A unique group of emergency responders is at every home football and men’s basketball game at Kansas University.
It’s likely you’ll never see them, but they come from out of town and station their large vehicles on the perimeter of Memorial Stadium or Allen Fieldhouse.
They’re on standby during the game for only one purpose: to respond in the event a suspicious device or bomb is reported. “They’re doing it as a favor,” said Capt. Schuyler Bailey, KU Public Safety Office spokesman.
KU relies on six bomb squads in northeast Kansas that provide the service on a rotating schedule. The Lawrence/Douglas County community doesn’t have a squad of its own.
With 40,000-plus people in attendance, time is of the essence when determining whether an entire football stadium needs to be evacuated, said Capt. Ed Schons, Olathe bomb squad commander.
“With that many people in an arena, if something happens, even if you decided to evacuate, the evacuation’s going to take awhile,” Schons said. “With us on scene, that cuts down the response time and we can do analysis pretty quickly and decide (whether) we need to evacuate everyone, part of (the venue), or exactly how best to handle it.”
Bomb squads in the region are obligated to respond anytime a bomb or other suspected explosive device is found in any Douglas County community, said Jim Hansen, chairman of the National Bomb Squad Commanders Advisory Board, which sets guidelines and standards for the profession.
“When you accept that role as a bomb squad and a bomb tech, you are accepting the fact that you’ll provide bomb squad services to your area, not to just within your city limits,” said Hansen, also commander of the Seattle bomb squad.
Six bomb squads are within an hour’s reach of Lawrence — Olathe, Overland Park, Leavenworth, Topeka, Metropolitan Topeka Transit Authority and Kansas City, Kan. And they respond to communities other than their own on an as-needed basis, through mutual-aid agreements, and at no charge.
“Any of us, we’re glad to respond if we get a call and they need assistance, we’re happy to go and help them out,” Schons said.
Bomb squads and technicians are certified by the FBI and are required to attend training at a special facility in Huntsville, Ala. They have fancy trucks with high-tech equipment and robots used to investigate suspicious devices.
Schons said it costs about $1 million to start a bomb squad. Plus, thousands of dollars are spent on maintaining the equipment and keeping it up to national standards, and then there’s the cost of manpower.
Forking over money for a bomb squad is something Lawrence and Douglas County taxpayers don’t have to worry about.
Even if the city police force, fire department or sheriff’s office looked into creating its own bomb squad, it’s not certain that it would be approved by the FBI, Hansen said, not because the local agencies would be incapable of doing so, but because the region may be deemed overpopulated with bomb squads.
When too many bomb squads are in an area, technicians might not get enough experience to keep their skills sharp, Hansen said. Plus, the FBI school has an 18-month waiting list for technicians lining up to be trained.
Schons said first responders are trained to evacuate people from the area surrounding a suspicious device, so that if it goes off there will be no deaths or injuries.
Local emergency workers are appreciative that other agencies come in for help during a situation involving a bomb. Lawrence Police Sgt. Bill Cory said local agencies are also willing to return the favor when necessary, by helping with drunken-driving enforcement or special events that require a higher-than-usual number of officers in attendance, he said.
“All law enforcement works together, for the main purpose of protecting and serving the public,” Cory said.