U.S. Conducts Mock Bombing to Test Building Safety Measures
By Alicia Acuna & Faith Mangan
Published May 12, 2011
A building at Kirtland Air Force base in New Mexico recently was the target of a bombing – but rather than set off alarms, this mock incident helped the government test precautions against real attacks on embassies overseas.
The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which is charged with protecting United States embassies overseas, gave Fox News exclusive access to the bombing of the building to test the capability of new retrofits and technology it used to construct this mock embassy.
It has taken years of research and development to get to this point, where they will place their work in the line of an improvised explosive device (IED) designed to mimic a car bomb.
In the event of a bombing, history has shown that the number one cause of injury is shards of glass and the number one cause of death is the pan-caking of the building on top of people, statistics the bureau wants to change.
On this day, our crews were kept at a safe distance of 4,000 feet from the building as we awaited the countdown. We were instructed to roll down the car windows to relieve pressure so they wouldn't shatter. And despite the fact we knew the rock show was coming, the power of it still made some of us jump.
"It's...at a realistic setback and that's based on a wealth of unfortunate history of people attacking our embassies and our embassies are targets," said Russell Norris with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
When the smoke cleared, the building was still standing. Gentry Smith, deputy assistant secretary for Countermeasures, told Fox News of the results, "We'll go back, we'll look at what worked, what didn't work...that's what testing does, it lets us know what things we're moving in the right direction on and what things we need to make adjustments."
Smith, Norris and team are in a technology race against terrorists. The world's formerly most wanted terrorist Usama bin Laden is dead. The raid that killed him uncovered a treasure trove of intelligence of what he and Al Qaeda supporters wanted to do next, but it's widely known that United State's targets here and abroad still cannot let their guard down.
The work of Diplomatic Security Services is two-fold. It weaves safety design into new buildings while still ensuring they blend in with surroundings. And because the State Department cannot build new embassies everywhere, it also works improvements into existing structures.
"We just want to give our people the best chance of surviving an attack," Smith said, "whether it's (an) explosive attack or by other means."
During a tour of the test site beforehand, Fox News learned why the building appeared to withstand the energy of the blast. The walls are covered with a material that acts like glue to hold the walls together. An inner window described as a catcher's mitt (like in the game of baseball) holds back pieces of flying glass while stretching up to 2 feet from the force. And a bolted steel system supports the floors. We were not allowed access to the burned out building after the fact, for security purposes.
The program's origin traces back to Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, when twin bomb attacks leveled U.S. embassies that killed more than 220 people.
Smith, whose resume boasts a lengthy career of international assignments at embassies around the globe, explained the importance the mission holds to his team when it comes to protecting Americans on assignment abroad.
"They volunteer, actually," he said. "They ask to go to these locations to serve and put forth the policies of the U.S. government, and I respect the work they do."
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