SALT LAKE CITY — Near the Salt Lake City Airport, explosives are going off, police are everywhere and bomb-sniffing dogs are on the prowl.
Fortunately, this is all a drill in an empty lot, and part of a post-blast investigator school being run by the FBI Salt Lake City Field Office.
Special Agent Kajetan Groicher has been a bomb technician with the bureau for the past eight years. He’s teaching the week-long seminar that includes law enforcement officers from several areas.
“This class is designed to take evidence professionals, like crime scene technicians, and some traditional investigators, like detectives and fire investigators, and meld them up with bomb technicians and some of our military EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) partners,” Groicher says. “We train them up on the best practices for responding to a bombing scene.”
There are 14 bomb squads in the Salt Lake FBI region, which includes the states of Utah, Idaho and Montana. One of them is based in Idaho Falls and run by Idaho Falls Police Lt. John Marley.
“I’ve been the bomb squad commander with the Idaho Falls team for almost 15 years,” Marley tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Our team receives a lot of training, and we’re really dedicated in what we do.”
Marley was part of the investigation school last week – the first time it’s been held in years. Law enforcement trained and learned for five days inside and outside of the classroom. Investigative techniques were discussed, as well as the latest changes in technology.
“For people that want to harm other people, the technology has changed. Devices have gotten smaller and more sophisticated, and we’ve had to keep up with the times and technologies,” Marley says. “We’ve gone from the old film and X-ray processing systems to digital X-ray to live X-ray where we can take devices and X-ray them immediately to see what’s in there.”
EastIdahoNews.com was invited to the training and spent Tuesday in Salt Lake City. While there, class participants received word that 165 miles away, there could be real explosives inside a backpack at Irving Middle School in Pocatello.
The Pocatello Police Department called the Idaho Falls Bomb Squad to the school. Marley monitored the situation from Utah as students were being sent home. After a few hours, it was determined there was no bomb or threat to anyone.
“We still treat it like it’s the real thing,” Groicher says. “We’ll take our tools, X-ray equipment and figure out what we’re actually dealing with. If it’s not something to be concerned about, well, that’s what we get paid for.”
As the backpack situation was being dealt with in Pocatello, class participants experienced some hands-on training with bags and suitcases. Small explosives were put inside of a black backpack and red suitcase. They were wired up to a control device and, once was a warning was given, the explosives went off.
From a half-mile away, observers could feel the explosions. If you were anywhere near the bags, you would likely have been hit with shrapnel.
WATCH THE DEMONSTRATION IN THE VIDEO PLAYER ABOVE
Following the explosions, the officers don’t touch a thing as bomb-sniffing dogs are brought out to show their handlers they’re ready for a real emergency. After all, this week-long training it’s just for humans but their smart K9 partners who keep up with a changing world.
“Certainly the internet has brought a lot of changes to the forefront. There are online publications that are much flashier than we’ve seen in the past that give very specific instructions on how to make some particular nasty explosives,” Groicher says. “We’re seeing more of that in recent history than we’ve seen before.”
The seminar ended Friday. Marley returned to eastern Idaho better educated and ready for when that next call comes in – whether it’s a suspicious backpack at a school, old dynamite found in a farm shed or an unusual package discovered elsewhere.
“There’s no reason to guess anymore. If something is out of place, then let us respond. We can shoot an X-ray or have a dog go over it or we can send the robot downrange and see,” Marley says. “We’re glad people err on the side of caution.”