Recognizing the IED Threat – Awareness is Key

by Mr. Richard Carrick, Vice President of Sales, Inert Products LLC, USA

First Responders’ Role in IED Defeat

When considering IED and other explosive threats, the first group that comes to most people’s mind is EOD or Bomb Squad. However, the first person to encounter on an IED is rarely an EOD technician, but is likely rather a civilian, law enforcement, or a non-EOD certified soldier. While a First Responder is a trained professional, any of these persons is the true “first responder” in an IED situation. Understanding the components and indicators of a potential IED are crucial first steps in countering IEDs, giving you the tools to protect yourself and recognize when to call for help from a certified EOD tech.

Before we review the physical IED components and characteristics, it is also important to understand what it means to be in a “potential IED environment”. While there are certainly high-risk areas for IEDs, such as active war zones and specific territories with a history of IEDs, it is realistic to accept that almost any location can be a target for an attack. Churches, train stations, sporting events, and other similar places have all been subject to active IED events in recent years. Even inside an airport in locations after security checkpoints, there are announcements to be aware of any abandoned baggage or other suspicious activity. It is valuable to consider your surroundings in terms of a risk percentage, whereas your suburban playground would likely be a lower risk than the subway car in Washington, DC, but ultimately the possibility of an IED attack is never zero percent.

IEDs can be deployed almost anywhere, so it’s important to stay alert to potential threats

Now that we know when we can potentially be in an IED environment, what does it mean to “See Something, Say Something”? Essentially, if you see something suspicious you should say something to an official (police officer, security team, etc.). Suspicious behavior is a broad topic that can be viewed through a range of topics, however a brief overview on how suspicious behavior pertains to IEDs is valuable to discuss. To start, IEDs can be deployed by a terrorist in several ways:

- Person-borne Suicide vests, backpacks/luggage, hand-thrown munitions May be victim activated (“booby trapped”), remotely detonated, or initiated by terrorists as a suicide device - Vehicle-borne Motorcycles to large cargo trucks May be driver initiated or attached to a vehicle without the driver’s knowledge - Mail Small envelopes to large packages These examples are not comprehensive, and IEDs can be deployed in almost any fashion imaginable.

IEDs can be transported / emplaced by person, mail, or vehicle

So, what does the actual IED device look like? First, it is important to note that an IED can be completely concealed regardless of the method of implementation, so it may be possible that you might not have any visual signs of the actual IED. The device can be inside a backpack, under clothing, in the trunk of a vehicle, or inside a sealed package. However, all IEDs utilize 4 main components that can be easily remembered using the PIES acronym:

P: Power supply Battery May be part of the assembled IED or attached before arming / detonating, and can utilize an external power source such as a cell phone I: Initiator Blasting cap, fuse, match This is a low power explosive or incendiary material used to initiate the main explosive E: Explosive The main explosive charge in the IED Can be military, commercial, or a homemade type S: Switch Victim, command, or timed Examples include a cell phone, digital timer, anti-movement detector, etc.

Some definitions will also include a container as the fifth component in an IED. The container can be used for concealment (such as a backpack), to increase blast radius (such as a pipe bomb), or as fragmentation (with the explosive wrapped in nails).

IEDs can vary greatly in size and are easily concealed. The photo above shows examples of IEDs that are concealed within a briefcase and a cigarette pack.

While the IED may not be visible, there are still suspicious activities to be aware of. As mentioned in the airport activity previously, unattended bags may be a sign of an IED. This is especially true if you notice the bag owner indicating they are intentionally leaving the bag behind (e.g., nervous behavior, looking around for security, placing it down several times before walking away, checking back on it as they leave, etc.). The same mentality can be used in evaluating a potential vehicle borne IED scenario. Has a large vehicle been parked near a government building for a long period of time? Are the windows covered to prevent seeing the interior? Ultimately, if you see anything that might indicate a vessel for an IED or a person acting suspicious with a possible concealed explosive device, contact your nearest law enforcement or other official and report your observations.

It is important to note that you should never attempt to handle or move a suspicious device. IEDs can be detonated at any time. As mentioned, the device can be set to explode from timed switches, remote triggers, or even configured to go off if they are disturbed in any way (tilt/movement detection, anti-open switches on zippers and handles, anti-lift switches, etc.). Only certified bomb technicians can evaluate a suspicious device and determine whether they are safe to move or otherwise neutralized.

One of the biggest factors in combatting IEDs is identifying the threat before the device is triggered, and the first line of security in this battle could be you. This doesn’t mean you have to be on high alert at every moment, but if you arm yourself with the knowledge of what is suspicious and what an IED can look like, you will give yourself an advantage to stay safe. More importantly, you’ll know when you’re seeing something that should indicate whether you should say something.


Richard Carrick is the Vice President of Sales for Inert Products and MAC 7 Training and has over 15 years of experience in providing tailored training solutions to military organizations around the world. He leads a team that includes former US and international military on projects on IED & ordnance recognition, EOD equipment, and CBRNe training. He has established ongoing contracts with the United Nations, US General Services Administration (GSA), and over 30 international distributors. Richard also works with these organizations to develop custom product solutions, including replica training aids, kitting solutions, and curriculum.