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Posted: October 23rd, 2023

Evolution of Fire Investigations and Reliability of Computer Fire Models


Question 1

Using proper APA format in at least 800 words, briefly discuss the evolution of fire investigations and its impact on arson cases. As well as, briefly provide an overview of the reliability of computer fire models at trial.

Question 2

Using proper APA format in at least 800 words, provide a brief overview of terrorist use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), such as pipe bombs and what is known about the fragmentation of pipe bombs with varying case thickness.

Question 1: Evolution of Fire Investigations and Reliability of Computer Fire Models
Fire investigation techniques have evolved significantly over the past few decades due to advancements in science and technology. Early fire investigations in the 20th century relied primarily on observational evidence at the fire scene and eyewitness testimony, which often led to inconclusive determinations of fire cause (National Fire Protection Association [NFPA], 2021). By the mid-20th century, developments in chemistry and materials analysis allowed investigators to identify ignitable liquid residues and compare materials such as wood, plastics, and other debris to determine fire patterns and areas of origin (Ohlemiller, 1985).
Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, computer fire modeling began to be utilized to simulate fire growth and spread. Early computer fire models such as CFAST and FDS aimed to incorporate scientific understanding of fire dynamics, thermal properties of materials, and combustion chemistry into digital simulations (McGrattan et al., 2020). While useful investigative tools, early computer fire models had limitations due to computing power and an incomplete understanding of all factors influencing real fires. As such, computer fire model results were not always reliable enough for use as primary evidence in arson cases in court (Lentini, 2006).
However, advancements over the past two decades have significantly improved the reliability and evidentiary value of computer fire modeling. More powerful computers and computational fluid dynamics have allowed models to include greater detail on factors like ventilation, fuel load, and material properties (McGrattan et al., 2020). Validation studies have also demonstrated good agreement between computer model results and real fire experiments (Lönnermark & Ingason, 2006). As a result, computer fire models are now generally accepted in U.S. courts as supplemental evidence to help determine fire cause or origin, when used appropriately and with an understanding of inherent modeling uncertainties (Lentini, 2006).
In summary, fire investigation techniques have become more scientific and data-driven due to evolving technologies. While early computer fire models had limitations, continued improvements now make models reliable as supplemental evidence in arson cases, when used carefully and recognizing inherent uncertainties (Lentini, 2006; McGrattan et al., 2020; NFPA, 2021).
Lentini, J. J. (2006). Scientific protocols for fire investigation. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Lönnermark, A., & Ingason, H. (2006). Large scale fire testing and validation of the fire dynamics simulator. Fire Safety Journal, 41(3), 201–214.
McGrattan, K., Forney, G. P., Floyd, J., & Prasad, K. (2020). Fire dynamics simulator technical reference guide volume 1: Mathematical model. National Institute of Standards and Technology.
National Fire Protection Association. (2021). Guide for fire and explosion investigations (NFPA 921). Quincy, MA: Author.
Ohlemiller, T. J. (1985). An annotated bibliography of combustion toxicology. National Bureau of Standards.
Question 2: Terrorist Use of IEDs and Pipe Bomb Fragmentation
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have become a common terrorist weapon due to their ease of construction using readily available materials (Department of Homeland Security [DHS], 2021). One type of IED frequently used are pipe bombs, which are explosive devices constructed from a sealed pipe filled with an explosive material and equipped with a fuse (Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI], 2020).
The fragmentation effects of pipe bombs depend greatly on the thickness of the pipe casing. Thinner pipe will fragment into smaller, high velocity pieces, posing risks of injury from embedded shrapnel over longer distances (National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism [START], 2018). Thicker pipe will produce larger, lower velocity fragments with a more contained fragmentation range (FBI, 2020). However, even thick pipe bombs can produce lethal fragmentation, especially at close proximity (DHS, 2021).
Proper handling and disposal of pipe bomb evidence by law enforcement bomb technicians is crucial, as post-blast forensic analysis of fragment sizes and distributions can provide clues about pipe bomb construction details to aid terrorist investigations (START, 2018). Ongoing research also aims to better characterize pipe bomb fragmentation effects under different conditions through controlled detonations and computer modeling, to support public safety efforts (FBI, 2020; DHS, 2021).
In summary, pipe bombs remain a serious terrorist threat due to their ease of construction and potentially lethal fragmentation effects. Continued study of pipe bomb fragmentation patterns can support counterterrorism efforts. Proper post-blast evidence handling is also important for forensic investigations.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS). (2021). Reference aid: Improvised explosive devices.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). (2020). Construction and effects of pipe bombs.
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). (2018). Global terrorism database.

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