In numerous movies police or military EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) technicians defuse bombs by cutting wires. It is common enough to be a trope. On the other hand if you read actual news, it's most often that either blow the battery off with water cannon or just take suspicious package to safe distance (or clear the area) and detonate it.

So the questions are:

  • Do EOD technicians ever attempt to defuse bombs the Hollywood way?
  • Are they even trained and allowed to do so?
  • Few months after posting the question I've seen few episodes of "Bomb Patrol Afghanistan" in which on some occasions they do cut the wires. OTOH, these IEDs are nowhere as complicated as typical Hollywood time-bomb. – vartec Sep 16 '14 at 11:19
  • "Grab the cat!" – Baard Kopperud 4 hours ago

Yes, but wearing a protective suit.

Marc Roy, manager of the explosives portfolio for CRTI, said the training is expected to re-create real life scenarios such as the 2005 subway and bus bombings in London and earlier terror attacks in Madrid and Bali.

"It is taking explosive incidents that occurred around the world and training with those type of incidents in mind," he said. "It is advanced training for explosive ordinance disposal."

No real explosives will be used in the simulations, but devices have been designed by police experts to look and act like the real thing to create the most realistic training environment possible, Insp. Copeland added.

"We set up a simulated suspicious package or IED and then the participants are asked to deal with the issue," he said. "It's render safe procedures, putting on the bomb suit or using a robot to go and dismantle or disrupt the device they have before them."

Bomb disposal pros train in Ottawa - Published in the Ottawa Citizen (the Ottawa Citizen is Ottawa's ordinary daily newspaper)

Or without a suit.

His medal citation read: "Dealing with any form of IED is dangerous; to deal with seven VO (victim operated) IEDs in a single circuit, in a mass casualty scenario, using manual neutralisation techniques once, never mind three times, is the single most outstanding act of explosive ordnance disposal ever recorded in Afghanistan."

What lies beneath: Army's bomb-disposal teams in training - Published in the Independent (the Independent is one the UK national daily newspapers)

  • 9
    nowhere do you mention whether they ever cut a wire in those situations, let alone whether the wire is blue :) – jwenting Jul 6 '11 at 5:35

Not very much anymore, in the scenarios that you see in the movies.

It used to be the standard technique for "infernal machines" in civil disorder situations or criminal bombings, in order to preserve the pieces for forensics. Military ordnance (such as in the famous TV series "Danger UXB") doesn't tend to have exposed wires to cut.

However, in the 1970's the Irish Republican Army (IRA) started to develop bombs that were packed with improvised anti-handling devices (see for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Styles) and it simply became too dangerous: luckily the British invented something called a pigstick that allowed the components of the bomb to be separated without the need for cutting them open (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bomb_disposal#Projected_water_disruptors). The noise it made as it went off was referred to for many years as a "controlled explosion".

Once the pigstick (and its many imitators) arrived cutting the wires became a very rare option which was relegated to a "when all else fails" option.

However there are exceptions. Booby trap clearance in tactical situations may require wires to be cut silently, and increasingly in Afghanistan for example operators may sometimes have to use "manual entry" because it is simply too difficult to carry the amount of equipment that would be needed to fire off repeated pigstick charges.

BTW the wires aren't necessarily colour coded – there is no international electrical wiring colour code for terrorists. The colour issue was probably invented by hollywood to introduce drama (I think the first time the red/blue dilemma comes up was in the movie "Juggernaut" in the 70s.)

Another example of hollywood fiction is the mine that only goes click when you stand on it (no such mine exists – see the definitive text "Jane's Landmines") and don't even get me started on "the Hurt Locker"...

BTW The suits referred to above are quite useless when actually at a bomb (the explosive force will turn you into pink mist when you are close up to a big bomb regardless of the suit) but is intended to protect the operator if approaching a device that is fitted with a timer.

I recommend entering Bomb disposal in wikipedia

  • 2
    Needs many more reputable references, especially the second part, but also the first (Wikipedia is insufficient). – Konrad Rudolph Nov 18 '11 at 11:16
  • Or if there's some reason you can't use a water cannon--say, a bomb strapped to a person. – Loren Pechtel Jun 17 at 1:42

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