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Back to Archives | Back to February 2009 Contents 

U.S. Bomb Data Center: A Central Source for Explosives Incident Information

By Donald G. Robinson, Chief, U.S. Bomb Data Center, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Washington, D.C.

he U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has been collecting, storing, and analyzing records on explosives and arson incidents since 1975. In 1996, the ATF Arson and Explosives National Repository Branch was established to satisfy a congressional mandate for the secretary of the treasury to establish a national repository of information on arson and explosives incidents.

With the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the movement of ATF to the Department of Justice (DOJ), U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft—in his August 2004 memorandum to the deputy attorney general and the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), ATF, and the Drug Enforcement Administration—delegated the collection of the information required by section 846(b) of the act to ATF. The attorney general stated in this memorandum, “The Department’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) shall consolidate all of the Department’s arson and explosives incident databases, including, but not limited to, the FBI’s Automated Incident Reporting System and ATF’s Bomb and Arson Tracking System, into a single database.”

The attorney general further stated, “All consolidated arson and explosives incident databases shall be maintained by ATF and shall be accessible to all Department law enforcement components. No Department component may maintain any database that contains arson or explosives incident information that would otherwise be maintained in the consolidated database.”1

Following the attorney general’s direction to consolidate DOJ explosives databases, ATF changed the name of the Arson and Explosives National Repository Branch to the U.S. Bomb Data Center (USBDC). The name was chosen specifically so that any government entity—within or outside the United States—would recognize it as the one site in the United States for reporting incidents and for seeking information to prevent or investigate acts involving explosives.

The USBDC has since consolidated the information contained in the FBI’s Automated Incident Reporting System into ATF’s Bomb Arson Tracking System (BATS).

The USBDC has conducted training on BATS throughout the United States and has made BATS available to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Since fiscal year 2006, thousands of people from all levels of government have received training related to the USBDC and BATS.

Contents of BATS

The USBDC is the United States’ central source for information and intelligence concerning domestic bombing and arson incidents. While efforts in fiscal years 2005 and 2006 were focused on consolidating DOJ arson and explosives incident data, the staff of highly skilled analysts and subject matter experts at the USBDC published information bulletins and advisories on topics as varied as thefts of explosives to improvised explosives device (IED) concealment strategies.

There are currently over 3,100 authorized BATS users from 575 federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States. This includes users from ATF, the FBI, the Army Criminal Investigation Division, the Transportation Security Administration, and many other agencies. BATS has received an award for e-authentication given by the Government Solutions Center and the E-Gov Institute.

More than 180,000 arson and explosives incident reports (obtained from federal, state, and local fire and law enforcement agencies) are contained within the consolidated BATS database. This includes a unique set of data associated with the tracing of explosives products from the manufacturer to the end user in support of criminal investigations. Included in the BATS database are over 11,000 records related to explosives traces and over 4,500 records of stolen or lost explosives.

USBDC Mission

The mission of the USBDC is to collect, analyze, and disseminate timely information and relevant technical intelligence products to federal, state, local, tribal, military, and international partners as well as ATF agents. These products include statistical analyses of current trends and patterns and intelligence tools to assist in preventing violent crime and terrorist acts.

The USBDC maintains the country’s most comprehensive collection of data describing explosives and fire-related incidents, which include those associated with IEDs and improvised incendiary devices. As noted earlier, ATF has been designated as the sole agency to manage all DOJ databases containing arson and explosives incident data. A December 2008 letter signed jointly by ATF and the FBI and addressed to the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board (NBSCAB) recognized BATS as the sole repository for explosives-related incident information. The two DOJ agencies also threw their joint support behind NBSCAB efforts to encourage U.S. bomb squads and technicians, represented by NBSCAB, to report incidents to BATS.

The USBDC concept of operations calls for the addition of representatives from the law enforcement, intelligence, and academic communties to the USBDC staff. This will enable the USBDC to become a true center of excellence by bringing together the United States’ collective expertise in the area of explosives. ATF looks for the FBI to be a main partner in this endeavor, and discussions are under way to make this a reality.

In addition, the USBDC is working in concert with ATF’s National Center for Explosives Training and Research to become a one-stop shop for information concerning technical intelligence on explosives as well as other information related to the unlawful use of explosives in the United States. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security added USBDC information into its threat assessment process.

Sharing Intelligence Globally

Through the USBDC, ATF is a founding member of the International Bomb Data Center Working Group and serves as the group’s secretary. A member of the USBDC also serves as a dedicated representative for the Americas.

The International Bomb Data Center Working Group is a collaborative body of bomb data centers and recognized government agencies focused on the efficient and effective sharing of technical intelligence on explosives as well as other information related to the unlawful use of explosives. There are currently 32 member nations, with four other countries participating with observer status. According to protocols adopted by the group, the roles and functions of international bomb data centers vary considerably. However, all members must be legitimate government agencies responsible for the management of technical intelligence and information related to the unlawful use of explosives.

As the primary source for explosives-related intelligence and information in the United States, the USBDC will continue to work with both domestic and international law enforcement agencies to ensure the dissemination of information vital to combating violent crime and assisting in the fight against terrorism.

The process for requesting BATS access may be initiated by e-mailing the USBDC at or by calling 800-461-8841. ■

Don Robinson serves as chief of the U.S. Bomb Data Center. A 21-year veteran of federal law enforcement with specific background and training in arson and explosives, he served two years on ATF’s National Response Team and is an ATF-certified explosives specialist.


1“The Attorney General’s August 11, 2004, Memorandum Regarding the Coordination of Explosives Investigations and Related Matters,” cited in Office of the Inspector General, “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Arson and Explosives Intelligence Databases,” Audit Report 05-01, October 2004, (accessed December 29, 2008).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 2, February 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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