KDPS Bomb Squad Turns Old Paper Mill Into Classroom
There are big plans in store for the long-vacant Vicksburg paper mill, as developers will soon turn the space into a mixed-use development. In the meantime, it has been the site of full-scale training exercises for the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Bomb Squad.
“When the real deal hits, they’re ready to go, and I think it’s just fabulous,” KDPS Chief Karianne Thomas said of the training.
Tuesday morning’s practice session used the scenario of a fired, disgruntled employee planting a bomb somewhere inside the old paper mill. The bomb squad needed to locate it, decide what to do with it and then carry out the plan safely.
As is often the case in a real emergency, the team utilized a high-tech robot. It can manage all sorts of terrains and has a number of useful tools. The bomb squad techs prefer to work from a safe distance, so using a video game-like controller, they operate the robot and see what it sees using feeds from six cameras.
The true challenge Tuesday wasn’t finding the fake bomb hidden in the building, but rather testing the robot’s remote signals. “When you start getting inside buildings with concrete walls and different type of construction, that signal really gets knocked down,” bomb squad commander Mike Kelley explained.
“We did have a little bit of difficulty with that but we’re able to work through that,” technician Sara Choi, who was operating the robot, said. Once the crew figured out what type of bomb they were dealing with, the decision was made to remove it and get it to a safe spot.
After running an X-ray of what was inside (it was just bird seed for the training), the bomb squad used a real homemade explosive to disrupt or deactivate the fake threat at hand. There were a few hiccups in the training, but all in all it was a success — and critical for when the team faces the possibility of a real threat.
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