Get the most bang for your flash-bang buck.
Flash-Bang Options and Procedures
By: Eugene Nielsen
The noise flash diversionary device (NFDD), also called a flash sound diversionary device (FSDD), diversionary device, distraction device or most commonly flash-bang, has become an essential tool of the trade for SWAT. Flash-bangs are designed to produce dramatic pyrotechnics that are intended to provide a brief distraction without causing permanent injury.
NFDDs may be divided into two categories—those that only produce light and sound and those that also eject either chemicals (OC/CS) or projectiles (rubber pellets). An example of the latter would be the Stingball Grenade. The term flash-bang is typically applied to flash/sound only devices.
Although the U.S. military has used grenade simulators for more than 60 years, the Operations Research Unit of the British 22 Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment is credited with the development of the first modern flash-bang in the early 1970s. The SAS also developed and refined the tactics for the employment for these devices. The first documented operational use of a flash-bang was by Israeli commandos during Operation Thunderbolt to rescue passengers of a hijacked Air France jetliner at Entebbe, Uganda in July 1976.
In the U.S., the Los Angeles Police Department D Platoon (SWAT) was one of the first tactical teams to employ the flash-bang. The LAPD’s first flash-bang was a M116A1 Modified Hand Grenade Simulator, which was loaded down by the LAPD Bomb Squad. Today, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a tactical team anywhere in the country that does not have flash-bangs in its tactical toolbox.
Lifesaver or Liability
Flash-bangs can be either a lifesaver or a liability, depending on how they are employed. When properly employed, flash-bangs are reasonably safe. When improperly employed, they have the potential to cause serious bodily injuries and property damage.
Although flash-bangs have proven to be of extremely low lethality over many years of tactical use, several deaths have been attributed to their use. In 1984, a Los Angeles, Calif. woman was killed when a flash-bang went off between her back and a wall. In 1989, police in Minneapolis conducted a drug raid at the home of an elderly couple after a bad tip from an informant. The flash-bangs used in the raid set the home on fire, resulting in the death of the couple from smoke inhalation.
In 2003, a woman died from a heart attack after police deployed a flash-bang at her residence in Harlem, N.Y. In 2011, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. SWAT officer was killed when a flash-bang went off in close proximity to his torso. Also in 2011, a man died in a fire that was apparently sparked by a flash-bang deployed through a window during a raid of the home in Greenfield, Calif.
In Kirk v. Watkins (1999), the United States Court of Appeal for the 10th Circuit stated, “The use of a flash-bang device is neither per se objectively reasonable nor unreasonable. The reasonableness of its use depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.”
In Boyd v. Benton County, City of Corvallis et al (2004), the United States Court of Appeal for the 9th Circuit held that the use of a flash-bang while executing a warrant may constitute excessive force under the 4th Amendment. The Court stated “...given the inherently dangerous nature of the flash-bang device, it cannot be a reasonable use of force under the Fourth Amendment to throw it “blind” into a room occupied by innocent bystanders absent a strong governmental interest, careful consideration of alternatives, and appropriate measures to reduce the risk of injury.”
A sound legally defensible policy and proper training are keys to the safe and effective employment of flash-bangs. Most of the injuries that occur are the direct result of operator error. Operator error can almost always be linked to a failure in training. Training not only saves lives, it’s your first line of defense in court. A municipality may be held liable for a violation of rights that results from a failure to adequately train its employees if that failure represents a deliberate indifference on the part of the municipal policy.
In City of Canton, Ohio v. Harris (1989), the United States Supreme Court stated, “Failure to train may be fairly said to represent a policy for which a municipality is responsible and for which it may be held liable where injury results, if in light of the duties assigned to specific officers, the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in the violation of constitutional rights, that the municipality can reasonably said to have been deliberatively indifferent.”
In Zuchel v. City of Denver (1993), in which the United States Court of Appeal for the 10th Circuit affirmed a jury verdict against the Denver Police for inadequate deadly force training, the issue wasn’t the amount of training, but on the type of training. The plaintiff alleged the lack of a meaningful “shoot—don’t shoot” training constituted a deliberate indifference to a known risk.
“Train as you fight; fight as you train” is the mantra of U.S. military training today. It should be the mantra for law enforcement training, as well. Although there isn’t anything that compares to reality, the goal in training must be at least realistic simulation. For training to be meaningful, it must be as close to reality as possible, i.e., reality-based training.
In the past, options were limited when it came to flash-bang training. Operational flash-bangs are expensive and impose restrictions on the training environment. This led to many agencies employing expended flash-bangs that were painted or taped blue for recognition during training.
Responding to the needs of tactical teams, manufacturers have developed training devices to realistically simulate the characteristics of operational flash-bangs. These flash-bang training devices fall into three categories—inert, pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic. They replicate to varying degrees the handling characteristics of operational flash-bangs without the cost, blast and regulatory requirements.
In the inert category, Ring’s Manufacturing, originator of BlueGuns® firearms simulators, makes two BlueGuns flash-bang simulators—the FSFBTS (a detailed replica of the CTS 7290) and the FSFBT (a detailed replica of the Defense Technology No. 25). Ring’s also makes the FSBBG Base Ball Grenade that replicates the military M67 fragmentation grenade.
Ring’s BLUEGUNS products are made with strong, impact-resistant polyurethane with metal reinforcement. The flash-bang simulators are inexpensive and last practically forever. They have a functioning pull pin, but obviously lack any “bang.” Ring’s BLUEGUNS products are made in the USA.
Pyrotechnic flash-bang training devices fall into two categories—traditional fuzed and blank-firing impact grenade (BFIG). The BFIG is a relatively recent innovation, but generally available only in Europe. These contain a mechanism that’s designed to fire a blank handgun cartridge when the device is deployed from a height of about 1 meter onto a hard surface.
Most pyrotechnic training flash-bangs are of the fuzed variety. Fuzed training flash-bangs typically employ a special M201A1 fuze that produces between120-130 dB report at 5 feet. The training fuzes are roughly half the cost of operational flash-bangs, typically running around $15.00. The bodies may be used an unlimited number of times; the only recurring costs are for the training fuzes.
Some widely used fuzed training flash-bangs are the ALS-AMTECH Less Lethal Systems ALSDDTS Diversionary Device Training System, Combined Systems (CTS) Model 7290T & 7290MT Flash-Bang Training Systems, and Safariland / Defense Technology Low Roll™ Distraction Device® Training Body and Training Fuzes. ALS also manufactures a Sting-Ball Training System and an IED Simulator Training Set. Except for the special fuze and blue color, the fuzed training flash-bangs are identical in appearance and weight to the operational flash-bangs they are designed to replicate.
Popular in Europe, BFIGs are just beginning to make their presence felt in the U.S. tactical community. Royal Arms International’s revolutionary new FBG-1 Flash Bang Training Grenade is the top performer in the BFIG category. Designed specifically for law enforcement and military training, the FBG-1 is hand-deployed in the same manner as a traditional flash-bang. It may be employed with either special 12-gauge shotgun blanks or standard 209 shotshell primers. For safety and to meet legal requirements, the FBG-1 cannot be employed with standard ammunition. It’s a blank firing device only.
Royal Arms’ 12-gauge blanks produce 175 dB at 5 feet. The 209 primers produce 118 dB at 5 feet. The 209 primers definitely are the most cost effective way to conduct flash-bang training, running only around $.05 each. For those training scenarios that it’s desirable to have an output that approximates an operational flash-bang, the 12-gauge blanks can be employed. Of course, hearing protection will be mandatory. The FBG-1 is manufactured by Royal Arms at it its Oxnard, Calif. facility.
Non-pyrotechnic flash-bang simulators are CO2 or “Green Gas” powered. Talcum powder (baby powder) may be put in the outer core or burst diaphragm for added realism to simulate smoke. Most of the non-pyro devices on the market were originally designed for AirSoft and paintball.
Non-pyro flash-bang simulators’ performance is somewhat temperature-dependent. In fact, some can be unreliable, especially in cold weather. Per use costs typically run between $2.50 and $5.00, depending on the device. Green Gas is actually propane.
Designed for tactical training, the Pioneer Rich Technology Development / Hakkotsu Thunder B Family training flash-bang simulator (TBS-02, TBS-03 and TB-04) and Non Lethal Training Munitions (NLTM) Thumper TG6® Training Grenade are top performers in the non-pyro category.
The Hakkotsu Thunder B Family uses standard 12g CO2 cartridges and bursting outer shells. The output for the Thunder B Family listed as either 110 dB and 130 dB…loud but not so loud as to require hearing protection. The NLTM Thumper TG6 uses special 8g CO2 cartridges (the type used in many seltzer bottles) and burst diaphragms. The Thumper TG6 has an output of approximately 120 dB.
Hakkotsu has also recently introduced its TB-05 Thunder Shock Grenade, which is intended as a booby trap grenade simulator. It has a shorter delay time (less than a second) than other members of the Thunder B Family. Hakkotsu also makes a WWII-style “pineapple grenade” body (TBS-01) for the Thunder B Family. The Hakkotsu Thunder B Family is made in Hong Kong. The NLTM Thumper TG-6 is made in the USA.
Loud But Not Too Loud
All of these pyrotechnic and non-pyrotechnic devices mentioned are loud enough for effective training but not so loud as to mandate hearing protection. This makes them ideal for role-playing, scenario-based, force-on-force training. Plus, training can be conducted in more locations than would be possible with a higher dB output.
Decibels are measured by what’s known as a “logarithmic function.” An increase of 3 dB will double the intensity of the report. Short-term unprotected exposure to sound pressure levels exceeding 130 dB may result in mechanical cochlear damage to the human ear. Although no permanent hearing loss should result from a single exposure to a flash-bang, the effects of loud noises are cumulative and irreversible.
Realistic flash-bang training has never been more affordable. Today’s flash-bang training options allow teams to train more often, in more places, and with much greater safety than has been the case in the past.
Eugene Nielsen provides investigative and tactical consulting services and is a former officer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.