East Hawaii News

Big Island Bomb Technicians Safer Thanks to Equipment Purchased With Grant Funds

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A bomb robot is seen Tuesday, June 14, inside a Chevy cargo truck used by certified bomb technicians with the Hawai‘i Police Department. The robot and truck are part of several pieces of equipment purchased through grant funds provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and administered by the state for the Hawai‘i Interisland Bomb Squad, of which HPD is a member. (Photos courtesy of Lt. James Gusman, tactical commander for HPD’s Special Response Team)

Two members of the Hawai‘i Police Department are now safer thanks to equipment purchased through a grant administered by the state and funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

HPD is one of three police departments in the state that are part of the Hawai‘i Interisland Bomb Squad. The other members are from Kaua‘i County and Maui County, and each member department has two officers who are certified bomb technicians and are part of the squad.

A closer look at the bomb robot.

DHS awarded about $1.5 million to the state a few years ago to purchase equipment for the bomb squad, including a bomb robot, complete bomb suit made of heavy Kevlar, X-ray unit, hazmat equipment and various other tools for each member department. The grant also provided funding for each department to purchase a new cargo truck to carry and house that equipment.

The truck and equipment have an estimated value of $ 429,287.37, according to Resolution 434, which will be considered by the Hawai‘i County Council today, June 15, during its regular meeting. The resolution, introduced by Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, authorizes the county to accept the donation of the truck and equipment from the state.

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“Having the equipment makes the bomb squad possible,” said Lt. James Gusman, tactical commander for HPD’s Special Response Team, which oversees the county’s two bomb technicians.

It wouldn’t have been financially feasible for the funds to come from the county’s coffers otherwise. The grant and the equipment it funded made it possible to have the bomb squad on the island, Gusman said.

HPD has had the equipment for about two years, he added, and Resolution 434 is a procedural step that essentially approves the county taking full ownership of the truck and equipment.

All of the new equipment offers additional safety for the county’s bomb technicians.

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The Chevy cargo truck stores the equipment, including the bomb robot, which is used to intercept devices suspected of being an explosive or unexploded ordnance.

“The robot would actually go down range to a suspected device,” Gusman said, adding the machine is used to get a good look at a suspected explosive, take X-rays and even possibly disarm a device without a technician having to get close, adding an extra layer of protection.

Because the equipment makes it possible for the island to have its own bomb technicians, response times for incidents where and when an explosive device is involved are reduced because the HPD has those technicians in house.

On average, Gusman said the bomb technicians have been activated about once a month during the past year to investigate or diffuse an explosive or possibly explosive device.

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Most of those incidents have involved unexploded ordnance found on a person’s property that eventually are deemed safe for removal, such as a training or spent device. Those types of calls normally can be handled relatively quickly by the bomb technicians on island, with some assistance from military technicians, according to Gusman.

However, some can be more tragic, such as an incident at the end of May where a man was critically wounded and later died following an explosion at a Puna home. Gusman said incidents such as what happened in Puna require additional resources and a larger investigation, involving other agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Prior to the Big Island having it’s own bomb technicians, the HPD mostly had to rely on military units to respond to those incidents. If the military units weren’t on the island or in the state at the time of an incident, response times were very long.

“Our officers would have to hold a scene for days on end,” Gusman said, waiting for those military units or agents from the FBI to respond. “Now, instead of waiting for days, it’s a matter of an hour or so.”

HPD’s bomb technicians are based in Hilo and North Kohala.

Gusman said HPD’s membership in the interisland bomb squad also provides more resources through a mutual aid agreement between the three member counties, allowing one member’s technicians to respond if another member needs additional support.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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