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Friday, April 9th, 2021

Bomb squads converge on New York for major public safety training exercise

More than 200 bomb technicians and first responders from five states and Canada came together this week to participate in what has become the biggest explosive public safety bomb squad training exercise in the world.

Held in New York, the state with the highest risk of terrorism in the nation, the State Preparedness Training Center (SPTC) in Oriskany is one of four sites nationwide to host the so-called Raven’s Challenge exercises. More than 1,000 participants train nationwide at these events each year.

“Typically now, whenever there is an active shooters situation or any type of a subsequent investigation of an active shooter’s property, it generally seems to involve explosives or explosive devices and that training is all simulated here at the SPTC,” John Simpson, program manager for the Ravens Challenge exercise and an explosives technician at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, said.

The state-of-the-art training center is operated by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Service and gives bomb squads, canine teams, emergency medical services, military and law enforcement personnel a chance to train in realistic environments that simulate emergencies and disasters.

The Ravens Challenge exercise is funded by the U.S. Department of the Army and is designed to enhance the interoperability between public safety officials, bomb technicians and the military, Simpson said.

This year’s exercise featured active training in a simulated city that includes a bank, high school, motel and retail stores. Law enforcement can engage in live fire operations in this realistic suburban environment.

“Having worked all over the country, I can honestly say it’s one of the finest facilities I’ve ever seen,” Simpson said in a recent interview with Homeland Preparedness News.

The training exercises simulate a wide range of emergencies, from a hostage situation where an explosive device is attached to a person, to a cabin in the woods where explosive devices are being made, Simpson said.

First responders also have the chance to train in a simulated residential housing complex and a collapsed building rubble pile.

“We are also engaging heavily this year in the emerging threat technology, which involves the use of unmanned vehicles, basically drones that can deliver explosive devices,” Simpson said. Other scenarios involve working with homemade explosives.

New this year to the training center is a 165,000 square foot building featuring a training scenario designed by the U.S. Secret Service. It will also house several canine skill lanes for bomb squads.

The Ravens Challenge moves to the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center in Starke, Fla., from June 6-10, and then Satsop Business Park near Elma, Wash., from June 20-25.