The EOD-CBRN Unit of the Spanish National Police

By Police Inspector José Manuel Navas Garcia Chief, EOD - CBRN (TEDAX) Unit, Spanish National Police

Simulated exercise in a football stadium for school children.

Background.

The origins of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Unit (Técnicos Especialistas en Desactivación de Artefactos Explosivos, TEDAX) of the Spanish National Police (Cuerpo Nacional de Policía, CNP) can be traced back to 1975, in the midst of an increasing terrorist pressure in the country. This team has faced more than 10.000 bomb-related incidents with the tragic loss of 16 EOD technicians who have died on duty.

After the international incidents of the dirty bomb in Chechnya (1999) and the anthrax crisis in the United States (2001), it was decided to create a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Unit (Nuclear, Radiológica, Biologica y Química, NRBQ) to be able to fight against this kind of risks. Subsequently, in 2004, the CBRN and EOD Units were merged as a single CBRNE Unit (Unidad TEDAX-NRBQ), so the Police was prepared to handle any combined type of incidents.

Currently, the CBRNE Specialty is made up of highly specialized National Police technicians, deployed throughout the national territory. Their specialists work in peripheral groups strategically located to act in any potential CBRNE incident. In case of a major event, close peripheral groups, as well as the Central Unit located in Madrid, can provide additional operational support.

The mission of the CBRNE technicians is to intervene and act in the presence or detection of supposedly explosive and incendiary devices and all kinds of CBRN agents, as well as the collection, transport, analysis and investigation of the mechanisms, elements and remains of such artefacts and substances. Throughout its history, the CBRN/EOD Unit of the Spanish National Police has faced more than 400.000 incidents related to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and CBRN agents.

CBRNE technician neutralizing an IED in a practical exercise.

CBRNE specialists’ duty.

The daily work of the CBRNE specialists has been adapting over time to the different types of terrorism, circumstances and existing risks. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to have a good training of all CBRNE specialists and permanent update of specialists’ knowledge.

Refresher and actualization courses are scheduled every year, and new techniques used by terrorists in our country and in the rest of the world are studied and put into operation through practical exercises in different real scenarios.   Research and development. The value of collaboration.

Since its creation, the priorities of the CBRNE Unit of the Spanish National Police include training, research and development to improve the safety of first responders and citizens. Terrorism has been changing and adapting throughout history with the use of new explosives (homemade, mixtures), traps, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and many others but the CBRNE technicians have also done so. The CBRNE Unit is continuously evolving, updating and improving its procedures and resources.

An example of the results of investigation is the current EOD robot called "AUNAV". It was designed by Spanish EODs to fight against car bombs, one of the most common IEDs used by the ETA terrorist group. Nowadays, many research lines are being carried out, such as an "electronic nose" to detect explosives, and innovative imaging techniques to “look” inside IEDs and autonomous robots capable of helping first responders during their neutralization.

Spanish AUNAV robot.

From an institutional point of view, a fundamental point for advances through scientific research is the collaboration of the CBRNE Specialty with Universities and Research Institutions within the framework of national and international projects. It is important to consider the common goals of public service and the protection of citizens and society shared by researchers and police units, of particular relevance under the increasing threats of terrorism faced by free, democratic societies and, specially, the European Union.

As an example, the CBRNE Group located in Seville, in Southern Spain keeps an active collaboration with the University of Seville (Universidad de Sevilla, US) through its Group of Interdisciplinary Physics of the Engineering School in a joint research laboratory in applied optics and photonics with very good results.

Research tests with infrared cameras and laser imaging on a 3D-printed plastic robot.
Imaging tests with multispectral cameras and X-rays. Both at the Group of Interdisciplinary Physics of the Engineering School of the Universidad de Sevilla, Spain.

Involvement in community.

The Spanish National Police keeps an active involvement in society and it regularly organizes and participates in educational and divulgation activities open to the public. The CBRNE Unit always collaborates in demonstrations and their activities are particularly welcomed. The COVID-19 crisis.

Under the current COVID-19 pandemic, the daily work of the CBRNE technicians has also adapted to the new circumstances. And the knowledge and good practices gained over the years have been applied to this new threat. In collaboration with civil authorities, one of the most accomplished work since the SARS-CoV-2 (corona)virus outbreak has been the decontamination of facilities in many different environments, from public spaces to official vehicles. In this task, the training in the use of personal protective equipment and management of biological agents have been of great value. In addition, the CBRNE Unit of the Spanish National Police participates in a multidisciplinary project coordinated by the University of Seville to detect virus contamination on different surfaces. This investigation combines multispectral imaging systems, in the optical (from ultraviolet to thermal infrared) and terahertz ranges with methods of analysis using computational optics and Artificial Intelligence (machine learning).

Decontamination of a police car by a CBRNE technician.

Lessons learned.

The work of the CBRNE technicians requires continuous updating. Participation in international, practical exercises -such as the NCT in Vienna in 2018- is highly recommended since experiences and good practices are shared between specialists from different countries. Active research in collaboration with scientific and technological institutions is also of great value, allowing CBRNE specialists to participate first hand in the design and development of equipment and devices optimized for their highly demanding requirements. This daily work of the CBRNE technicians is necessary if we want to be prepared to face new threats and future challenges safely.

Police Inspector Jose M. Navas belongs to the Intelligence Department and he works as Head of EOD-CBRN Group. Mr. Navas joined the National Police Force in 1998 and since then he has been working in different departments, such as, Judicial Police and counter-terrorism. Nowadays, he carries out several activities as CBRN/EOD Team Leader in Seville. In the operational field he has led the disposal and neutralization of many Spanish Civil War bombs and CBRN incidents. He also works as a teacher in training and updating EOD-CBRN courses and other national organizations such as Civil Protection, Local Police, etc. Since 2007, he has being attended many international meetings and working groups. His participation in the European Union started on the CBRN Task Force Group that was established by the Commission in February 2008. In the field of investigation, the EOD-CBRN Group has been collaborating with the University of Seville for more than three years. Among the collaborative work is the research awarded by the Spanish Police Foundation, for the development of a First Responder Robot in the field of CBRN agents and explosives. They are also developing several works to improve X-rays vision and thermal image techniques.

In 2019, the EOD-CBRN Group has received, together with the University of Seville, two research projects. The first one, financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the second with European funds, with the aim of investigating and developing of an early warning network system in the river of the city of Seville. Currently in 2020, together with the University of Seville, we are developing research to detect the SARS-COV-2 virus on surfaces, using advanced imaging and artificial intelligence techniques.