This morning a young Australian woman had a bomb strapped to her freaking neck in what seems to have been an extortion attempt. Terrifying. Luckily the bomb squad saved the day. But how exactly do they safely kill bombs dead?
According to Lt. Mike Jackson, Bomb Squad Commander of the Oklahoma City Police Department, 10% of the improvised explosive devices they encounter are primarily dry ice bombs, chemical bombs, or firework bombs. They're usually made by kids (thank you internet) for the purposes of blowing up mailboxes or other such mischief; they've also usually already gone boom by the time the bomb squad's called in. The other 90%—and the ones to really worry about—are pipe bombs. When the ATF is called in for those, they employ several awesome gadgets to get the job done safely.
A pipe bomb is what it sounds like: explosives stuffed into a pipe (metal or PVC) and capped at both ends to create the pressure necessary to do some serious damage. The first thing the bomb squad wants to do is cut the cap off, and if possible, empty out all of the dangerous innards. They do this by "blasting it with a water-cannon." The cannon is called a PAN disrupter (that's Percussion-Actuated Nonelectric), and it is made of a length of shock tubing, a small explosive charge, and a just little bit of water (about 40ml.). Fired 24"-36" from its target, the stream of water it shoots can cut through a phonebook, or more importantly, a metal pipe. What holds and shoots the cannon, you ask? A sweetass robot, that's what.
Enter the Remotec ANDROS F6A (pictured) by Northrop Grumman. This little beast can not only fire the water-cannon, it can then pick the device up, empty it out, and dispose of it. It has a zoomable camera with image stabilization, an extremely dexterous mechanical arm, patented articulating tracks for navigating rough terrain, and many other goodies. It can be wirelessly controlled from up to a half-mile away; they don't ever want to get closer than 300ft. from an explosive device. Unless, you know, they have to:
"When deciding to use the water-cannon, we ask, 'Can the area withstand the detonation if I set it off?'" says Lt. Jackson. "If it's by a nursing home, for instance, that can't be evacuated, then I have to take it to a place where I can deal with it on my terms."
In those pants-shitting cases that the robot can't be used, that's when they send in the guys with the Hurt Locker bomb-suits and blast shield. They will attempt to use rope devices and hotsticks before coming anywhere near it with their hands. If it can't be destroyed on-site for any reason, they place it in a mobile containment unit (one capable of preventing human injury in the event that the device explodes while in transit), take it to a range, and dispose of it (read: blow the crap out of it with some C4).
So now you know what the pros do. Obviously, don't try this at home. The only technique you need to know is "dial 9-1-1."