosions of gasoline, natural gas, or other flammable materials. Additionally, the initial explosion can start fires creating toxic smoke, rupture water mains, and scatter debris. The blast will also cause many to flee in fear for their lives which can create a chaotic site; individual may be trampled in crowds or struck by fleeing vehicles.  

What are the Immediate & Delayed Health Effects?

With all of this destruction it is logical to have questions regarding the immediate health effects of an IED attack. In our article on Explosive Materials provided details on what happens when explosives detonate. Now lets look at the health concerns related to an explosion. 

Immediate Health Effects & Concerns

Explosions create a high-pressure blast that sends debris flying and lifts people off the ground. The type of injuries and the number of people hurt will vary depending on: the physical environment and the size of the blast; the amount of shielding between victims and the blast, fires, structural damage resulting from the initial or secondary explosions, and whether the explosion took place in a confided space or in an open area. Common Injuries include:

  • Overpressure Damage to the lungs, ears, abdomen, and other pressure-sensitive organs. Blast lung injury is a condition caused by the extreme pressure of an explosion. This injury is the leading cause of illness and death for initial survivors of an explosion.
  • Fragmentation Injuries are the result of projectiles thrown by the blast - materials from the bomb, primary shrapnel, or secondary shrapnel (flying debris) that penetrates the body and causes damage.
  • Impact Injuries caused when the blast throws a victim into another object or the ground. Types of injuries include fractures, amputations, and trauma to the head and neck.
  • Thermal Injuries caused by burns to the skin, mouth, sinus, and lungs.
  • Other injuries include exposure to toxic substances, crush injuries, and aggravation of pre-existing conditions (asthma, congestive heart failure, etc.).

Delayed Health Effects & Concerns

Some of the health effects related to an IED attack can be delayed initially. Injuries to the eyes and abdomen may not be apparent immediately and result in fatalities hours to months following the event. Psychological effects may also be delayed and are not unusual in the aftermath of a high-casualty event amongst survivors, first responders and others. While most symptoms diminish with time, in some cases assistance and guidance from mental health professionals may be required.  

What You can do to Protect Yourself from IED Attacks.

The number one way to protect yourself and others from an IED attack is to be alert. Technology advancements and explosive detection dog teams help authorities to detect possible dangers but, the most effective technique is self awareness. Individuals must stay vigilant and report anything that is out of the ordinary in their daily routine. An example is bags or boxes in unusual places, unusual smells, and suspicious behaviors such as someone dressed in a heavy coat in the middle of the summer. 

What to do if you See Something Suspicious.

It can be difficult to determine when to report something suspicious. people most familiar with a given environment are in the best position to determine whether or not something is out of the ordinary.  Use common sense, and follow these guidelines: 

  • Trust your instincts; if something feels wrong, don’t ignore it.
  • Do not assume that someone else has already reported it. 
  • Call local authorities.
  • Keep your distance from a suspicious package—do not approach or tamper with it.

When you make a report, be ready to provide your name, your location, a description of what you think is suspicious, and the time you saw it. The responding officer will assess the situation, ensure the area is evacuated and call for appropriate personnel and equipment. Technologies used to assess whether a package contains explosive material may include canines, portable x-ray systems or bomb disposal robots.

Have a Personal Response Plan. 

Survival is dependent upon preparation. Every person can take these steps to prepare for an IED attack. 

  • Learn the emergency procedures at your place of work, any other sites you visit regularly, and any public transportation systems you use. communication systems may be inoperable in an emergency, and you should be familiar with what steps to take. 
  • Know how to get out of the area. If you work far from home, plan backups to get home if the usual modes of transit are not operating. 
  • Know the routes to hospitals in your community.
  • Take a first aid course. 
  • Make a family emergency plan. remember that family members may be in separate locations at the time of an attack. Use planning tools at ready.gov to prepare yourself and your family, 
  • Designate an “out-of-area” contact, and make sure that everyone in your family has that person’s phone number. 
  • Have an emergency supply kit at work and at home that includes water and non-perishable food to last at least three days, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, flashlights, and batteries.

What to do During an IED Attack!

If you find yourself at the immediate site of an IED attack, your top priority is to get out of the area. This increases your safety in case of a secondary device is present in the area or if a follow-on attack takes place. This will also minimize your exposure to dust, smoke, and any hazardous substances that may have been released during the blast. This will also allow emergency responders to find, identify, and render aid to the most critically injured victims. 

If you are in a building:

  • Get under a sturdy table or desk if objects are falling around you.
  • Exit as quickly as possible, without stopping to retrieve personal possessions or making phone calls.
  • Assist other victims to leave the area if possible. Use stairs instead of elevators. Beware of weakened floors and stairways, and watch for falling debris as you exit the building.

Once you are out of the building:

  • Move away from windows, glass doors, or other potentially hazardous areas. 
  • Continue moving away from the blast site and look for emergency officials who will direct you to a safe location. 
  • Be aware that secondary devices and explosions may occur at or near the original bombing site; especially as rescue personnel begin to arrive. Use caution while moving debris could be hot, sharp, or cause puncture wounds. 
  • Limit you use of phones and other communications devices as much as possible; communication systems may become overloaded.

If you become trapped:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with anything you have on hand to limit inhalation of dust or other hazardous materials. Dense cotton cloth can serve as a good filter.
  • Avoid unnecessary movement so you don't kick-up dust.
  • Signal your location to rescuers by using light or sound (tapping on pipes, beams, or walls).
  • Shout only as a last resort. Shouting can cause you to inhale dangerous amounts of dust and expend energy.

If you are nearby, but not at the immediate site of an attack:

  • Assess the environment around you before taking any action.
  • Avoid being lured closer to see what is happening because the risks from secondary attacks or hazardous materials could be extremely high. 
  • Listen for, and follow, instructions from local authorities and building personnel. If no information is immediately available from local officials, stay away from windows and doors and move to an inner area of a building until directed differently by authorities.

If you are in a train, on a subway, or a bus:

  • First aid you provide may save lives. the most likely help you may need to provide is to control bleeding. Apply direct pressure to the bleeding site. 
  • Nearby hospitals may be overwhelmed with victims. If you need to transport victims who are not severely injured, go to a hospital that is further from the bombing site.
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Global K9 Protection Group's services take a groundbreaking approach to reshape the way canine services are delivered. Leveraging our teams' combined experience and lessons learned from other canine service providers, we have developed a model to provide consistent and sustainable canine services. Our team has been activity engaged in the War on Terrorism deploying canine teams around the globe in order to mitigate the threat of explosive materials and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).   

Acknowledgements:                                                                                                                                Edited by: Michael Long                                                                                                                          Sources:                                                                                                                                                   The United States Department of Homeland Security