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Life in the Fast Lanes – Ravens Challenge By Chris Travis, Tacoma PD Bomb Squad Commander, Roger Toles, Pierce County Sheriff and Mary Jenkins The sounds of a baby’s constant crying and a woman’s sobbing pierce the stale air in the dark hallway. You slowly approach the door, weapons ready. You know the door is locked and loaded with explosives, and trapped inside is a domestic violence situation that has gone from bad to horrifying. What will you do? A better question to ask is what would an EOD tech do? In an ever shifting threat environment, Ravens Challenge answered this question for a group of technicians through the integration of global and domestic techniques. Such realistic scenarios and training modules were designed with the EOD tech in mind, and the results were powerful and impactful. The Evolution of Ravens Challenge This unique event is the creation of Al Johnson (Ravens International Security Consultants–RISC/Washington National Guard), Brennan Phillips (ATF/ Washington National Guard), and Roger Toles (Pierce County Sheriff ), who in 2004 designed a multi-jurisdictional/multi-service EOD training program lasting two days which was initially to be a training event for the National Guard units then forming in Washington. Flash forward to 2010, and within the evolution of the event, it was decided to shift the paradigm to focus more on police and Homeland Security. This year’s Challenge was sponsored by Pierce County Sheriff ’s Bomb Squad Commander, Roger Toles. Pierce County selected RISC Management, whose manager, Al Johnson, had engineered and coordinated the prior Ravens events. At the time of planning for the fifth incarnation of a domestic Ravens Challenge, RISC was also in the developmental stages of a Ravens Challenge overseas under a State Department contract. Because of the mutuality of requirements, the State Department decided to invite one of the in-

41 — November/December 2010

ternational EOD teams to participate in the training. Estonia was selected, and a core group of Estonians from the “Rescue Board” served as the first international group outside of Canada to attend a US Ravens Challenge. DHS funding was the key to producing such a globally viable event, and without it, Ravens Challenge would either remain a National Guard event in which police could participate, or an overseas event available to only a few nations. The military EOD community had grown since 2004, and the reasons for the original Ravens Challenge, which was to prepare the military EOD for deployment overseas in an IED environment with the help of the police, were now solved through the use of specifically designed government training programs. However, a key element was still missing. The US lacked an integral program for providing a comprehensive, realistic, scenario-based training event that combined military, civilian and foreign EOD techs with vendors and government sup-

port agencies into one event, where they could interact within departmental criteria, test new techniques, experiment with new equipment and validate older ones against the IEDs being used worldwide, and potentially here at home. “We wanted the shift in focus to come back to the US for Homeland Defense, and the program that Roger proposed fit that model exactly. In addition, our State Department work overseas and the ability to bring foreign techs here, especially from IED hotspots like Thailand, was an opportunity to increase the crossleveling of experience to the US first responders that RISC has been working on for the past 3 years,” stated Mr. Johnson. Ravens Challenge V Spreads Its Wings The uniqueness of Ravens Challenge lies in several areas. First, RISC brings together US military, civilian as well as UK, Thai, and Israeli IED experience, offering participant’s insight into cutting edge techniques on both a domestic and international level. 2010 is also the year

Vendor support is a main feature of Ravens Challenge, as it allows participating EOD techs to use equipment in realistic conditions against IED targets. Here CTS provides product advise on the new CTS Lance disruptor to a US Army EOD team.


Brennan Phillips of ATF illustrates explosive residue and other areas of evidence/ hazard following his demonstration of culvert emplaced IEDs. Agent Phillips recently returned from Afghanistan where he served in the National Guard as commander for the C-IED unit in Task Force Paladin. that Ravens Challenge became a civiliansponsored event, in addition to being the dawn of international representation with the Estonian participants. The five Estonian EOD techs hailed from different regions of the nation, and this event allowed them to understand how US teams adapt to challenges they often face in their own country. “In Estonia, we are unique” said Janek Sõnum. “We have to deal with tens of thousands of UXO, HAZMAT, IEDs, security sweeps and education of the civilians about the dangers of UXO/IEDs, all while [we are] a civilian agency under the equivalent of the Fire Service. Usually, those jobs are taken by different agencies. I see in the US that the military does the UXO and civilian does the IED for domestic, but in our country we have to do it all. It is good to see how US Police EOD go about their business with the equipment and procedures. We can take a lot of this back home to Estonia with how to respond, especially against IEDs.” Close Scenarios of a Challenging Kind The foundation of Ravens Challenge lies in its realistic training scenarios and the diversity of attendees. This year, the event took place in several locations: an abandoned school, a rock quarry and a railroad track. The two-day event pre-

43 — November/December 2010

sented a variety of hostile situations that US bomb technicians could potentially face, based on actual IED incidents worldwide. From a kidnapped victim in a suicide vest, to the “Thai Brick of Death” challenge, many life-threatening situations confronted the participants, and they were able to utilize their daily tools to safely approach the danger. Ravens Challenge is distinctly structured to allow for a range day, an urban/access problem day, and a robot rodeo/disruptor challenge day. Brennan Phillips of the ATF provided leading-edge scenarios and training at the event by posing a challenging problem threatening EOD techs in Afghanistan during his “Home Made Explosives” training lane. Agent Phillips recently returned as commander of Task Force Paladin and is a Lieutenant Colonel in the National Guard. He demonstrated the culvert bombs faced by military EOD techs overseas and challenged teams to devise a safe solution to the problem. Participating local agencies this year included civilian BDUs from Pierce County, City of Tacoma, Federal Way, Bellevue, Portland Metro, Port of Seattle, City of Seattle and King County. Also involved in the training were federal and military agents and EOD from ATF, FBI and the US State Department, as well as

Navy SPAWAR, Navy Mobile Unit 11 and the US Army. During these scenarios, or lanes training, each unit presented their departmental render safe procedures in an attempt to effectively face each challenge. The key to the training is instant verification of success. In the event a crucial mistake is made, an electronic buzzer indicates to the responder that they may have just lost their life. Post “blast,” the training cadre and technicians talk through any potential mistakes and improve upon the response to the situation. “What we aim for is to replicate either the actual IED event, or recreate an event with very similar characteristics and learning goals, and then we build the devices to spec and place the witness boxes on them. The EOD techs that run against them can use any technique, as you can’t argue with success. Afterward we go over what worked, what didn’t and look at alternatives as well. It proves to be a real eye-opener for many teams that have limited time to train,” said Rich Gonzales, a RISC Master Trainer. Chris Travis, Chief for the Tacoma Police Department Bomb Squad, spoke about the benefits to the teams. “The teams appreciate the ability to come out and run as close to real incidents as any training event I have been on. It is difficult to pull in training during our allocated time, and then we are a group of 5 techs so eventually we figure out the type of device the other person makes. When we come to the Ravens Challenge, it feels like we are running against the type of devices we worry about, that we might see and a lot of it is new, the type of devices other EOD techs worldwide and across the country are facing. We need that level of challenge, and the teams really rise up to the occasion at an event like this.” The Kind of Demonstrations We Like Another unique feature of Ravens Challenge this year was the vendor participation and equipment demonstration. “We learned in both our military experience and with RISC overseas that EOD techs need to have hands-on time with equipment in scenarios matching that which they will face in an IED incident. Too many times, trade shows never


allow the tech to test the equipment under actual conditions. Ravens Challenge also challenges the vendors to put their equipment to a true test before the departments spend hard fought money purchasing them. Especially with all the new equipment out there, the EOD commanders and members need to evaluate the product realistically, lives depend on it,” Mr. Johnson explains. Ravens Challenge asked that all vendors provide equipment at the teams’ requests to be used on any of the multiple scenarios. In this symbiotic relationship, the vendors receive immediate feedback as to the quality and overall precision and effectiveness of their products from over 60 EOD tech’s against a range of IED scenarios from VBIEDs to pipe bombs. The techs, in turn, are able to experience state of the art equipment in an ever-changing environment. This year, the following companies participated in the Challenge: QinetiQ, ICOR, Allen Vanguard, American Innovations, OpenVision, CTS and RISC. “I was asked, since I travel to these types of events all the time, how does the Ravens Challenge compare? The simple answer: There is no comparison... I’ve never seen a single other event put together the way yours was, run so effectively, teaching so much to those so willing and ready to learn and share. Truly outstanding!” responded Chris Boylen, rep for American Innovations, when asked about Ravens Challenge V. The US Navy SPAWAR team, under CDR Donald D. Dudenhoeffer, continued its support of Ravens Challenge and was able to demonstrate the innovative technological applications they provide to military and civilian EOD techs. The Navy program has been working on not only supporting the military EOD community, but to transfer their technology to the civilian first responder community. Ravens Challenge provided the opportunity for SPAWAR outreach to Washington State area first responders. CDR Dudenhoeffer commented that SPAWAR continues to develop technology both for the military’s constantly evolving IED paradigm, and then to adapt that technology to civilian responders’ needs. During

achieved successful results at long ranges. It was evident that the Lance Disruptor has many advantages for civilian EOD use as well.

Demonstrations of actual incidents (here the South American collar bomb) and techniques for rendering safe are demonstrated. Ravens Challenge, the SPAWAR team was constantly repairing and upgrading equipment, showcasing new items and gathering information from both military and civilian teams on EOD requirements, equipment and technology. A Welcome Disrupter As one example of the benefits of using the vendor equipment, several teams were able to field test the CTS Lance Disrupter System. This new system from Canada boasts a multitude of innovative designs to increase standoff and accuracy over existing systems, but at more than half the weight and size. The Army teams tested the Lance against their existing PAN system and were surprised. “I don’t normally use disrupters as they are too bulky and a lot of our general disruption tools do the trick,” said SSG Ireland of the Army EOD team. “But this disruptor actually gives me some standoff and some power, and it folds into a backpack I can throw on and off the JRRV easily, and the stand is perfect; I can adjust it in a bomb suit with no tools.” During the Quarry challenges, the Lance was set up against 8 different pipe bombs from steel to PVC and internal to external threads to run it through the paces. The teams could experiment with different angles of attack and loads, and

Robot Dance, Anyone? The final event of Ravens Challenge was the first annual “Robot Rodeo” cosponsored by Allen-Vanguard and the “Disrupter Alley” co-sponsored by CTS. All teams vied for bragging rights on the coveted trophy that would be displayed in their company until Ravens Challenge VI. The US Army won first place in the Robot Rodeo with SSG Ireland from the 787th Fort Lewis EOD leading his team via maneuvering their Talon robot through 6 stations totaling 2 hours of work. The visiting Estonian team was 2nd with their new ICOR Caliber MK III, which came in only four minutes behind. The combined Tacoma/Pierce County Bomb Squad with Chris Travis and Roger Toles won the Disrupter Alley event with an actual call using the Lance against a suspicious item. The trophies will be presented at the IABTI meeting for the Pacific NW Region 1. Never Forget… A major highlight of Ravens Challenge V was a charity auction for the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation that raised almost $1000 in 30 minutes. The auction items consisted of generous donations from the assembled vendors and participating departments and units. Ravens Challenge kept the focus on the EOD techs to the very end and, even in the social moments, remembered those who served in the “long walks” and their deep service and sacrifice. Roger Toles serves as Commander of Bomb Squad for Pierce County in Washington State and is one of the founding members of Ravens Challenge. He can be reached at rtoles@co.pierce.wa.us. Chris Travis serves as Chief of the Tacoma Police Department Bomb Squad. He has attended multiple Ravens Challenges. He can be reached at CTravis@ci.tacoma.wa.us. Mary Jenkins represents RISC as publicity liaison. She has experience with counter-IED training programs in Thailand. She can be reached at maryj@riscmgmt.com. Vol. 37, No. 6, The Detonator — 44

Life in the Fast Lanes - Ravens Challenge V  

Please enjoy our latest article published in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of The Detonator, The official publication of the International Associat...

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