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Case Study: Federal Building Bombing

Oklahoma City

Nautilus Systems supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response team at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Nautilus Systems provided FEMA with:

  • Geographic information systems (GIS) data collection and analysis,
  • Generation of maps,
  • Procurement and analysis of aerial and satellite imagery, and
  • Munitions data modeling and visualization.
The analysis products were also shared with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Oklahoma City's Police and Fire Departments, the Secret Service, and deployed volunteer rescue teams.

Nautilus identified key data points and provided supporting evidence to the mechanics of the detonation. Imagery analysis provided some curious details indicating evidence of implosion of some physical structures and a rolling force wave. Fragmentation patterns and blast damage data were collected using differential ground positioning system (GPS) devices. Historical and current meteorological data, and the collected GPS data were mapped by geo-location.

The resulting map showed a well defined corridor of destruction, as opposed to a radiating pattern that one would expect from an explosion. The corridor was identified by the meteorological data, and corresponded to a natural air flow pattern for that area raising from the southwest to the northeast.

On the morning of the bombing, a high pressure thermal inversion layer settled over that corridor. When the bomb detonated, the initial explosion lifted the vehicle about twenty to thirty feet off the ground, and raked the face off of the Murrah Federal building and the Oklahoma Chronicle archive building (directly opposite). A second explosion then forced the exposed floors to break off and stack one upon another. Given the low ceiling and a northeasterly push, the blast force followed the corridor away from the building which resulted in the extensive damage.

By analyzing and understanding the collected geographic, meteorological, and imagery of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building bombing, Nautilus was a major contributor to documenting the crime scene and ballistic forensics, and provided a better understanding the unfolding dynamics of the blast. The combination of munitions data modeling combined with GPS, GIS, and data visualization also proved a valuable tool in identifying high probability survivor zones.

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