Secondary Explosive Devices Guide


The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to comply with hazard-specific safety and health standards. In addition, pursuant to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act, employers must provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Emergency Preparedness Guides do not and cannot enlarge or diminish an employer's obligations under the OSH Act.

Emergency Preparedness Guides are based on presently available information, as well as current occupational safety and health provisions and standards. The procedures and practices discussed in Emergency Preparedness Guides may need to be modified when additional, relevant information becomes available or when OSH Act standards are promulgated or modified.

Because of recent terrorist events, workers have expressed concern about the possibility of a terrorist attack involving secondary explosive devices. The following frequently asked questions will help workers understand what a secondary explosive device is and how it may affect their health and safety.

General Information
What are secondary explosive devices?

Secondary explosive devices are bombs placed at the scene of an ongoing emergency response that are intended to cause casualties among responders. Secondary explosive devices are designed to explode after a primary explosion or other major emergency response event has attracted large numbers of responders to the scene to inflict additional injury, damage, and fear.

How might these devices be deployed?

Typically these devices will be hidden in out of view locations, or camouflaged by placing the devices in ordinary objects such as vehicles, flashlights, briefcases, flowerpots, or garbage cans. Usually the devices are detonated by a time delay, although radio-controlled devices or cell phone activated devices could also be used.

Are there any other likely scenarios involving secondary explosive devices?

The Transportation Security Administration has issued warnings related to a possible terrorist event in which a small explosive, or nuisance device might be activated on a subway platform during the height of rush-hour. This initial explosion would result in an evacuation to a nearby street where a secondary explosive device may be detonated to target responders and the public.

Has a secondary explosive device ever been used in the U.S.?

Yes. Bombings on January 27, 1997 outside the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Service and on February 21, 1997 at the Otherside Lounge in Atlanta both had secondary explosive devices placed in proximity to the primary explosion. In another incident, a Puerto Rican peace officer was reported to have been killed by a flashlight bomb rigged with an improvised motion switch at a crime scene.

First Responders
How should first responders prepare for an incident involving secondary explosive devices?

Health and safety plans (HASP) should include protocols for responding to a terrorist event recognizing the possibility that secondary explosive devices may be used at the scene.

Are there any standard guidelines on how to handle an incident involving secondary explosive devices?

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) has made available basic guidelines related to secondary explosive devices which have been modified from those used by the Florida Division of the State Fire Marshal.

What are the essential elements of the USFA guidelines?

These guidelines recommend that responders: (1) Anticipate the presence of a secondary device at any suspicious incident. (2) Search for a secondary device before moving into the incident area. (3) Avoid touching or moving anything that may conceal an explosive device. (4) Effectively manage the scene with boundaries, exclusion zones, triage areas, etc. (5) Evacuate victims and non-essential personnel as quickly as possible. (6) Preserve the scene as much as possible for evidence collection and crime investigation.

Workers and Public Affected by an Incident Involving Secondary Explosive Devices
How should I prepare my worksite for an event involving a secondary explosive device?

Your employer's emergency plans should include procedures for evacuation in the event of an emergency and training for employees on how to recognize a potential secondary explosive device that might be placed at the scene.

Can the average citizen help prevent incidents related to secondary explosive devices?

Becoming more aware of unusual activity, or "situational awareness" as it is commonly termed, is important both at the worksite or in public places. Being alert to unusual activity may help prevent a terrorist action.


Information for emergency responders. U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), (July 17, 2003).