Bomb disposal

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US Soldiers removing landmines

Bomb disposal is the process by which hazardous devices are rendered safe. "Bomb disposal" is an all encompassing term to describe the separate, but interrelated, fields of military (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, EOD), public safety (Public Safety Bomb Disposal, PSBT) and civilian (Unexploded Ordnance, UXO) operations.




Bomb disposal became a formalised field during World War I. The swift mass production of munitions led to many manufacturing defects, and a large proportion of shells fired by both sides were found to be "duds". [1] ( These were hazardous to attacker and defender alike. In response, the British dedicated a section of Royal Engineers to handle the growing problem. Initially there were no specialized tools, training, or core knowledge available, and as Technicians learned how to safely neutralize one type of shell, the enemy would add parts to make neutralization efforts more hazardous. This trend of cat-and-mouse extends even to today, and the techniques used to defuse munitions are held to high standards of secrecy.

Post-war efforts

The history of bomb disposal in the United States is a storied and interesting one. US EOD Technicians can trace their heritage to the United Kingdom pre-WWII. Unexploded ordnance was taking its toll on the population; the Royal Engineers responded by devising methods to inert and remove them.

The United States felt the RE Disposaleer Program was a valuable one, and sought a similar agenda. In 1940, troops from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps began training at Melksham Royal Air Force Base, Wiltshire, England.

The next year (1941), the US Navy established the USN Mine Disposal School at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, DC.

1942 was a banner year for the fledgling EOD program. Major Thomas Kane, who started the School of Civilian Defense in 1940, traveled with eight other troops to the UK for initial EOD training. Upon their return, they stood up the US Army Bomb Disposal School at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. Shortly thereafter, graduates of this school formed the first Army Bomb Disposal unit, the 231st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Company. The now-familiar shoulder emblem for EOD technicians, a red bomb on an oval, black background was approved for them to wear.

Not to be outdone, the US Navy, under the command of Rear Admiral Draper L. Kauffman, created the USN Bomb Disposal School at University Campus, Washington, DC.

Late that year, tragically, the first US EOD casualty was recorded. Ensign Howard, USNR, was performing a render-safe procedure against a German moored mine when it functioned.

Only a scant few months later, the first two EOD fatalities occurred. LT Rodger & Tech SGT Rap with the US Army 5th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Company, while conducting EOD operations on Attu Island, were fatally injured by ordnance. They unfortunately, were not to be the last, as Army casualties mounted due to attacking waterborne ordnance they were not trained to deal with.

This was rectified finally in 1947, when Army personnel started attending a new school formed the year prior at Indian Head, Maryland, by the Navy. This course was named the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Course. This year also saw the Army Air Corps separate and become the US Air Force, and they too began their own EOD Units. Also in 1947, the forerunner of the EOD Technology Center, the USN Bureau of Naval Weapons, charged with research, development, test, and evaluation of EOD tools, tactics and procedures was born.

1949 marked the end of the term “Bomb Disposal Unit”, as they were renamed EOD units.

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US Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) divers

In 1953, reflecting the trend in name changing, the EOD School formally became the Naval School, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD). Two years later, the Army Bomb Disposal School would close, making Indian Head the sole Joint Service EOD School in the US. That is, until 1985, when work began on the current EOD School at Eglin AF Base, Florida.

The current, most recognizable distinctive item of wear by EOD technicians, affectionately referred to as the ‘crab’, began uniform wear as the Basic EOD Qualification Badge in 1957. The Master would not appear until 1969. (See picture below)

Fields of Operations


Bomb Technicians in the US military are called EOD Technicians. In addition to manufactured munitions, EOD Technicians also deal with improvised explosive devices (IEDs. They are experts in chemical, biological, incendiary, radiological ("dirty bombs"), and nuclear. They provide support to VIPs, help civilian authorities with bomb problems, teach troops about bomb safety, and a variety of other tasks.

EOD Technicians in the US previously attended school in Indian Head, Maryland, but currently all prospective EOD Technicians attend a grueling course of instruction at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. This school has a high attrition rate because of the very high standards necessary.

Sometimes, people confuse engineers or sappers with EOD Technicians. While engineers and sappers do, on occasion, deal with explosive devices, their roles are limited normally to improving the mobility of troops. They are not Bomb Technicians.


US Army EOD covers both on and off base calls unless there is a local PSBT or "Public Safety Bomb Technician". Also called a "Hazardous Devices Technician", PSBTs are usually members of a Police department, although there are teams formed by fire departments or emergency management agencies.

Many PSBTs attend one of two civilian bomb schools in the US, the FBI's Hazardous Devices School at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, or the ATFE's school at Fort AP Hill, Virginia. These schools help them to become experts in the detection, diagnosis and disposal of hazardous devices. They are further trained to collect evidence in hazardous devices, and present expert witness testimony in court on bombing cases. There are not many Hazardous Devices Units (formerly called Bomb Squads) in the US. Many are not staffed full-time. In other words, the Technicians who staff these teams are normally Patrolmen or Detectives when they are not responding to bomb calls or training.


In the quest to build the best, safest munition systems possible, and then train troops to safely utilize them, many acres of government land are currently restricted for bombing ranges. As time goes along, it becomes the best interest of the government to turn these lands back over to the public for reutilization. Before this can occur, specialists in unexploded ordnance (UXO) must be brought in to clear the lands of ordnance and explosive waste. These civilians, usually retired military EOD Technicians, use specialized tools for subsurface examination of the lands. When munitions are found, they safely neutralize them and remove them from the site.

While most UXO Ttechnicians are former military, there is a US school civilians can attend to become certified as a Tech I conducted by Texas A&M University.


Many techniques exist for the neutralization of a bomb or munition. Selection of a technique depends on several variables. The greatest variable is the proximity of the munition or device to people or critical facilities. Items in the middle of nowhere are handled much differently than are ones in dense population areas.

Contrary to Hollywood lore, the role of the Bomb Technician is to accomplish his task as remotely as possible. Actually laying hands on a bomb is only done in an extremely life-threatening situation, where the hazards to people and critical structures can't be lessened.

Bomb Technicians have many tools for remote operations, the greatest of which is the RCV, or remote control vehicle. Outfitted with cameras, microphones, and sensors for chemical, biological, or nuclear agents, the RCV can help the technician get an excellent idea of what the munition or device is. Many of these robots even have hand-like manipulators in case a door needs to be opened, or a munition or bomb requires handling or moving.

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Bomb disposal robot

Also of great use are items that allow a Bomb Technician to remotely diagnose the innards of a munition or IED. These include devices similar to the X-ray used by medical personnel, and high-performance sensors that can reveal sounds, odors, or even images from within the munition or bomb.

Once the Technicians determine exactly what the munition or device is, and what state it currently is in, they will formulate a procedure to render it safe. This may include things as simple as replacing safety features, or as difficult as using high-powered explosive-actuated devices to shear, jam, bind, or remove parts of the items' firing train.

Preferably, this will be accomplished remotely, but there are still circumstances when a robot just won't do, and a Technician must put himself at grave risk by personally handling the bomb. The Technician will many times don a specialized protective suit, consisting of flame and fragmentation-resistant material similar to bulletproof vests. Some suits have advanced features such as internal cooling, amplified hearing, and communications back to the control area. This suit is designed to increase the odds of survival for the Technician should the munition or IED function while they are near it.

Rarely, the specifics of a munition or bomb allow the Technician to remove it from the area. In these cases, a containment vessel is used. Some are shaped like small water tanks, others like large spheres. Using remote methods, the Technician places the item in the container and retires to a uninhabited area to complete the neutralization. Because of the instablity and complexity of modern bombs, this is rarely done.

After the munition or bomb has been rendered safe, the Technicians will assist in the removal of the item so the area can be returned to normal.

All of this, called a mission or evolution, can take a great deal of time. Because of the construction of devices, a wait time must be taken to ensure that whatever render-safe method was used worked as intended. While time is usually not on the Bomb Technician's side, rushing usually ends in disaster.

What else do Bomb Technicians do?

In addition to neutralizing munitions or IED's, conducting training and presenting evidence, Techncians also respond to other problems. They dispose of old or unstable explosives, such as ones used in quarrying or mining, as well as old or unstable fireworks and ammunition.

The meaning of the United States EOD badge

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US military EOD Technicians wear a specialized badge of honour upon successful completion of school, informally referred to as a 'crab'. Civilian PSBTs have a similar badge. The components of the badge each have a special meaning:

  • The Wreath: Symbolic of the achievements and laurels gained in minimizing incidents through the ingenuity and devotion to duty of its members. It is in memory of those EOD members who gave their lives while performing EOD duties.
  • The Bomb: Copied from the design of the World War II Bomb Disposal badge, represents the historic and major objective of the EOD mission, the unexploded bomb. The three fins represent the major areas of nuclear, conventional and chemical/biological interest.
  • Lightning Bolts: Symbolizes the potential destructive power of the bomb and the courage and professionalism of EOD personnel.
  • The Shield: Represents the EOD mission -- to prevent a detonation and protect the surrounding area and property to the utmost.

"Initial success or total failure"

This is a common motto of Bomb Technicians. If the explosive device is not handled effectively on the first attempt, many times the result is total failure. Consequences are the possible injury or death of personnel and/or damage or total destruction to equipment.

External links

  • NAVSCOLEOD ( US Naval School, EOD - Home of the United States Joint Service EOD School
  • USAF EOD ( US Air Force EOD Home page
  • REDSTONE ( Redstone Arsenal, home of the US Hazardous Devices School
  • Mulvaney on Bomb Disposal ( Cartoons from the World War II newsletter of the US Naval Bomb Disposal School
  • more links ( An excellent source of links from the Frozen Chosen!

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