WHITESTOWN — Hundreds of bomb disposal experts from the U.S. Military and law enforcement agencies from across the world are in Whitestown this week to train and share experience at the State Preparedness Training Center.
The Raven’s Challenge exercise takes place at multiple locations every year to focus on the latest and most dangerous explosive threats across the world. The Preparedness Training Center last hosted the Raven’s Challenge in 2015 and 2016.
“This training fine-tunes our skills for the real-world scenarios. We focus on problems here. It’s really good, it’s enjoyable,” said Christopher Schillaci of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad, which covers seven counties in the Rochester area.
“We get to work with the military. They take some of the stuff we know, we take some of the stuff they know, and we work together and learn from each other.”
Officers from more than 40 different agencies and military divisions participated in the Challenge this week, including representatives from Canada, Belgium, Estonia and Portugal. From New York State, officers from the Syracuse Police Department, Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, New York State Police and more participated.
The officers spend several days training in realistic scenarios at the Center’s sprawling compound. They train on defusing complex and simplistic explosive devices, operating bomb disposal robots, using bomb disposal suits and new and dangerous delivery systems.
New to New York State this year was training on drone-delivered explosives.
“There are a variety of ways you can do this. We’ve seen aircraft with explosive charges on them, that are designed to either detonate in the air or with impact with the ground. Or systems that are set up to fly over a target and drop an explosive payload,” said one bomb technician who asked that his identity not be released, as per the confidentiality of his position.
The tech said that drone-delivered bombs were used in an attack in Venezuela in August. Using commercially-available drones, terrorists have been devising new ways to fly explosives into crowded areas. Officials said they have also started using 3D printing technology to craft missile-shaped cases for more accurate bombing runs.
Even one of the smallest commercially available drones is capable of carrying more than 2 pounds of explosives.
“Because this is a developing threat, the laws have not caught up with this particular threat just yet,” the official said.
“There are a lot of efforts going on to develop counter-measure systems, both for domestic solutions and overseas.”
Though he warned it’s still a felony crime to simply shoot a drone out of the air.
“I wouldn’t fire indiscriminately into the air,” he joked.
The Raven’s Challenge is funded by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It will be at three other locations this year for further training.
Robert Stallman, assistant director of the Preparedness Center, said the compound is always happy to host the Raven’s Challenge.
“Things are constantly changing and evolving, threats are changing and evolving. So this gives them an opportunity to train on the new and evolving threats,” Stallman stated.
Among new additions the Center is considering are a subterranean training area and possibly getting their own large jet plane, Stallman said. These two training sets are available at other locations that host Raven’s Challenge, but are not yet in Whitestown.
“It’s always been on a block of possibilities. The biggest challenge is actually flying it here,” Stallman said of the potential 747 airplane acquisition. Just because the Preparedness Center used to be the county airport doesn’t mean the runaways can still be used to land planes.
But these potential new facilities are “definitely something that is on our radar,” he stated.