future view

How do you stop a potential suicide bomber?

15 June 2016 • 3 min reading time

Somebody has been spotted who might have a bomb and wants to kill himself and bystanders. Police and emergency services have to be well prepared so as to be able to take the right decisions quickly in this type of situation. In the project SUBCOP TNO works with partners from Sweden, Germany, the UK, Turkey, Israel and the Netherlands to try and find solutions.

”SUBCOP stands for Suicide Bomber Counteraction and Prevention’, says Marike van der Horst of TNO. ‘The project revolves around the situation in which a possible suicide bomber has been identified and where, preferably, action is taken in such a way that no fatalities occur. The reason for this project was the terrorist attacks on 7 July 2005 in London. Two weeks later the police identified the Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes as a suspect. To prevent any danger to bystanders the police saw no solution other than to shoot him. De Menezes subsequently turned out to be innocent.”

Non-lethal weapons

In scenarios where it is not entirely clear whether the suspect has a bomb it can be an advantage for the police to have weapons other than firearms. “In SUBCOP we are developing ethically and socially acceptable methods of taking action in the event of a possible attack by an possible suicide bomber,” says Van der Horst. “These include devices that are less deadly than standard firearms, as well as mobile ballistic screens and psychological tools. The safety of the bystanders, the safety of the first responders, and the rights of the alleged terrorist play a role in this.”

“In SUBCOP we are developing ethically and socially acceptable methods of taking action in the event of a possible attack by an possible suicide bomber”

End users

To consider the scenarios and requirements that the new products and procedures have to satisfy, the researchers had intensive contact with the international end users of the police and the armed forces. “On the one hand they want to take action as efficiently as possible”, Van der Horst explains. “On the other hand they want no innocent victims. Gaining time is important. Lethal force is not always desirable, for example if a suspect has been forced to wear a bomb and if someone has changed his mind and no longer wishes to commit an outrage. In addition, non-lethal action may subsequently allow you to find out more about the attacker’s network.”

Three phases

The project partners developed technologies that can be deployed in three phases. These are a procedure that helps create as much space as possible between the suspect and the bystanders (SEPARATE), limiting the potential consequences of an explosion (PROTECT,) and taking down the suspect and neutralizing the threat (ENGAGE). For the first phase for example a portable acoustic device with a range of up to 250 metres has been developed.

For the second phase the project supplied an initial version of a mobile ballistic screen. The emergency services can set it up in less than a second, because it makes use of airbag technology.: “The screen is made of aramid fibres – also used for bulletproof vests and flak jackets – and offers protection against fragments dispersed by the bomb”, says Van der Horst. “Thanks to its mobile structure it can also be used to assist the first responders or to evacuate bystanders to safety. TNO in Rijswijk has used models and experiments to determine the ballistic resistance of the screen.”

Finally, for the third phase the studies included the effects of various devices such as the stun gun.

Psychological intervention

TNO also developed two tools that could be used in the process, preceding the three phases: the Psychological Intervention Guide and RESUME. “The Psychological Intervention Guide helps users such as the police, special units, and security personnel, to understand how the psychological condition of the suspect, the general public and the emergency services have an effect on the effectiveness of the various resources”, explains Dianne van Hemert of TNO. “It therefore helps, during training courses or when preparing operations, to make users aware of the opportunities available to them for ‘psychological’ interventions.”

Scenario analysis

The other TNO tool that can be used in the preparatory phase is RESUME, an analysis tool for this type of scenario. “With RESUME, strategy planners can quickly evaluate how the deployment of the various resources in the three phases contributes to achieving the agreed objectives”, says Yoeng Sin Khoe of TNO. “We made use of our knowledge of physical effects and the effects on humans. RESUME enables an objective appraisal to be made between the risks and added value of a variety of non-lethal weapons. For example, when purchasing new weapons RESUME helps to underpin choices with analyses. Training courses or policy can be designed too, by making an analysis with RESUME.”

Combination of expertise

”It’s great fun working with a multidisciplinary team’, Van der Horst affirms. ‘The project gave us a wonderful opportunity to utilize the multidisciplinary character of TNO. The cooperation between engineers and psychologists led to new perceptions and is essential in solving these as well as future social problems in the domain of suicide bomb attacks”.

If you would like to know more about this project, go to www.subcop.eu or contact Marike van der Horst.

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