Last night I ran into a buddy of mine that happens to be an ATF agent. He gave me some inside scoop on an incident that I saw on the news earlier this week, one that’s given geocachers even more bad press.
On Tuesday someone reported a pipe bomb at the dam in Ware Shoals. The pipe was wrapped in camouflage tape and had the words “Terra Tube” stenciled on the side. My friend was called, and was on the way to investigate when he was told that it was OK, that it was just a Geocache.
It’s been interesting to watch the reaction to all of this. I know the person who placed the cache, and on his website he’s been outspoken about placing geocaches in inappropriate containers and locations. I don’t know how this one slipped past him, but it’s placed him in the position of having to make some uncomfortable apologies.
The cache had been listed on geocaching.com, navicache.com, and eventually on terracaching.com, but has been archived on all three sites. It was last active on terracaching.com, hence the “Terra-Tube” name on the side.
According to the news reports, a fisherman on the Saluda stumbled across the cache and thought it was a pipe bomb, then called the authorities. The cache was eventually destroyed by the SLED agents.
It would be very easy to dismiss the fisherman as some ignorant hick that can’t tell the difference between “Terra” and “Terror.” While I think he probably overreacted, I don’t know how I might respond if I came across something like this and didnt know what it was.
Neither will I criticize SLED for destroying the cache. To them, this was a threat, and unknown quantity. They can’t assume it to be benign. In a lengthy discussion on the Geocaching.com forums one geocacher put it very succinctly…
Put yourself in the cop or explosive ordinance tech mind for a moment.
Examine your hands and arms. Now hold them behind your back. Think about how your life would change if you lost them.
Now, somebody calls you and says “I think this container may be a bomb.”
Doesn’t matter what or where the container is, everything in your cautious nature, training and experience tells you to treat it like a bomb until it’s proven to be something else. That’s how you go home in one piece…
Are you gonna say “Nah, he said that ain’t no bomb!” and pick it up?
You do what your training tells you and you take care of the unknown device in the safest manner possible.
Geocaching.com has some very strict guidelines, and it’s doubtful that a cache like this would get approved in this day and age. Terracaching is reputed to be a bit more lax in allowing placement of caches. However, neither the local media, law enforcement, or general public is going to make those fine distinctions between websites. To them, it’s all “geocaching” and it all gets painted with the same bad publicity.
There will be now be even more scrutiny and calls for tighter regulation. The saddest part is that people live in such fear of terror that incidents like this do make the news. However, I can assure you, if I were a terrorist, I don’t think I would label any pipe bombs I create, regardless of whether it’s spelled correctly or not.