IED Mitigation Strategies and Technology

Improvised explosives are the weapon of choice among terrorists, here are some ways to mitigate the risk

“We can never totally stop IEDs, but if we can effectively choke the flow of the precursors, the IED events will obviously start spacing out,” Haber continues. “There are plenty of fertilizers out there that cannot be converted into explosives. If we can equip and train law enforcement on what homemade explosives precursors are, and focus on how to identify and detect them, and how to differentiate them from legal fertilizers and other bulk materials not used to make explosives, that is going to attack the heart of the IED problem.”

Blast-Resistant Receptacles

It has been widely reported that the Boston bombs were planted in trash receptacles near the end of the heavily-populated marathon route. The IEDs were placed inside the receptacles — first because they provide concealment, and second, so when the explosion occurs, it creates wide areas of shrapnel that cause massive damage. While the only 100-percent-effective method to ensure that these receptacles are not used in this way is to completely eliminate them from the area, there are a variety of vendors who produce blast-resistant trash receptacles to mitigate the shrapnel and concealment risk.

ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), explains these receptacles in detail in its E2831 / E2831M - 11 Standard Guide for Deployment of Blast Resistant Trash Receptacles in Crowded Places, available at According to ASTM, two major effects resulting from an explosion in a trash receptacle are the production of primary and secondary fragments, and overpressure from the detonation. Another effect is the fireball, which may cause burns or ignite other combustible material in the area.

“The deployment of blast-resistant trash receptacles provides a means for decreasing injury and lethality during an explosive event, no matter their location, when compared to the protection afforded by ordinary trash receptacles or clear plastic bags,” ASTM reports. The receptacles cannot completely contain an explosion; however, they are designed with hardened materials to capture fragmentation of the receptacle, thus limiting the amount of shrapnel — and ideally damage — that is produced by an explosion within one. Each vendor’s receptacle is limited in the amount of explosives it can contain, but they are designed to also funnel the energy of the blast upward instead of outward. There are also varieties of bomb-resistant receptacles that are made from a clear material to eliminate the concealment factor; however, if the clear plastic fragments become embedded in a victim, they can be more difficult for emergency medical professionals to detect. 

“Strategic placement is as important as the capability,” Haber says. “You should not place them, for example, at a choke point where there is going to be a large concentration of people.” Because of the fireball potential, it is also important that they are not placed near combustible materials.

London is certainly familiar with the dangers of explosive devices being placed in trash bins as they have historically been one of the favorite bomb hiding spots of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1991, for example, a bomb hidden inside a trash can at a rail station killed one man and injured 40 others in the city. As a result, London has been reluctant to place trash bins in densely populated areas.

Last year prior to the Olympics, however, the city entered into a contract with a company called Renew, which makes bomb-resistant recycling bins that feature embedded LCD screens which can be used for advertising or public alerts. “Obviously, the city had a problem with recycling,” says Stephen Vickers, an account executive at Renew. “The solution they came up with was basically recycling bins that could contain information on digital screens on either side, but also were safe in terms of being bomb-resistant.”

According to Vickers, the company’s containers were tested in Arizona to determine their blast resistance capabilities. The Renew bins were deployed across London beginning in 2012 and Vickers says that a total of 100 have been installed thus far in the city with the most recent installation taking place in October.

In addition to London, Vickers says that the bins have also been installed in New York and Singapore. “Those are the only plans we have to roll them out at the moment, but I’m sure as things grow they will be going up in other cities as well,” he says.