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Back to Archives | Back to May 2011 Contents 

Stopping IEDs: DHS Tools and Resources for Law Enforcement

By William Flynn, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Note: William Flynn became Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Protection on November 1, 2010.

mprovised explosive devices (IEDs) continue to be the weapon of choice for terrorists seeking to inflict casualties and damage. The National Counterterrorism Center identified more than 4,000 terrorist bombings worldwide in 2009.1 Closer to home, the failed attempts by Faisal Shahzad in New York City’s Times Square and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 show that the United States’ adversaries have the tools and the intent to launch attacks within the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognizes the enormous challenge that preventing, protecting from, and responding to terrorist IED threats and incidents presents, and the DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection’s Office for Bombing Prevention (OBP) has developed programs to assist state and local partners at no cost to the receiving agency.

The IED Threat

Most well-known incidents of international terrorism have featured IEDs, such as the 1983 U.S. Embassy Bombing in Beirut, Lebanon; the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland; the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing in New York City; the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing; and the 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. IEDs are relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can be concealed and deployed in a variety of ways. Their design is limited only by the imagination of the bomb maker.

Large vehicle-borne IEDs can damage or destroy large buildings, while suicide or person-borne IEDs can penetrate checkpoints or target public areas. IEDs can be delivered over the water, as in the attack on the USS Cole on October 12, 2000, or placed on or under the road, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. They can be detonated by timer, by switch, or remotely. IED construction and deployment tactics change quickly to adapt to countermeasures and make use of available resources. For example, when commercial or military explosives became more difficult or costly to obtain, bomb makers relied more heavily on homemade explosives, such as those used by “the shoe bomber” Richard Reid in 2001 and in the trans-Atlantic aircraft plot in 2006. The constantly evolving terrorist tactics, techniques, and procedures associated with IEDs present unique challenges to law enforcement. The OBP programs take on this challenge.

The Office for Bombing Prevention

The OBP was created in 2003 to coordinate DHS activities and policy related to IED threats. It also serves as an advocate and resource for law enforcement specialists with an IED-related mission, such as public safety bomb squads, public safety dive teams, explosives detection canine teams, and special weapons and tactics (SWAT) teams. The OBP also works to improve knowledge and awareness of IEDs among general law enforcement, first responders, critical infrastructure owners and operators, and private sector security professionals. By better understanding terrorist tactics, first responders and private sector partners can improve their ability to stop terrorist attacks in the planning phase, thereby reducing the risk of successful IED attacks.

Multijurisdictional IED Security Plans

Response to a terrorist attack may require coordination among multiple jurisdictions, law enforcement organizations, or first responder disciplines. An attack may impact several cities, or responders may be overwhelmed and require assistance from neighboring localities. To help regions prepare, the DHS sponsors Multi-Jurisdiction IED Security Planning workshops in high-risk urban environments, bringing together law enforcement and emergency management officials from the various jurisdictions that would respond to an IED threat or incident, as well as the owners, operators, and security personnel from local critical infrastructure facilities that could be targeted in an IED attack. Participants discuss how their organizations would respond to a hypothetical IED attack scenario and identify gaps, redundancies, or areas for improvement. The workshop produces a Multi-Jurisdiction IED Security Plan outlining specific, coordinated actions each party will take during steady state operations and in response to IED threats or incidents. The plan maximizes and focuses the effectiveness of that area’s available resources.

Since recently piloting Multi-Jurisdiction IED Security Plans for clusters of critical infrastructure, the DHS has completed Multi-Jurisdiction IED Security Plans in sixteen major cities as of March 2011 and for several regional critical infrastructure clusters.

National Capability Analysis Database

NCAD Annual Report: A Snapshot of IED Preparedness

Combined with feedback from state and local responders, NCAD data help the DHS identify trends in nationwide capability gaps and user requirements. These trends and associated recommendations are published in an annual report on national bombing prevention capabilities.

The first NCAD report, published last summer, recommended increased coordination among federal agencies; expanded training to address IED threats; development of advanced tools and capabilities to meet evolving terrorist explosive attack methods; and standardization of practices and equipment for other responders such as SWAT, divers, and canine teams that operate with bomb squads.
All facets of law enforcement are critical to the effort to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States, but the highly technical prevention and response capabilities of public safety bomb squads, explosives detection canine units, public safety dive teams, and SWAT teams are particularly important components of national IED preparedness. The OBP’s National Capabilities Analysis Database (NCAD) gathers comprehensive data on these state and local first responders to assess readiness, equipment, training, and assets required for effective response to IED threats. The resulting database reports help individual units, agency heads, and state and local homeland security officials understand baseline capabilities and areas for improvement. As of March 2011, the OBP had conducted on-site NCAD assessments on 413 bomb squads, 59 canine units, and 48 dive teams.

NCAD data and feedback from state and local responders on capability gaps and user needs contributed to the DHS decision to designate IED prevention and protection as a priority in the DHS Homeland Security Grant Program guidance for fiscal years 2008 and 2009. This designation allowed several bomb squads to purchase robots, thereby satisfying National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board criteria and maintaining the squads’ accreditation as certified bomb squads.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) oversees the Homeland Security Grant Program, and the OBP serves as a subject matter expert to FEMA throughout the process to ensure that critical bombing prevention capability gaps are addressed. To provide greater clarity on allowable grant expenditures for IED prevention and protection equipment acquisition, planning, training, exercise, and personnel, the OBP and FEMA have drafted three Information Bulletins, available on FEMA’s website.2

OBP Training for Law Enforcement

OBP also maintains a catalog of training programs to educate state, local, and private sector officials about terrorist IED threats and strategies for detecting and mitigating these threats. Courses available to law enforcement cover surveillance detection, IED awareness, and bomb threat management.

From 2003 to March 2011, the OBP had delivered in-person training to more than 32,000 participants and recently conducted a 20-minute webinar called Threat Detection and Reaction for Retail and Shopping Center Staff, hosted on the Homeland Security Information Network3 that has reached 13,000 nonsecurity employees in shopping malls.

In addition to training, state, local, and private sector partners need the latest information available on IED threats and tactics. The OBP has developed an online resource for this purpose—the Technical Resource for Incident Prevention, also known as TRIPwire.

Information Sharing through an Online Network

Sharing accurate information about threats, risks, and incidents among federal agencies and with state and local partners can make a life-or-death difference within an affected community. TRIPwire is the department’s 24/7 secure, online information sharing network for bomb squads, law enforcement, and other first responders to learn about current terrorist IED tactics, techniques, and procedures.

Before TRIPwire was created, most IED information was classified or shared on classified networks and was unavailable to the majority of state and local law enforcement agencies. The source of most TRIPwire content is not intelligence, but rather translated open-source terrorist manuals and videos for making explosives and constructing IEDs. By providing insight into terrorist capabilities, TRIPwire helps the DHS and state and local law enforcement consider their protection and response capabilities and their planning efforts in comparison to the threat. TRIPwire also hosts official documents and reports from the FBI Hazardous Devices Operations Section and the Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, available only to certified bomb technicians. As of March 2011, more than 17,800 multidisciplinary emergency services personnel used TRIPwire, according to the TRIPwire user registry.

TRIPwire also is a resource for information when significant incidents involving explosives or IEDs occur. In the event of a significant threat, the OBP immediately prepares and disseminates a significant incident report to authorized TRIPwire users, providing situational details, information regarding the device, and protective measures to be implemented by law enforcement and emergency responders. In the hours following an incident, other unclassified reports and information are posted on TRIPwire. For example, just hours after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to detonate an IED aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, TRIPwire users received a TRIPwire quick look report, and the following day, they received a significant incident report and two intelligence bulletins from the Department of Justice Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center on the device components and construction.

Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program

National Strategy for Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives in the United States

Issued in February 2007 to combat terrorist use of explosives in the United States, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 19* addressed the threat of a terrorist attack using IEDs and directed that federal resources focus on combating this threat. In response to the directive, the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, and other federal agencies provided a classified report to the president cataloging federal programs associated with IEDs, outlining a national strategy to combat this threat and providing recommendations to improve the government’s ability to deter, prevent, detect, protect from, and respond to terrorist explosive threats. To create the report, the OBP and the FBI conducted discussions, surveys, and interviews with stakeholders, including state and local law enforcement and homeland security officials and representatives of the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board and the National Tactical Officers Association.

A common concern expressed by state and local officials and first responders was the confusion and conflict that can arise from having so many federal agencies and programs involved with IEDs. To address this issue, the report to the president recommended creating a single point of coordination on counter-IED policy within the federal government. The resulting organization, the Joint Program Office for Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives, involves all departments and agencies with IED-related programs, including the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Transportation Security Administration; the Department of Defense Joint IED Defeat Organization; the DHS Science and Technology Directorate; and the OBP. This interagency group enhances and streamlines federal programs and resources related to IED threats and attacks by implementing the recommendations derived from state and local feedback. The OBP is responsible for implementing recommendations assigned to the DHS, accomplished through various programs at the national and local levels.

*HSPD-19, Combating Terrorist Use of Explosives in the United States, is reproduced in full at
Although the threat of IEDs is not new, the resources and skills necessary to construct them and carry out attacks have become easier to acquire. Potential bomb makers can find instructions on the Internet and purchase components for homemade explosives at such common retail outlets as home improvement or beauty supply stores.

In September 2009, airport shuttle driver Najibullah Zazi was arrested and indicted for conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, specifically IEDs, against persons or property within the United States. Authorities believed Zazi received detailed bomb-making instructions, purchased components to produce the peroxide-based explosive triacetone triperoxide and components for IEDs, and conducted extensive Internet research about explosives. Zazi purchased unusually large quantities of hydrogen peroxide and acetone at Denver-area beauty supply stores, which raised suspicions among store personnel but did not result in notification of authorities.

In collaboration with the FBI, the DHS has developed an outreach program that links law enforcement with retailers of explosive precursor chemicals and other bomb-making materials. The Bomb-Making Materials Awareness Program (BMAP) educates law enforcement about chemicals and other materials that can be used to manufacture explosives or IEDs and helps local police departments develop relationships with private sector retailers of these materials, so private sector retailers know whom to call if they witness suspicious behavior.

As of March 2011, the OBP had trained more than 3,064 state and local law enforcement officers and distributed more than 30,640 outreach packets at 52 events nationwide. The DHS also has provided BMAP materials directly to almost 400 major U.S. retail locations, including large malls and beauty supply stores.

For More Information

OBP programs are continually adapting to meet the evolving threat environment and responder requirements. If your agency is interested in bombing prevention programs, please e-mail

State or local agencies also may request training courses by contacting their local DHS Protective Security Advisor or state homeland security agency.

To learn more about critical infrastructure protection and resilience, visit ■


1National Counterterrorism Center, 2009 NCTC Report on Terrorism, April 2010, 22, chart 10 - Primary Methods Used in Attacks, (accessed March 15, 2011). The 2009 annual threat assessment of the Director of National Intelligence stated that “conventional weapons and explosives will continue to be the most often used instruments of destruction in terrorist attacks” (Dennis C. Blair, Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 111th Cong. 21 (February 12, 2009), (accessed March 3, 2011)).
2W. Ross Ashley and Charlie Payne, “Using Grant Funds to Purchase Robots and Remotely Operated Vehicles,” Grant Programs Directorate Information Bulletin, no. 287 (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, April 11, 2008), (accessed March 3, 2011); Ashley and Payne, “FY 2008 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP) Supplemental Guidance Information Focusing on Improvised Explosive Device Deterrence, Prevention, and Protection,” Grant Programs Directorate Information Bulletin, no. 286 (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, April 11, 2008), (accessed March 3, 2011); and Ashley and Payne, “Allowing for the Purchase of Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) Equipment by Selected Grantees in the ECM Pilot Program,” Grant Programs Directorate Information Bulletin, no. 309 (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, February 27, 2009), (accessed March 3, 2011).
3“Homeland Security Information Network,” U.S. Department of Homeland Security, (accessed March 3, 2011).

Please cite as:

William Flynn, “Stopping IEDs: DHS Tools and Resources for Law Enforcement,” The Police Chief 78 (May 2011): 50–54.

Click to view the digital edition.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 5, May 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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