NORTH VERNON, Ind. — Bomb squads from across the country are at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in North Vernon this week, working alongside federal and military experts to train and share information about the latest threats to public safety.
The “Raven’s Challenge” joint explosives training program allows police departments to work with military and ATF bomb technicians.
“We bring them here to Ravens’ Challenge so they can learn from each others’ skills, knowledge skill and abilities, tactics, techniques and procedures,” said program manager John Simpson.
“The big payoff is if there is a large-scale event, and our public safety people need military EOD assistance, when they make the call, they will have trained together and be able to respond together,” Simpson continued.
Raven’s Challenge, which is organized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is funded by the Department of Defense and aims to provide the latest training to deal with the latest threats to public safety.
This year, program attendees are receiving new training on how to handle an explosive device planted inside an ATM. ATF officials say they’ve seen a 400% increase in such cases over the last year, coinciding with months of protests and civil unrest in cities across America.
ATF Special Agent Matt Nollau says ATM bombs have been a problem in Europe for many years and first emerged in the U.S. in 2015. However, 2020 saw the sharpest increase on record.
“It went from being about 10 to 20 in the United States to about 80-some in the United States,” Nollau said.
Three such explosive devices were located inside ATMs in Philadelphia last weekend. While no cases have been reported in Indiana, local departments like the IMPD’s bomb squad are training and preparing for the potential threat this week.
“This is a new problem for our military and our public safety bomb squads,” Nollau said. “And the problem is, they don’t know, because we as the general public are aware how the inner workings of an ATM functions.”
While program leaders don’t want specific techniques revealed, this week’s training involves showing bomb technicians how to X-ray an ATM in order to find the device, then safely remove and dispose of it.
“And they learn how the machine works, how the machine functions,” Nollau said. “Thus, when they go back to their home area and they face this problem, they’re going to have that education and that experience to solve the problem safely.”
The Raven’s Challenge training week wraps up on Friday. The next stops for the program will be Boston in June, then Iowa in September.