Nov 07 2008

ATF bomb center in Huntsville will train explosives investigators

By Carol Robinson

Federal authorities broke ground Thursday on the National Center for Explosives, Training and Research, an endeavor to combine the brainpower of Redstone Arsenal with the investigative power of ATF, they said.

"It is the Perfect Storm for ATF's bomb and explosives efforts," said Jim Cavanaugh, regional director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"The thrust against bombings is to be a step ahead, a thought ahead, a breath ahead of the bad guy," Cavanaugh said. "To be trailing behind just leaves you with devastation."

The center, which is moving from Virginia, will be a one-stop center for cutting edge explosives research, training and investigations, said Michael Sullivan, ATF's acting director since 2006. It will house classrooms, research labs and offices and three explosives ranges.

Scheduled to be finished by 2010, the center is expected to bring about 200 jobs to the Huntsville area. It will be capable of training more than 20,000 military and law enforcement officers each year.

It also will mean more advanced training in explosives more often for Alabama law enforcement officers.

"This is good for the state," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said. "It's a positive day for Alabama."

ATF enforces federal controls on the explosives business, investigates bombings, explosives thefts and trains in post-blast investigations, explosives disposal, clandestine homemade explosives labs and explosives industry store and manufacturer site inspections.

Through the center, they will provide training for certified explosive specialists, industry operations investigators, ATF agents, and for other law enforcement and first responders at all government levels.

ATF's U.S. Arson and Explosives Data Center, which collects information on explosives and trends, will also be housed in the facility.

Mark Logan, ATF's assistant director for training and professional development, said ATF started in 2004 searching for a location for the center, a place where military and law enforcement officials can come together to advance their explosives knowledge.

The FBI Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical, which collects and analyzes information on terrorists bombs, is also relocating to Redstone.

Both of the new centers are expected to collaborate with the Hazardous Devices School which is already at the arsenal and trains bomb technicians to handle and dispose of explosive devices found in their hometowns.

Logan said ATF's mission to protect has been long-standing and said he take pride in their top-notch programs.

"ATF may be small in comparison to other federal agencies but what our agency lack in size, we make up in talent," Logan said.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip said the center will enhance the ability to fight criminals and make the nation and the world a safer place.

"ATF is a world leader in explosives techniques and ATF is known and highly respected for being a good partner," Filip said.

Teamwork has never been more important, he said.

"It's absolutely vital to protect the American people, as well as the American soldiers," he said. "This center will be a crucial resource."