Opening doors

Last updated 1 Mar 13 @ 11:51 |
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Peter Stolwerk discusses the importance of co-operation between special operations forces and the security industry to ensure the potential of new technology is realised in effective and reliable equipment


A trend that has developed in recent years is that the security industry is more frequently approached by police and military special operations forces for help in the development of new tools to improve their tactical operations and to ensure a quicker, safer way of working. Because special operations forces have very specific requirements for their tools, it is expensive and time-consuming to develop entirely new products from scratch. For this reason, it is increasingly common to look at existing products used by in other industries for similar types of operations. These products can often be adapted relatively easy in order to make them suitable for use by special operations forces.

A good example was the need for better tools to break open access doors to gain entry to buildings, whether houses or commercial properties. Modern houses have been equipped with better quality doors and locks, so it becomes more and more difficult for Special Forces to quickly and quietly (until the very last moment) open these doors. A quick and efficient way of opening an access door is an essential part of special tactics  operations, in which surprise plays an important role.

Hydraulic rescue equipment used by fire and rescue services worldwide formed the starting point for fulfilling this need. These rescue tools have been in use for many years for vehicle extrication and saving human lives in all kinds of rescue situations. These hydraulic rescue tools are, of course, specially developed to fulfill the requirements of the rescue services, and have been produced with a number of unique properties. Rescue equipment is, for example, very robust and must be usable on a daily basis. As it concerns saving human lives the tools must be and remain very reliable in various circumstances. They must also be easy to maintain and not liable to malfunction. Furthermore, they must be safe for the user and his environment. As these tools are also used in emergency response scenarios (for example to get access into hard-to-reach places) they must be very easy to use and suitable for operation by one person. Additionally, they must be able to exert enormous pressure, in order to cut or spread reinforced material and support or lift heavy objects during rescue operations.

The above-mentioned properties were also present in the requirements of the Special Forces. But they wanted to add something extra to the existing range of rescue door openers: their operation had to be silent. In order to increase the surprise effect of a raid, it desirable that there is not any noise until the very last moment – just as the door is about to burst open, so as not to alarm anyone present in the building. It is also important for special operations that the tools are given a mat black exterior. Special Forces often operate in the dark and a conspicuous or reflective colour could give away their presence and position prematurely. The door opener also needed to be strengthened and be able to push itself with great force inside the doorframe. Then it needs to be able to switch over easily from sideway pressure to forward pressure in order to breach the door. With this extreme force, any locks and hinges on the door have to break open so the building can be accessed quickly and efficiently. Once the requirements had been incorporated, the new tactical tools were tested in “real-life situations” by the special operations units for some weeks.

Special Forces are known for only using materials in which they have 100 per cent confidence. The power of the special operations units is that they eliminate as many uncertainties as possible and thus ensure a perfectly prepared operation. Qualitative and highly reliable materials are therefore imperative for the success of an operation.

Today, the hydraulic special tactics door opener is an essential part of their daily equipment. This type of door opener is in use in many countries for a variety of scenarios. It has therefore gained a unique position in various special operations services.

Once it was evident what could be achieved in close co-operation with the industry, and confidence had been gained in the strength and applicability of hydraulic tools, other areas of application for this type of tools were examined. It became apparent that that in their operations they often had to force gates and that there was a need to be able to lift heavy roller doors easily and quietly. These types of questions had been voiced for years by the rescue services. Together with the industry, a summary was made of the existing tools and how they could be adapted for daily use in tactical operations. The special operations units were looking for a complete package of tools that could be easily interchangeable with regards to operating or parts.

By now, after years of intensive co-operation between the industry and special operations forces an entire new range of hydraulic special tactics equipment has been created that has taken its place in the arsenal for tactical operations. The trust by both the industry and the Special Forces has grown enormously and has resulted in regular meetings to discuss how these tools remain usable in various operations. Even if the challenges that special operations units are facing keep changing in the future, there remains a need for reliable tools, and it is important that the industry continues to listen to the needs of their customers.

Because of how the industry works closely together with the police and defence forces, the products that they develop really answer the needs of this market. In this way, they contribute to a safer and more efficient way of working for special operations forces. This in its turn helps maintain a safer and better society in which we all must live


Case study:

Tactical sneak-and-peek operations

A team of detectives are investigating a large number of car thefts in their region. They are waiting for a breakthrough that will enable them to arrest these suspects for both theft and handling stolen cars. The team knows that the stolen cars are taken straight to an as-yet unknown location, which they believe to be a warehouse where the cars are prepared for “export” overseas.

Then, finally, the long-expected breakthrough came by surprise. One of the detectives received a tip-off about the location where the stolen cars are kept. He decides to send a surveillance team to the location for a few days to find out what is happening. What they discover at the location is a row of storage units, each of which has a heavy locked rolling door. The tip-off didn’t mention which rolling door the car thieves use.

Surveillance reveals that one of the rolling doors is used regularly and that car parts are carried in and out of the building. The team suspects that this is the building in which the cars are kept. After discussing the matter with the public prosecutor, they decide to go to the warehouse to establish whether the stolen cars are indeed located inside.

But they soon encounter a problem: the rolling door cannot be opened because there is a heavy lock on the access door that can only be opened from inside the storage unit. The detectives are at a loss what to do, because they wanted to take a quick peek at a time when they can be certain that no one else is around.

In these types of tactical operations, a hydraulic Power Wedge is the solution. The high spreading force of the system enables you to lift a rolling door up a few centimetres, even when there is only a narrow gap to insert the tip. The Power Wedge can be spread manually and silently (hand-operated by an integrated pump or separate hand pump), which gives a police officer enough space to look under a door or use an endoscope to get an initial glimpse of the room behind the door.

This is just one of the many uses for the system. This extremely practical hydraulic tool is also used in USAR operations to give emergency service providers access to victims who, for example, are trapped under a pile of rubble. The police and special tactics teams use it mainly to break open doors, lift rolling doors and open garage and elevator doors. The Power Wedge creates enough initial room for a second tool (such as a combi tool or door opener) to create more space, so that access can be gained to locations that are otherwise hard to reach.


Peter Stolwerk is a former member of a SWAT unit in the Netherlands and has been a police officer for 15 years. He is now the managing director of Providence BNLX BV and is also a tactical consultant for various manufacturers in the police and military industry, including Holmatro Special Tactics equipment.