Danger Beneath the Surface

Inside the FBI’s Underwater Post-Blast Investigation Course

On any given summer day, Lake Murray in Columbia, South Carolina, is teeming with fishermen, boaters, and vacationers.

But on this particular morning, a group of local law enforcement officers and first responders join forces to search for exploded bomb parts scattered across the bottom of the lake.

Together they make up a cadre of students participating in the FBI’s Underwater Post-Blast Investigation course.

“This is a capstone course for the students,” says Mike McNair, an FBI special agent and explosives operations specialist. “They’re taking everything they’ve learned and applying that in realistic scenarios that could happen in their own communities.”

The Underwater Post-Blast Investigation training is a component of the FBI’s Maritime Bomb Technician certification program.

It’s part of a collection of courses that prepares public safety bomb technicians to counter threats in their home harbors and waterways.

This week’s mix of classroom and dive training has culminated in an exercise that has students investigating various bombing sites beneath the shores of Lake Murray.

From scenarios involving an airplane crash to an exploded and vehicle-borne IED, the maritime bomb technicians must use teamwork and their training to piece together the evidence found at the bottom of the lake.

Murky waters and choppy conditions make evidence collection challenging, but the teams surface with the parts they need to determine what type of bomb had been used in each scenario.

Ranging from pressure cookers to ammo cases, the simulated bombs are expertly identified after the collected parts are pieced together on the beach.

For law enforcement officers like Miles Nicholson of the Tampa Police Department, the FBI-led training has enhanced his skills as a bomb technician.

“You’re constantly learning as a bomb technician, so this class was helpful,” says Nicholson. “All of us are coming from across the country to receive the same type of FBI training, which is pretty unique.”

As threats continue to evolve, there will be more dangers beneath the surface that the nation’s maritime bomb technicians must be prepared to assess.

“It’s not a matter of if, but when,” says McNair. “In today’s climate and what we’re seeing overseas, it’s only a matter of time before the threat comes to our shores.”

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See also:

Inside the FBI: Danger Beneath the Surface

July 22, 2020

On this episode of Inside the FBI, learn how the FBI’s Underwater Post-Blast Investigation course prepares the nation's public safety bomb tech divers to counter threats in their home harbors and waterways.


Hazardous Devices School

January 9, 2018

The FBI’s Hazardous Devices School at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama is the only facility in the country that trains and certifies the nation’s public safety bomb technicians.