FBI's Post-Blast Crime Scene School
Picking Up the Pieces...And Building a Case From It
FBI School for Large Vehicle Bombs
The bomb that ripped through a bus in the California desert in 2003 created more than a small crater—it formed a 75-acre crime scene. The huge explosion, detonated for a select class of experienced bomb scene investigators at the FBI’s Large Vehicle Bomb Post-Blast Crime Scene School, replicates a 2002 bomb blast overseas that killed more than 200 people.
Students didn’t get to watch the empty bus explode—real investigators rarely do witness such bombings. Instead, the students get to pick up the pieces—literally—from the scattered wreckage that set the forensic groundwork for a criminal or terrorist investigation.
“It’s up to them to see what kind of vehicle blew up,” said Special Agent Kevin Miles, who coordinates the week-long school. “You’d be surprised at how much is left. The students just have to find it.” And then build a case from the clues.
The post-blast school—coordinated out of our Los Angeles field office, supported by the FBI Laboratory, and taught by active or retired special agent bomb technicians—used to be a basic lesson on working a car-bomb scene—from forensics and equipment to crime scene mapping and processing. Miles said it evolved to a “graduate level” curriculum in 1998 so law enforcement and military investigators with plenty of bomb scene experience can get practical training in the crime scenes created by large-vehicle explosions.
The FBI has sponsored more than 70 classes around the nation—and two overseas—since the school was launched seven years ago. The sheer size of the explosions limits where they can convene; a 6,000-pound bomb, for example, might spread a field of evidence across 225 acres, Miles said. Fortunately, the U.S. military has provided bases with huge barren acreage for the classes and even donated vehicles to blow up.
“We couldn’t do this at all if we didn’t have the support of our partners in the military,” said Miles, adding that bomb technicians deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan get first crack on the maximum 50 slots of a given class.
For students—some 2,400 have undergone training—the intensive classes have two side benefits: they reveal how other organizations pursue investigations and build partnership among the diverse participants.
“It’s always good to see … the way different departments handle things,” Suffolk County, New York, Police Officer Mark Lazina said during a class in August at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada .
It’s not until the end of the week—after students have gathered their evidence in teams and presented their “case” to a judge or district attorney—that they get to see a video of the explosion and to find out if their case was sound.