This Tech Speak mini episode offers a front row seat to a tech demonstration of counter-improvised explosive device (IED) technologies. Travel to the Charlie Demolition Range at Marine Corps Base Quantico and follow along as S&T’s Research and Prototyping for IED Defeat (RAPID) program has a blast partnering up with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). RAPID Program Manager Bill Stout was there along with FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Ian Vabnick and numerous bomb squad technicians to see national security research and development in action. Listen now to discover what makes this program unique and why it’s so important.
Guests: S&T's RAPID Program Manager Bill Stout and FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Ian Vabnick
[00:00:00] Unknown Man: Fire in the hole, fire in the hole, fire in the hole. Fire in 3 2 1. (sound of bombs exploding).
[00:00:08] Dave: Welcome to Tech Speak, a mini episode of the Technologically Speaking podcast.
[00:00:13] I'm Dave, sound editor with S&T. Back in May, our podcast team attended a field demo of S&T's research and prototyping for I E D defeat or RAPID program in Quantico, Virginia. And they had a blast, pun very much intended, learning about the science of IEDs. Let's hear RAPID program manager, Bill Stout, and partners walk us through the ins and outs of the event.
[00:00:34] Bill Stout: So, this week, RAPID's been on the range with the RAPID team who you've seen running around out here today. And basically, they are executing different research and development on tools developed by Dr. Vabnick. And actually, trying these ideas and these tools on real bombs really that's the only way that you can determine if they're effective or not is if you try it on a real bomb. You can't try new ideas or new techniques or new tools on simulated bombs, because you don't get that understanding whether or not you're actually defeating that bomb or not for real.
[00:01:12] I would say biggest impact is we've been able through the RAPID tools that we've developed, been able to increase the confidence and capabilities of the United States bomb squads through the tools that we've developed. We've been able to provide not only the tools that we developed free of charge to them. But we've also supplied them with approximately 55 knowledge products that we've published that they can refer to. And that also increases their capability when they're down, down range on a suspicious package or confirmed bomb.
[00:01:47] Dave: You heard Bill mention one of his colleagues at the FBI, Dr. Ian Vabnick. We'll hear from him next, A quick note though, at the beginning of the next clip, you'll hear a blast in the distance. Dr. Vabnick explains it's a quote cleanup shot to make sure there aren't any more live explosives out in the field. After the conclusion of the demo, our producer shared that while she jumped straight into the air, because the boom came out of nowhere. Dr. Vabnick didn't even flinch.
[00:02:08] Dr. Ian Vabnick: I think the exciting part about being a scientist is you have to have keen confirmation. I'm sorry. That was our cleanup shot. We work with explosives obviously, and we use explosives to kill bombs. And so that was just some background noise for that, but yes, on a regular basis, you know, we're looking at maybe trying to solve one problem, we make a discovery that actually solves another problem. So some of the things that we look at for example, are pipe bombs. Like the Boston bombings, right? We had elbow pipe bombs used there. And so, we were showing some of the technology and how they can remotely open IEDs without setting them off. And so, we were just doing research this week. On fully filled elbow pipe bombs, and you can see how we can get these bombs open and not set them off.
[00:02:49] It was actually propellant inside of this device and that we're able to open it and not have the propellant ignite. We also do precision work as an example of that, maybe you have to get inside a bomb and kill a component to, to destroy that device without spreading it all over the place. I think a lot of people, you know, see Hollywood and they see bomb techs, pulling wires out of, you know, bombs and cutting wires and things. And for the most part, we try to stay away from that. We try to deal with bombs as remotely as possible. We like to use robots. We like to, uh, try to keep the bomb tech away from the device.
[00:03:23] Dave: It's interesting to hear the Hollywood verse reality of bomb squads. Let's now hear directly from one of those bomb techs, Christopher Ennis, a retired Delaware state trooper with over 30 years of experience.
[00:03:33] Christopher Ennis: I've worked with Dr. Vabnick for 10 years and what was kind of neat was I never knew how much I didn't know until I came here. And that was, to me, that was, that was just, it fascinates me all the time. And even though I'm retired, I take this information back to any bomb tech that will listen. And say, hey, look, use this tool for this reason. And this is in this situation. And there's been times before where I'm like, oh wow, this is the greatest tool ever. And then come to find out some nuance has changed to it. Maybe the company makes it a little different or maybe it's something that temperature or something like that, or humidity that's, uh, affected. So, I get surprised all the time and that I think that's the beauty of it.
[00:04:07] Dave: Clearly, Christopher's passionate about RAPID. Mr. Ennis went on to speak about the impact this program has had on the bomb squad community.
[00:04:14] Christopher Ennis: Bomb techs are the, I mean, they're the quintessential challenger, you know what I mean? They want the ultimate challenge and that's how they kind of view it when they get the suit on, or they get to send the robot down range. This is the challenge. The bomber made this device, and he's saying you can't beat me. And the bomb tech saying, oh yes, we will. And when you shoot a tool at something and it doesn't work, it's frustrating. And that's where the RAPID program really comes into play. When we shoot a tool that we've developed and the science backs it, and we put it out to the community and they see the positive effects, it, kind of gives them a breath of fresh air. Like, hey, it helps them evolve. It's just a matter of getting the tools out to them explaining how to use them and then, you know, like giving them the opportunity to purchase the tools. when it comes down to it, we're all working together. We have FBI bomb technicians here from Newark, um, New Jersey, uh, Buffalo, New York, Delaware, South Carolina, like all over the country.
[00:05:07] Christopher Ennis: Um, and getting that outlook or perspective, uh, is huge. Uh, having this multi-state, you know, multi-discipline type agencies or multi governmental agencies working together is, to me in 30 years, unheard of. I think we finally figured it out that, you know, we can't do it alone. The FBI can't do it alone. They need the help of DHS, and our whole goal is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
[00:05:31] (Music playing in the background) And I think the more educated that we make our bomb technicians, the more tools that we give them to be able to be more successful, the better off we're all gonna be.
[00:05:41] Dave: (Music playing in the background) It’s good to know folks like the RAPID team are out there dedicating themselves to putting the latest tools into the hands of our bomb squad techs. So, they can be as prepared as possible when responding to an I E D. And for me, it's so cool hearing directly from the folks benefiting from this import and R&D work.
[00:05:55] I hope you enjoyed it too. Thanks for listening and be sure to follow us at DHS SciTech,
[00:06:00] DHS, S C I T E C H. Bye.