WIU Bomb training

It's been a little less than a year since a student made a string of bomb threats on the Western Illinois University campus. While those threats were false, the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State Bomb Squad takes all threats seriously.

Each month, squad members participate in training sessions in various locations. This week, they're training at Wetzel Hall on the W.I.U. campus. The building is soon to be demolished, allowing this squad free rein in places like stairwells and elevators, places they don't normally get to use. It's so making students feel safer than a year ago.

"With the first few [threats], it just felt regular, but when it got to five or six, it got kind of scary," said Sophomore Mitchell Winkelman.

"I guess everybody kind of lived in fear for the rest of the year and wondered if anything else was going to happen, but it was a pretty bad experience," said Sophomore Amber Johnson.

"When the bomb threats happened last year, we did come to help them out," said Commander Rick Baede.

Fears have since subsided for many students at WIU, but for this bomb squad out of Springfield, stepping back on Western grounds is a refreshment course.

"It's important for us to get to go to different venues because it gives us a challenge, to keep us sharp on our job, especially with large buildings. We do end up going to bomb threats at large buildings sometimes," said Baede. "When we come and train here, we can see what's right with our equipment, what's wrong with it, and other guys are here evaluating us, changing up our activities to make things run smoother and faster."

For much of Monday and Tuesday, these certified bomb technicians trained with a robot and Cosmo, their bomb sniffing canine.

"He's doing a search of this room. He's searching the bags to find which had the explosive in it," said Dale Cox, a canine handler and bomb technician. "We go in and we sweep the area for something. If there's a bag or box that's suspicious, we don't use him. The bomb squad comes up, puts a suit on and does what they need to do."

Aside from their own training, this bomb squad will also train the school's staff on how to handle threats.

"It makes us feel more safe, because they're serious about it. Last year, the guy who did it, Cameron McCoy, it was fraud, but it's still good the university cares about students and taking precautions for it," said Mitchell.

(Click on the map below for a complete campus map.)

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