MakeShift Challenge: Bomb in a Parking Garage: Honorable Mention

Don Nelson’s Honorable Mention Entry
by Lee D. Zlotoff
April 15, 2009

Solution by Don Nelson

Tick, Tick, Tick …
(A MakeShift short story by: Don Nelson)

It was Friday evening and Beatrice Gunderson, having worked late as usual, was now looking forward to getting home, warming up a frozen dinner, putting on her flannel pajamas, and settling down for her routine nightly viewing of the Technology Channel. Beatrice was a 34-year-old single and a “dyed-in-the-wool” techno geek. She spent most of her spare time writing code, either for herself or on work-related projects.

She exited the building elevator into the poorly-lit parking garage, long since empty except for her late model car. She set down her briefcase while reaching into her jacket pocket for her keys, trying not to drop her thermally insulated coffee cup. The jangling of her keys promptly activated a steady beeping sound. Walking around the front of her car in the direction of the sound, she spotted a strange-looking object several feet away sitting by the basement garage’s concrete wall. Startled by the unusual sight of a large, boxy-looking object with pulsing red lights, she froze in place, almost losing her balance. She thought to herself:

“Damn high heels, I wish I didn’t have to wear these wretched things.”

She had no choice about the heels; they were part of the corporate dress code for all female U.S. International Bank employees.

Focusing on a large LED display to the left of the pulsing light, she clearly saw the digital readout: 2 minutes 50 seconds. “Oh shoot, now what do I do? … Damn.”

She looked around for help. The futility of this action further frustrated her. She spoke out loud.

“Of course there’s nobody here dummy, it’s nine o’clock on a Friday night, I should be home on my couch watching TV.”

Keeping her eyes locked on the timer, she set down her thermos and briefcase on the oil-stained concrete floor. After scanning the object, her analytic mind spun-up into high gear and time momentarily stopped for her as she began to develop a solution to the problem ticking away in front of her.

Her occupation specialty, during her 4-year stint in the U.S. Army, had been explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), and the object in front of her appeared to be a homemade, timer-triggered bomb. A jumble of multicolored wires, of different diameters, sprouted out from a small plastic black box. She knew it was unlikely it could be remotely triggered because she was on the fourth level of a subterranean garage. Her extensive military training allowed her to determine how the amateurish-looking device was constructed. Somewhere on this explosive package, the timer would activate an unseen electrical detonator, which in turn would ignite plastic explosives. The crude bomb appeared to contain approximately a 5- to 6-pound brick of C-4; enough to blow a hole large enough in both the floor and wall to possibly cause a structural collapse of the entire multistory bank building.

Beatrice instantly went down her mental bomb-defusing checklist. There was no time to secure the site, get a bomb suit on, call for a total containment vessel (TCV), or use a remote-controlled disposal robot. She was amazed how rapidly her years of intense demolition training and knowledge came back. She remembered what her instructor had drilled into her class daily:

“If you can see the bomb, then the bomb can see you.” At first that saying didn’t make any sense, but after defusing her first roadside bomb in Iraq, it made all the sense in the world.

She unbuttoned her suit jacket, kicked off the high heels and powered down her cellphone to prevent an accidental triggering of the bomb. She mentally skipped down to the defusing portion of the EOD checklist. Amateur bomb makers often use different colored wires but they don’t necessarily follow any conventional wiring standard. Her only solution was the worst-case scenario. Her instructor stressed, more than once:

“When you’re running out of time, you must cut wires. If you’re not sure which is the timer ‘kill wire’ going to the detonator then you must cut all the wires exactly simultaneously.”

She knew there was a good chance the bomb builders might not have taken this simple defusing method into account. The real trick was to cut the jumble of wires all at the same time. She reached into her briefcase for a pair of cutters. These were not a run-of-the-mill pair of wire cutters, they were just one of many government-issued explosive defusing tools she had routinely used everyday in the Army. She had practiced this wire cutting technique hundreds of times but surprisingly, in her entire military career, she had never done it on an armed bomb.

Moving toward the bomb, she knew there was a chance the motion detectors might be decoys and not wired to the bomb, but she couldn’t know for sure. She roughly calculated the time required to get into position to cut wires. She had 75 seconds to cover the 9 feet between her and the bomb, and 15 seconds to defuse the bomb. She counted off the seconds. “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…”

Within 1 foot of the device, she froze. On the floor near her right foot was a 1-foot long BNC cable, connectorized on both ends. She instantly recognized its function and relaxed for a moment, knowing she wouldn’t be cutting any wires today. Carefully dropping the wire cutter into her suit pocket, she reached down and retrieved the cable. The amateur bomb builders, in their haste of getting away, had accidentally dropped the safety wire that had armed the bomb when it was removed.

Turning toward the device, Beatrice saw both mating connectors easily within reach and expertly pushed each connector in place. The timer stopped with five seconds left. Beatrice took a big breath, blew it out slowly and dialed 911 to get a bomb disposal squad on site ASAP.

Within 10 minutes, 35-year-old Sergeant Alvin Doughboy arrived with his bomb squad. After the explosive device was completely disarmed, a thorough forensic examination of the entire area was carried out and the bomb was then hauled away for disposal. While debriefing Beatrice at his office, Alvin was impressed with her demolitions knowledge and expertise; but more than that, when he found out she was single, a spark was ignited between them resulting in their marriage five months later. The highlight of the wedding, attended by the entire bomb disposal department, was the bomb-shaped cake, which they pretended to defuse together before it was served to their guests.

Best of all, Beatrice now had someone to curl up with while they both watched the Technology Channel together.

Fini (No Boom)

>> MakeShift 16: Analysis, Commentary, and Winners