FBI hosts blast investigation training at Eglin

Tech. Sgt. James Fleming discovers a key piece of evidence during the investigation of a created crime scene Dec. 1, 2010, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The investigations were part of the FBI's Large Vehicle Post-Blast School attended by state and local law enforcement agencies as well as Marine and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians. Sergeant Flemings is a 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/ 2nd Lt. Andrew Caulk)

Tech. Sgt. James Fleming discovers a key piece of evidence during the investigation of a created crime scene Dec. 1, 2010, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The investigations were part of the FBI's Large Vehicle Post-Blast School attended by state and local law enforcement agencies as well as Marine and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians. Sergeant Flemings is a 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron EOD technician. (U.S. Air Force photo/ 2nd Lt. Andrew Caulk)

The preliminary investigation team approaches the wreckage of a box truck to begin looking for evidence and documenting the simulated crime scene Dec. 1, 2010, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The investigations were part of the FBI's Large Vehicle Post-Blast School attended by state and local law enforcement agencies as well as Marine and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Samuel King)

The preliminary investigation team approaches the wreckage of a box truck to begin looking for evidence and documenting the simulated crime scene Dec. 1, 2010, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The investigations were part of the FBI's Large Vehicle Post-Blast School attended by state and local law enforcement agencies as well as Marine and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Samuel King)

A charred piece of metal from the engine of a box truck was blasted away from the vehicle when it was detonated on the range Nov. 30, 2010, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The detonation created a simulated crime scene for the FBI's Large Vehicle Post-Blast School. State and local law enforcement agencies, as well as Marine and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians, attended the week-long class. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King)

A charred piece of metal from the engine of a box truck was blasted away from the vehicle when it was detonated on the range Nov. 30, 2010, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The detonation created a simulated crime scene for the FBI's Large Vehicle Post-Blast School. State and local law enforcement agencies, as well as Marine and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians, attended the week-long class. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Improvised explosive devices ripped through three vehicles, sending debris up and out as far as 1,500 feet, creating a sprawling scene of devastation across the ranges Nov. 30 here.

The explosions initiated the FBI's Large Vehicle Bomb Post Blast School for approximately 67 state and local law enforcement officers as well as Marine Corps and Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians. There were four explosions in all, creating distinct "crime scenes" that included a roadside bomb.

Crime scene investigators from 25 different U.S. agencies had 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 determine what kind of vehicle blew up," said Special Agent Kevin Miles, who taught the week-long school. "You'd be surprised at how much is left. The students just have to find it and build a case from the clues."

This was the first time the class was held here and it was the largest class in the U.S., said Special Agent Sam Mum, a bomb technician with the FBI in Jacksonville, Fla.

"Eglin (AFB's) large scale range made it a perfect size for a big group, and also provided options for multiple scenarios," Agent Mum said. "We hope to continue the relationship with the base and host a school here once a year."

Prior to arriving at the scene, the groups were split into teams by specialty. The on-scene commander assigned the teams a task and scene to begin investigating. Their goal was to estimate the quantity and type of explosives used, vehicle type and blast range.

"This training will become a crucial tool in their toolbag," Special Agent Mum said. "If there's an incident, typically local law enforcement is the first on scene. With this training, they are able to assess the situation, gather information and determine the best procedures."

Those assessments help determine if the blast is an act of terrorism. If it is ruled as a terrorist act, the FBI has the lead in the investigation. With the training, the students can better prepare the scene and the FBI for what to expect upon arrival.

Airmen from the 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron EOD flight at Hurlburt Field attended the school and EOD technicians from here were responsible for the controlled detonations. The Airmen worked directly with law enforcement officials and shared ideas and expertise when working through the case.

The training also helped the military technicians build off of the training they already had, said Tech Sgt. Justin Fleming, a 1st SOCES EOD technician.

"It is very much about networking with these other agencies and learning the procedures for stateside incidents," Sergeant Fleming said. "I've been to post-blast courses before, but based on the amount of explosives involved here, this is by far the largest I've seen."

Detective William Punausuia, from the Leon County Sheriff's Office, was part of the preliminary team at the simulated crime scene and recorded evidence and locations on digital video at part of the investigation.

"(The course) gives us a better idea of what to be aware of and look for," the detective said. "If an incident occurs without this knowledge and training, our departments would be left trying to catch up."

After the teams gathered their evidence, they presented their cases to a prosecutor. For this class, Stephen Preisser, the assistant U.S. attorney for Pensacola, Fla., grilled them on the details of their case to ensure nothing could be left to chance or circumstance and proper procedures were followed. After presenting their findings, the students watched a video of the set ups, explosives and detonations to find out if their case was sound.

"This is such a great exercise and training," Mr. Preisser said. "Initial actions on scene are critical to saving lives and holding those accountable. What happens in those first few hours will determine the prosecution possibly years later."