instructing at the U.S. Department of State Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program 13
years ago, Russ Hart and Alan Brosnan came up with an idea to expand the
knowledge base of the breaching community. They reached out to their
professional colleague, Steve Mattoon, and the first International Breachers Symposium
was held at the Gunsite facility in 2000.
that time, explosive breaching was still in its infancy with mainstream law
enforcement, who saw this as primarily a military option. Fast forward to the
current day and we see more agencies with this capability, due in large to the
input of many of the seminars presented.
Breachers Symposium is more than about just explosive entry. Over the
intervening years, this event has grown to be a comprehensive exhibition on the
full spectrum of forced entry options: mechanical, saws, torches, ballistic,
explosives and robotics.
year’s symposium was held in Lakeland, Fla. with Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County
giving the welcoming address. As co-host, his agency played a substantial role
in range preparation, conducted the majority of the breaching demonstrations,
and handled a share of the daily logistics.
the direction of Lt. John Cook, commander of the Special Operations Group, the
Polk County SWAT Team provided all the live-fire explosive breaching
demonstrations over both range days as well as the opening scenario involving
uniform patrol, snipers, aviation and hostage rescue assets.
its history, the two core lecture presentations on opening day have centered on
justifying an explosive breaching program and sustainment education for teams
with existing programs. Recent seminars featured presenters from the scientific
community and medical profession with their input on the human effects of blast
pressure, safe stacking distances, and reflected indexes of energetics.
the 2011 event, we saw medical experts reporting on the burgeoning studies of
what was termed ‘breacher brain’—the incidental and cumulative effects of
explosive breaching on operators. The results are similar to Traumatic Brain
Injury [TBI] and the complexities are becoming better understood.
year, Black Box Biometrics and the National Institute for Neurological
Disorders & Stroke presented lectures on the effects of internal explosive breaching
charges and Noise Flash Distraction Devices (flash-bangs). A portion of their
research covered the pressure effects on small rooms and larger structures with
complex floor plans. It centered on not only the Incident Pressure, but also
Pressure is described as the ‘reverb’ of shock waves bouncing of hard surfaces
and colliding. At times, this coincidence of Reflected Pressure was greater
deep inside a structure than at the point of deployment. This was especially
important in small rooms, stairwells and hallways where pressures could reach
danger levels. In all cases, venting [opening a door] played a significant role
in reducing pressure to safer levels.
to this, one of the vendors displayed an electronic personal blast gauge meter.
About the size of a small pager, the device features a red light display when
pressures exceed safe levels. It also tracks long-term exposures.
major component of the symposium has always been the foreign country attendance
and this year was no exception with 14 countries represented. The audience
ranged from Tier 1 national assets to domestic municipal police officers. When
queried why they made such an effort to travel so far, the overwhelming answer
was networking. Two police officers from New Zealand said their main draw was,
“the ability to talk directly with the main guys” along with “getting the
latest information on science and safety.”
was the fourth year for one officer because as he put it, “You can’t come once
and get it all.” A special operations soldier from Norway concurred with the
importance of the networking aspect. He attributed his multi-year participation
not only to the opportunity to talk directly with the vendors and establishing
that relationship, but also interacting with fellow operators. He described the
information sharing as, “Yeah we got that tool, but we found it works better if
you use it like this.”
25 breaching product-specific vendors were cited by many participants as the
main focal point. The ability to actually try products in the ‘trade show’ area
of the conventions center was exceptionally beneficial. The vendor
representatives were exceptionally well informed and willing to share
breaks in between the range demonstration sessions, participants could do
hands-on evaluations of various products under realistic applications. BROCO
and Olsen-Hunter Group had exothermic torches set up with an assortment of
steel media where participants could execute test cuts. Bill Nixon of Omni
Distribution set up multiples of their fast-pack firing system to try out.
first range session began on day two at the Polk County’s
expansive range complex with a vehicle pursuit of simulated hostage takers
driving in front of the spectators’ bleachers with a patrol car behind and a
helicopter overflight. The suspects and hostage flee on foot into a building
façade with blank shots fired. The SWAT arrives and conducts explosive breaches
on doors, windows and the roof. The roof team immediately fast ropes into the
opening for the rescue.
a finale, a suspect flees the façade. A sniper fires from another building 200 yards
behind, hitting a steel gong on an elevated platform. The hit triggers the
simultaneous deployment of a huge American flag with gas distraction devices on
either side—a truly impressive sight. For many in the crowd, this was their
first exposure to roof breaching.
the next several hours, the team rotated elements in a ‘rolling assault’ on the
building façade. Each element demonstrated a different type of charge
configuration on varying door compositions. As soon as an element of 4–6
operators returned to the safe area, the next group deployed. Down time was an
absolute minimum with just enough time for announcer, Max Joseph, to brief the
crowd on the next demonstration. During the break, the attendees were allowed a
close-up inspection along with vendor product trials.
the mean time new doors were hung for a second round of demonstrations that
included ballistic breaching, commercial charges, and the use of robotics. The
ability to remotely breach with a robot is a rapidly emerging technology for
both energetics and other methods. The concept of effecting entry without
placing operators directly at the entry point is officer safety based.
idea refined by the New Zealand Police Special Tactics Group is a pole charge
that allows an operator to place a conventional explosive charge on a door or
window without exposing breachers at the entry point. A 6- to 10-foot stand-off
keeps the persons placing and firing the charge at a protected distance. The
apparatus is fabricated from common materials available at most home
improvement stores. Despite its length, the setup is rather light and not
overly unbalanced. There is no doubt this method will have a direct benefit
when doors are inset on a landing from the adjacent wall.
of the networking opportunities this year was the ability to interact with some
of the ‘godfathers’ of SWAT. Steve Mattoon, a former U.S. Army Ranger with
tours in Vietnam, has been heavily involved with civilian law enforcement for
over 30 years. During our conversation, Steve made an interesting observation
that during the 1970s and 1980s, it was rare to have a police administrator in
a command post with any tactical experience.
was an equal chance that the incident commander could reject a sound tactical
plan or approve a flawed plan due to their lack of experience on this topic.
Today, more high-ranking law enforcement officials have some tactical
background and many have been in leadership positions on a team. This cannot
help but lead to better informed decision makers during critical incidents.
Brosnan came to the U.S. from the New Zealand SAS as a subject matter expert 24
years ago. In his extensive experience as a trainer, Alan has seen substantial
changes with more commanders and team leaders attending the symposium and more
interest from state and municipal law enforcement.
of his impetus for starting the symposium was at that time, there were
conferences for other specialty groups such as canine handlers, negotiators or
snipers, but nothing that directly addressed forced entry missions. He has
always maintained that the best assaulters in the world can’t do any good if
they could not get inside the stronghold.
number of break-out sessions help complete each symposium highlighted with
lessons learned from real-life operations. A couple of sessions were
exclusively for military personnel, but others were open to all. All of the
breakout sessions provided excellent take-home learning points and not all were
breaching specific. One presentation dealt with PTSD consideration in law
were other tactical sessions, for example, a comparison of second-story window
entry methods—what provided the climber with the least exposure to a shooter
firing from a position above on the same building. Using a ladder allowed an
operator to ascend closer to the wall, at a shallow angle, forcing a shooter to
lean farther out of an upper window in order to engage.
session involved teams using armored vehicles. They should familiarize local
fire and rescue units on details of that vehicle if extrications would ever be
needed in case of crash, blast or rollover. Special Operations teams overseas
have found that traditional rescue methods may not work on these types of specialty
session covered communications. On long-term incidents involving the rotation
of multiple teams, radio interoperability has always been an issue. When
explosive charges are used, the team coming on line needs to be thoroughly
briefed on what charges have been built and the priming system. At the same
time, common rules of engagement need to be set by the overall command
authority. In the incident described, as a new team stood to engage, that
team’s command determined what suspect actions would constitute an emergency
assault. At times, these rules differed substantially.
another long-term incident, the breachers surveyed an adjoining apartment for
details on interior wall construction. They interpreted this data to the target
location and built several port charges for several locations along an interior
wall. However, the construction was not exactly the same. The 2x4 stud spacing
was asymmetrical. A section of wall that was thought to be drywall construction
turned out to be concrete block fire wall. The breachers involved said they
should have better used the negotiations time to covertly probe the walls on
the target for precise information.
Deputy Macon Moore from DeSoto County, Miss. Sheriff provided a unique
perspective from being a newly qualified explosive breacher in 1991 to be a
ranking administrator in 2013 who now makes decisions on tactical operations
and breaching options. Tucson, Ariz. Police Officer Jim Murray presented a
briefing on his department’s use of robots to directly support forced entries,
especially on high-risk missions.
was the first year the newly formed International Breachers Group administered
the symposium. This is a seven-person advisory board with expertise in tactics,
training and scientific backgrounds. Along with that responsibility, the group
plans to develop a secure website for information sharing within the breaching
community. The information would include products and techniques. They want to
grow to be an objective forum on not only what works, but what to avoid. It is
anticipated they will make recommendations on best practices standards for
is the future of breaching? Well, according to Marc Morris of Ensign-Bickford
Aerospace & Defense, it’s “a progression away from the arts and crafts
phase” into a “more mature period of engineered products.” This will lessen the
liability concerns of everyone involved. Homeland Security may eventually
expand grant expenditures to cover breaching equipment because of this. Marc
has also seen a wider acceptance of explosive entry as a life-saving tool.
immediately, look for the next International Breachers Symposium to be held at
the TEES facility in the Memphis area, Nov. 2–6, 2014. Is it worth attending?
When you consider personnel travel from as far away as Singapore to Poland to
participate, and the symposium is all about liability reduction and increased
effectiveness, the answer has to be yes.
Ron Yanor is retired after a 25-year law
enforcement career. He spent 19 years on a 22-operator, multi-jurisdictional
tactical unit, with nine years as the training and intel officer. Since 1999,
he has been a contract trainer and currently operates Adamax Tactical Academy
in Illinois. He is also on the staff of Tactical Energetic Entry Systems.