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  • Writer's pictureTyler Ross, PhD, PE

What Should a Federal Planner Know about Explosives Safety?

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

Nearly every DoD installation stores, processes, and uses explosives and ammunitions (it’s kind of what we do 😊). Many forms of federal planning at DoD installations are not commonly impacted by explosives safety planning, but when it arises it can be a headache. Having previous experience with projects involving explosives safety site planning certainly helps, but what if you don’t? What if it’s been a couple of years since you’ve had to deal with this? What if you’re new to the industry and don’t know where to start?

This blog post will review the minimum knowledge that a federal planner should know about explosives safety.

The following five questions will be explored:

  1. What stage of the planning process uses explosives safety planning?

  2. How do I know if a planning scenario is feasible?

  3. What resources and criteria are available to federal planners?

  4. What do I do when I get stuck?

  5. When does it make sense to bring in help (government or industry support)?

See an earlier blog for additional background on explosives safety arcs.

1. What Stage of the Planning Process Uses Explosives Safety Planning?

The right time to consider the impacts of explosives regulations is as early as possible. The explosives safety criteria help determine whether a project is possible, where it can be accomplished and what type of explosives can be approved for the area. All of these factors come into play during the long-range planning phases and very early within the timelines of individual projects.

Another hard reality of explosives safety planning is that the approval process can take a long time (routinely a year or longer). Programming milestones like the DD 1391 or design charrettes sometimes do not account for the explosives approval process timeline.

Involving an explosives safety Subject Matter Expert (SME), whether they are government or contractor, can be included early in the process at a low level of effort. Basic review of the available information and documentation of key potential impacts to the project can be added to a contract at minimal cost and time.

Courtesy US Navy

2. How Do I Know if a Planning Scenario is Feasible?

Whether you are a government planner or project manager or an industry consultant, it can be tricky to tell early in a project if the requested explosives safety projects are feasible. If you are looking for ways to spot red flags or obstacles early in the process, the answer most likely depends on where you are in the planning process.

Existing DoD Installations

Most projects involve expanding capacity or creating new capacity at existing DoD locations (including partner host nation sites). Typically, the project area has been studied in some way in the past. The most helpful thing to do is to gather or request any previous studies or explosives approval documents for the area. These can include previous Area Development Plans (ADP), District Plans, Long-Range Development Plans (LRDP) or any previous explosives safety approval for any facility in the area. These documents provide details of surrounding constraints and what has been tried in the past.

Don’t be shy in asking questions. Any data gathered early helps to tell the story of the area being considered, focus the current data collection and interview process, and prevent rework or planning for alternatives that may not be feasible. Previous approval documents for explosives safety often include approval rationale or limitations for the area. Data can be requested from the installation safety office and civil engineering.

New Locations

For new locations, such as Forward Operating Sites (FOS), it may seem like the sky’s the limit. It is true that a lot is usually possible with a fresh slate, but what you gain in potential flexibility you lose in not having the benefit of previous study of the area. It is important to identify requirements and constraints as soon as possible. When designing a new location, it is common to have multiple competing priorities for space.

The most efficient way to find potential facility location options and potential explosives limits is to use automated software. The government or design consultants can utilize the DoD Explosives Safety Siting (ESS) software (more on that software below) to dynamically plan multiple layout options for consideration.

Common Red Flags

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineering & Support Center, Huntsville compiled a list of the most common red flags that slow down or halt federal planning projects involving explosives safety site planning.

  • Using a Design-Build contract (Doesn’t allow for site plan approval time)

  • Not using DoD approved designs (Slows down the approval process because the new design must be thoroughly reviewed)

  • Using custom designs from previous projects (Assuming that because it was approved at Site A it will be easily approved at Site B)

  • Not getting full stakeholder input early (Getting additional requirements late in the process)

  • Not clearly identifying explosives operations and quantities (Planning for less capability than you actually need)

  • Not accounting for required time for approval

  • Beginning construction before approval

  • Incomplete site plan package (Missing key design elements or not having the design to a mature state that will not involve significant additional updates to the facility)

  • Not involving explosives SME input early

3. What Resources and Criteria are Available to Federal Planners?

Like most things in life, knowing where to look for answers is usually half of the struggle. Fortunately, there are a significant number of resources available for explosives safety. These range from criteria manuals to training opportunities and software.

Criteria References and Sources

Each branch of the DoD maintains a criterial manual. These are all tied to the DoD-level manual maintained by the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board (DDESB). These manuals focus on establishing the required standoff distances from explosives. These are referred to as either Minimum Separation Distances (MSD) or Explosives Safety Quantity Distances (ESQD).

  • DDESB - Defense Explosives Safety Regulation (DESR) 6055.09

  • Air Force – Explosives Safety Standards DESR 6055.09_AFMAN 91-201

  • Army – Ammunition and Explosives Safety Standards DA PAM 385-64

  • Navy/Marines – Ammunition and Explosives Safety Ashore NAVSEA OP 5

Additional criteria references exist for NATO and various Host Nation (HN) entities.

  • NATO Guidelines for the Storage of Military Ammunition and Explosives AASTP-1 (Allied Ammunition Storage and Transport Publication)

  • HN criteria examples

    • UK: Defence Safety Authority DSA 03.OME Part 2

    • Italy: "Testo Unico delle Leggi di Pubblica Sicurezza" (TULPS)


Training opportunities exist to help government and contractor personnel learn more about explosives safety site planning. Some training opportunities are only available to government employees.

  • Navy: Ammo-36 Explosives Safety for Naval Facility Planning (Register through This is a general introduction to explosives safety for the Navy submittal and review process.

  • ESS software training: Occasional offerings by the Navy (contact

  • Protective construction structural training: Intended for structural engineers. These are offered by the USACE Protective Design Center and several commercial entities.

  • Standalone explosives safety training classes: Several options available (contact


The primary tool available for US DoD explosives site planning is the Explosives Safety Siting (ESS) software. This software is owned and maintained by the DDESB. It is free to use but requires a GIS license from Esri (separate cost). This software has a significant learning curve. If used correctly it can efficiently analyze explosives siting scenarios.

Courtesy US Navy

4. What Do I Do When I get Stuck?

Okay, so you think your scenario is feasible, and you’ve gathered and reviewed the available resources. What do you do if you get stuck somewhere in the process?

Understand where you are in the overall planning/design/approval process

  • What’s already been completed?

  • What has to be completed in this phase of the planning?

  • What has to be accounted for in future phases?

It might be that you have identified an obstacle, but that specific issue doesn’t have to be completely solved in this phase of the process. For example, you may find that the facility layout will require the design of large barricades surrounding the facility. You may need a cost estimate at this point, but you may not need the actual details or design of the barricade.

Determine the cause

What brought the team to this point? Knowing what caused the roadblock can help identify which types of strategies can be used to resolve it.

  • Has a plan been updated or rejected?

  • Have new requirements been identified?

It is important at this point to be verbal – speak up! Inform the team of the issue and determine what level of resolution is required at this stage of the planning process.

5. When Does it Make Sense to Bring in Help (Government or Industry Support)?

While it is possible to solve a lot of home repair issues yourself, it’s important to know when it’s time to call a plumber or an electrician. In the end, SME support can save time and money, while increasing confidence and quality in the result.

Help can come from multiple sources:

  • Government – Explosives safety submittal and approval chain SMEs

  • Industry – Contractor SME support

As mentioned earlier, ideally there is some form of explosives SME support from the start. This could be a very limited role in some cases (like having an expert friend you can call just to help keep you out of trouble). Asking the project team early for input on what has already been studied or approved in the area can help determine if additional support is warranted.

Some forms of specialized projects should always involve an explosives safety SME. These include protective construction (i.e., blast walls and specialized design) and scenarios involving Munitions and Explosives of Concern/Unexploded Ordnance (MEC/UXO). These projects require additional layers of analysis and approval.

Courtesy DDESB

Collaborate with an Explosives Safety Expert

Federal planners are problem solvers. We’re tasked with finding solutions to meet the requirements of the DoD. The nature or our industry requires us to sometimes interact with explosives-related planning. This unique sector of federal planning adds complexity through additional rules and timelines.

Federal planners have a wealth of available resources, including training and SME support. When explosives safety is considered early in a project it can save time, money and a little bit of everyone’s sanity.

The Schreifer Group, a woman-owned, veteran-owned small business, is a federal planning firm with extensive experience in explosive safety site planning. Explore some of our projects specializing in explosives safety, learn more about the services we offer, or get in touch with us personally.

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