Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Kemuncak kerjaya ketika menjulang Sang Saka Biru

Posting ini Mad Bomber ambil temuramah bersama akhbar The Star pada tahun lalu dengan sedikit Last week’s bomb hoax at the Penang Bridge had our very own bomb squad swinging into action. Here is an inside look at how it operates.
ANOTHER bomb goes off and people die and/or are injured. Sometimes it’s a veritable bloodbath. It can happen in any corner of the world – Iraq, South Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia or Russia. We can count ourselves lucky that such incidents are rare in Malaysia, so far. But you never know, these days.
Recently – on March 15 – in Kajang, a factory worker found a “container” that turned out to be a home-made bomb at his doorstep. A relative suspected something amiss and alerted the police. However, ordinary police personnel are not trained to defuse bombs. This is where the Bomb Disposal Unit (what Joe Public knows as the bomb squad) of the Royal Malaysia Police comes in.
According to the unit’s national head, Mad Bomber, squad members have first to undergo a three-week bomb disposal course at the technical college in Muar, Johor. This is followed by another three weeks’ training on how to handle improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or, in other words, home-made devices (though some of them are made by professionals). Further training is conducted on how to flush out suspects or suspicious objects – doing a sweep, basically, and if a blast has occurred, to check what caused the blast and if the device is still active.
Mad Bomber
“All this is theoretical training. One needs practical skill training, too. In our line, one mistake and you may be dead. There is no such thing as a second chance.”
Which is why he says stints with bomb squads around the world are very important. The force sent personnel for courses, training and practical stints at Scotland Yard and the FBI, and in Canada, France, and Australia.
”They have more such cases, so it gives us a lot of on-the-job experience. We learn about new equipment and technology, techniques and tactics, and also how to make our own bombs and IEDs,” Mad Bomber explains.
Of course, it makes perfect sense to learn how to make bombs, because if you can make them, then you can dismantle or defuse them.
Officers are sent for training regularly. Mad Bomber says they are experienced in handling explosives, be these chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear in nature.
He emphasises that the squad’s main goal is to save lives; property is secondary. So much for Hollywood movies depicting a bomb disposal officer approaching the suspected device and proceeding to deactivate it. When asked about scenes showing a hero or heroine cutting the right-coloured wire just in time and saving the day, Mad Bomber laughs.
“Before anything else, we have to cordon off the area. Then we estimate from the size and weight of the device what its explosive range might be: ‘the killing zone’ is a minimum radius of 100m from the object. We then send in a remote-control robot that can inspect the device because you never know if it has a motion or an infrared sensor. We have state-of-the art robots. We can then figure out what kind of device it is.”
He adds that everything is done slowly and steadily; there are no shortcuts. The entire operation might take several hours before the threat is considered to be contained. Which is why he urges the public to be patient if such a situation were to occur.
Sometimes, due to certain constraints, like the terrain, the robot – or what they call the Wheelbarrow – cannot be used. The squad then has the option of using the robot attached to a 100m cable.
The Wheelbarrow Mark 8 Plus 2 can shoot ammo to blast a suspected device. The two cylinders attached to it can also fire water at very high pressure and force.
Besides the robot, there is also other equipment – all fitted into a van – that the squad uses. However, if it needs to send in a technician instead of the robot, then the protective suit – complete with armour – is essential.
I tried on the helmet and found it uncomfortable, hot and very heavy; I could hardly walk while wearing it. An officer who had put on the suit needed the help of two colleagues to help him get out of it. (Following regulation, the suit has to be put on within 10 minutes.)
Imagine an officer wearing the suit and having to deal with an explosive device. One needs to be not only very fit but also very steady with his hands and have the ability to focus. The suit is so hot and heavy (it weighs 37kg) that a blower is attached to the back to circulate the air inside it, to prevent the wearer collapsing from heat exhaustion.
“The suit can protect one from a mild blast, at best, and save one from shrapnel coming at speeds of less than 8km/sec. But the person would still sustain some injuries from a medium-sized blast,” Mad Bomber says.
Given the possibility of injuries, members are all trained in first aid techniques, as time is crucial in such instances.
All operational procedures and most equipment used worldwide are standardised, adds Mad Bomber, which is why a bomb disposal officer can operate anywhere in the world. A team consists of one officer plus three bomb technicians, as they are called.
When asked how they deactivate or defuse various types of explosive devices, he refuses to divulge any information. “That will give the game away,” Mad Bomber adds.

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