Explosives: Not My Problem


Most security managers believe they have no responsibility for explosives, other than a nagging concern about IEDs. This is not the case. Explosives pervade our society: we are reliant on them for our wealth through the mining, rural and construction sectors; we enjoy large and small fireworks shows, pyrotechnic stage effects as well as special effects in Australian-made movies; many of our major transport and infrastructure systems are reliant on explosive engineering; and of course the defence of our nation relies on explosive ordnance. At the same time, explosives pose the most credible threat of mass casualty events and urban disruption as bombs remain a weapon of choice for criminals and terrorists.

There are a number of questions that security and facility managers should ask themselves when considering if explosives are their problem.

Do We Know What Explosives Are?

The simple answer is anything marked as Hazardous Division “1” as defined by the United Nations. Quite a lot of reasonably common items are explosive: ramset cartridges, some safety devices and emergency releases may have an explosive component, even car airbags have miniscule explosive charges in them, if there are armed guards they have small arms ammunition. In small quantities, these items are of no concern and fall outside the legislative requirements, but when held in bulk they become a problem. Do we know when an item becomes “bulk”?

It is not possible to rely solely on packaging and marking as not all chemicals that explode are HD1. Of course, “improvised” explosive is not going to be identified in accordance with legal requirements.

There are a range of precursor chemicals termed “Chemicals of Security Concern”. The Federal Attorney General’s Department issued a list of 96 such chemicals, see http://www.chemicalsecurity.gov.au . Any organisation that stores, transports or uses these chemicals needs to be aware of the security requirements.

Are There Any Explosives On Site?

Before saying “no”, consider that not all explosives reside in specially designed and designated “magazines”; many laboratories hold quantities of chemicals that if removed from the glass jar and put in a box would be classed as HD1 (e.g. picric acid). Other laboratory chemicals are safe when stored properly but if they are incorrectly stored become highly sensitive explosives. If there is a laboratory, chemical classroom or similar room on site, it may be of value to talk to the chemists or those responsible for the space about what they hold and how often they are checked for safety and security.

Even “greenfield” sites can have explosive considerations. There are many ex-military areas that retain unexploded ordnance. While Defence assists in identifying such sites, and there are specialist contractors competent in searching potentially contaminated ground, there may be security and management implications for the owners.

Are Explosives Brought On Site Occasionally?

Some sites do not possess explosives until someone brings them inside the door. More often each year we are seeing large fireworks displays being launched from the tops of high-rise buildings, from sporting venues, parkland and other “non-explosive storage” areas. Approval to do this is carefully regulated and subject to risk assessments and controls. Hopefully the security managers and/or security contractors are aware that perhaps 100s of kilograms of HD1.3 explosives are being brought onto the site, stored and prepared for firing.

During demolition, restoration, renovation or construction work, it is possible, if not probable, that explosives will be brought onto a site in one form or another. Is anyone from the security/facilities management team aware that this is happening and has anyone considered the implications? Again, if the regulations are followed, there should not be a problem, but who provides the assurance that everything is as it should be?

Some sites permit the military and law enforcement agencies to conduct exercises on the premises which is of benefit to both parties. During the planning of such exercises it is worthwhile asking what will be brought on site and used by bomb squads, assault teams and other specialists. There have been cases where live explosives and ammunition, or realistic looking training devices or spent cases, have been left behind to the embarrassment of all. A question to ask is how will explosives and related items be checked onto and off the site to ensure total “sanitisation”.

Do We Know How To Manage Explosives?

Explosives are mainly governed by Federal transport regulations which reach back to the UN Dangerous Goods classifications. There are Australian Standards such as the AS2187 series but they mainly refer to bulk storage in magazines and the guidance on security is limited. Requirements for storage, access, identification of controlled items, and accounting, tend to vary by jurisdiction. HAZMAT legislation usually exempts HD1 items so normal WH&S compliance will not necessarily address explosives.

Sites which constantly hold quantities of clearly marked explosives should be compliant with Legislation and Standards, and be regulated by the local authority. What happens when a new security contract is won that covers such a site, or a new security or facility manager is appointed? Do they know what is required in terms of explosive storage and security? Do the site managers and contractors have policies and procedures in place to ensure explosive as well as HAZMAT requirements are met?

The storage and security of explosives temporarily on site is likely to be the responsibility of the relevant contractor but it would be of value to discuss with them what is happening, why and what guidance/rules are being applied.

Do We Know What Safety And Security Risks They Pose?

Explosives, by definition, release huge amounts of energy in milliseconds. It is the conversion from a solid or liquid to a gas at rates measured in 1000s of metres per second that enable them to do their work. For most large-volume users, explosives are a high-turnover, low cost tool, that is until it is taken out the gate at which point it becomes a weapon. Safely stored and secured explosives pose minimal threat; inappropriately managed they are both a safety and security hazard.

In addition, there are many substances and systems on a site which are perfectly safe until they are acted upon by an external incident such as an explosion. These “secondary hazards” include other hazardous goods, high-pressure water and steam lines, gas mains, pressure vessels, high voltage electricity mains, etc. Most are designed to withstand predictable events such as minor impacts, fires, leaks or breakages. The safety systems are not usually designed to withstand 100s of KPa applied in milliseconds or fragments impacting at close to the speed of sound. Knowing what secondary hazards are on site, and many may not be listed on HAZMAT registers, assists in bomb security and emergency response planning.

Do the security and safety plans reflect explosives on site, including fire-fighting requirements, and do alterations to the emergency evacuation plans consider the implications for insurance? Have additional training and procedures been considered? Is there a “need to know” caveat that explosives are on site and how does this relate to the duty of care to inform people of the hazards to which they may be exposed?

Managers can qualify the risks posed in the same manner as any other Risk Assessment: identify the assets and potential threat vectors/hazards; determine the nature and adequacy of the controls; assess compliance with regulations and standards; and determine the level of risk and any additional mitigation measures. Underestimating the quantity and type of explosives on site and any hazard they pose is delusionary and dangerous. Overestimating the hazards posed by explosive items held in accordance with the requirements and which pose no or minimal risk is also dangerous and will have unnecessary costs and implications for business operations.

Explosives are a specific hazard with their knowledge set and separate regulations. Given that HD1 is excluded from most if not all HAZMAT guidance it is worth considering who is offering advice in relation to explosives and their qualifications and knowledge of the specialist subject. Similarly, guidance on the effects of and protection from IEDs requires more than just an awareness of what explosives are. To provide accurate and realistic advice, knowledge of explosive engineering, the effects of explosives, and what is probable rather than possible is needed. Clients should validate the claims and credentials of those offering advice on this critical and complex element of security.

Explosives 2014
The Australian Security Research Centre is hosting the Explosives 2014 forum to bring together all those involved in the explosives domain to explain their involvement and to raise issues. Of particularly interest will be presentations and input from those not normally invited to discuss how explosives relate to their environments. Security, safety and facility managers who want to learn about explosives in our society, discuss explosives and the relationship to their sites, and raise any concerns, should consider attending. For more information, you can visit www.asrc.com.au/explosives2014/.

Don Williams
Don Williams MIExpE, IABTI, CPP, RSecP is convenor of the ASRC Explosives 2014 forum. Don is a member of the Institute of Explosives Engineers, the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators, the venue managers Associations, ASIS International and the Australian Security Research Centre’s Activities Committee. He is the Author of “Bomb Incidents – the manager’s guide” and numerous other publications relating to explosive and bomb safety and security.