The conventional way that most police agencies train officers, including bomb techs, to respond to a suspicious package involves using a loud buzzer to simulate an untimely detonation. On a scale of one to ten that rates a negative two. But what else can they do? They can't use real explosives and actually blow up the trainees.
Cyalume, maker of a wide variety of chemiluminescent tools such as light sticks, believes it has the answer to this bomb training dilemma. The company's new line of eight police explosive training simulators uses compressed air and a special chemical powder to create non-pyrotechnic bomb effects. The technology was developed for use by the military by Combat Training Solutions (CTS). Cyalume Technologies acquired CTS at the end of last year and the company was renamed Cyalume Tactical and Training Solutions.
"I think the ability to offer these very realistic effects in a very safe non-pyrotechnic manner can really enhance the realism of training," says Derek Dunaway, CEO of Cyalume. Dunaway explains that the explosive device simulators are suitable for any number of different training scenarios, including active shooter, booby traps, terrorist events, and hostage incidents.
The simulated bombs are being sold as part of the LE Kit, which contains two pipe bomb simulators and a suicide vest simulator. The vest can actually be worn during a training scenario and detonated without any injury to the wearer or other trainees.
There are no pyrotechnics involved in the bomb simulation technology. The "bomb" consists of two reservoirs—one of compressed air and one of powder—attached to a rubber diaphragm. Electromagnetic valves allow the diaphragm to be rapidly filled with air and powder when detonation is simulated. The result is a loud bang and a lot of simulated smoke.
CTS's former president and now Cyalume's senior vice president of sales and business development, Tony Colon, likens the effect to "overfilling a bicycle tire." He adds that the result is quite shocking, even for trainees who have experienced it before. "You get a concussive effect, and the officer still experiences a fight-or-flight response. But you can stand right over our simulator devices when they go off and even wear them, and they won't hurt you."
No protective gear is required for training with the Cyalume simulators. However, the company does recommend that trainees wear hearing protection because the "detonation" of the simulator produces a short, sharp crack at around 140 decibels.
Dunaway says the simulated bombs can also be used inside or outside without worry. "We do this in the parking lot of our manufacturing facility," he says. However, he adds that because the powder inside the device that is used to simulate smoke can make a huge mess, users should be cautious about where they conduct training.
The simulators are reusable. Colon estimates that a new diaphragm and a load of powder costs about $6 to $8, depending on the size of the device. Cyalume plans to market its new LE Kit for training—two pipe bombs and one suicide vest—for about $3,000. "That's very cost effective compared to anything else on the market," says Colon.
Soon the marriage of Cyalume’s chemiluminescent technology and CTS's non-pyrotechnic explosion simulation technology may lead to even more realistic devices. "Now we can simulate a fire in the explosion, so at night you will see the explosion light up," Colon says. "It's really impressive. Cyalume can manipulate the duration and intensity of the light to create a very realistic effect. We hope to demonstrate this technology to our customers very soon."