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Fact Sheet - Explosives Research and Development Division

May, 2018
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Fast Facts

  1. ATF Explosives Research and Development Division develops integrated investigation, documentation and analysis tools for post blast scene investigators, based on emerging forensics, environment captures and detection technologies.

  2. ATF conducts explosives research, testing and general explosives support for the agency, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.

The primary goals of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Explosives Research and Development Division (ERDD) are the improvement of explosives investigation techniques and the safe disposal of explosives and safe storage of explosives. Research and Development (R&D) activities are conducted with cooperative agreements with other federal agencies, organizations under contract and private individuals. ATF is a leading source for cutting edge R&D in the field of explosives, with national recognition.

To ensure successful criminal prosecution of explosives cases, ATF must have the data and tools necessary to determine explosion origin and cause and rapidly develop post-blast investigative leads. The ERDD develops integrated investigation, documentation and analysis tools for post blast scene investigators, based on emerging forensics, environment captures and detection technologies.

Image of a time bombAdditionally, the ERDD rapid test and evaluation program for real-world improvised explosive devices (IED) is rapidly evolving to meet current needs. With the ability to safely synthesize novel explosive mixtures, develop safe methods of initiation, and analyze and detonate the explosive on a custom range, ERDD provides customized evidence on the viability of real-world IEDs, which allows law enforcement personnel to allocate resources appropriately and manage current threats.

ATF ensures that law enforcement and military personnel can safely dispose of both commercial and homemade explosives when they are encountered in the field. To be prepared for and respond to explosive disposal events, it is critical to understand the sensitivity, over-pressure and fragmentation effects of explosive materials. ATF chemists, engineers and analysts are skilled in the safe disposal of both commercial and homemade explosives. The in-depth knowledge of the over-pressure and fragmentation effects of explosive materials provides critical guidance on the risks involved in handling, disposal method and blast mitigation requirements.

The ERDD conducts explosives research, testing and general explosives support for ATF, Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security. As part of these activities, ERDD conducts externally- and internally-funded explosives research. The extended R&D program includes, but is not limited to, internal laboratories, ranges and contractors. R&D leads to the improved understanding of how explosives function and their effects related to public safety while in storage, criminal misuse, accident investigation, disposal operations and criminal prosecution. 

ERDD supports ATF’s Explosives Industry Programs Branch (EIPB), which is the authority tasked with determining if a material is an explosive; if the material or article can be exempt from explosives regulation; and writing new explosives regulations. EIPB follows two statutes to guide them in this process. The first defines what an explosive is; per 18 U.S. Code § 841, an explosive means any chemical compound mixture, or device, the primary or common purpose of which is to function by explosion. The term includes, but is not limited to, dynamite and other high explosive, black powder, pellet powder, initiating explosives, detonators, safety fuses, squibs, detonating cord, igniter cord and igniters. The second defines how to exempt a material from explosives regulation, 27 CFR § 555.32. ATF may issue exemptions for special explosive devices that, as designed, do not constitute a public safety or security hazard.

The ERDD is located in Huntsville, Ala., at Redstone Arsenal and consists of test ranges, laboratories and classrooms. There are more than 1,000 acres of test ranges and training facilities, as well as 83,500 square feet of classrooms and laboratories.

ATF is a principal law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) dedicated to reducing violent crime, preventing terrorism and protecting our nation. ATF is committed to working to investigate and reduce crime involving firearms, explosives, and acts of arson.

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