Annabelle Hueber, Weapons and Tactics (W/T) Team
Week of Monday, December 20, 2021
Clea Guastavino, Cassandra Townsend, Senior Editors
Display pyrotechnics, also known as commercial fireworks, pose a severe safety risk for civilians due to their explosive material, especially during holiday celebrations such as New Year’s Eve. There have been reports of accidents and injuries due to these low explosives, ranging from mild injuries to death. The wide availability of commercial fireworks and the relatively easy accessibility to the illegal fireworks market could very likely lead terrorist groups or radical individuals to weaponize fireworks in order to execute attacks. Countermeasures such as banning fireworks, implementing necessary safety procedures at events, and tackling the illegal fireworks market will likely reduce the likelihood of accidents; however, terrorists, including groups and lone actors, are unlikely to be deterred from committing attacks using these objects, especially during the holiday period.
Regulated fireworks can cause severe injuries such as burns, contusions and lacerations. Civilians using fireworks during the holiday season are advised to follow safety tips by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to reduce the risk of accidents. Keeping fireworks away from children and avoiding buying fireworks from non-professional and unlicensed retailers is very likely to reduce the risk fireworks pose for commercial use. Making sure the area where fireworks are being bought has legalized them to avoid accidentally purchasing illegal and dangerous products very likely avoids criminal penalties. The chances of injuries due to unregulated pyrotechnical material are also likely reduced by taking this precaution. Watching professional fireworks shows organized in designated locations is very likely to decrease the risks of injuries and deaths. Spreading awareness on CPSC safety tips is likely to decrease accidents and reduce hospitalization numbers.
The CPSC has found a 50% increase in deaths and injuries due to firework-related accidents in the US from 2019 to 2020. This is likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the use of fireworks very likely allows people to celebrate while respecting government-mandated restrictions. In the Netherlands, the ban of lighting consumer fireworks on New Year’s Eve in 2020 resulted in 30% fewer emergency response incidents. This ban is very likely to be effective after the pandemic and should be considered by local and national governments as a way to decrease firework injuries during holiday periods. This year's New Year's Eve is very likely to see the same figures of firework-related injuries in the US because the pandemic is still ongoing. Countries with firework bans due to the pandemic will likely experience a rise in illegal fireworks as there is a roughly even chance that individuals will acquire fireworks through unregulated means.
Fireworks, both regulated and illegally obtained, start around 18,500 fires each year in the US. These include structure and vehicle fires, which cause significant damage to property and individuals. Fireworks are very likely used to deliberately start fires given their easy access and usage. A fireworks ban is very likely to decrease the threat of fires and could in turn relieve fire departments and emergency response teams. This ban will very likely have positive effects on the environment due to decreased pollution and reduce immediate health effects like respiratory irritation experienced due to fires.
Illegal fireworks contain a dangerous amount of pyrotechnical materials and pose safety risks as they have not been tested for compliance with safety standards set by regulatory bodies and applied to commercial fireworks. This almost certainly increases the risk of accidents since they are more likely to be faulty or spark accidentally. The intentional or unintentional blast of an illegal firework will very likely cause more harm to its immediate surroundings than a legally-obtained one. An illegal firework is also very likely to cause more noise pollution, inducing anxiety among civilians in the area.
In November 2021, Dutch police seized over 120 tons of illegal fireworks on the border with Germany in their biggest seizure to date. The amount of illegal fireworks being used and produced for The Netherlands is increasing due to the high demand for fireworks. This demand is very likely due to fireworks being used for criminal activity such as aggression against law enforcement or opposing sides at demonstrations or blowing up ATMs. It is very likely illegal firework retailers have smuggled large amounts into The Netherlands since this seizure and are distributing these to customers. Increasing border patrol and checks are very likely to expose more loads of illegal fireworks and tackle safety concerns experienced by Dutch citizens.
EU fireworks regulation allows consumers to acquire fireworks up to category F3, which are medium hazard fireworks intended for outdoor use. Category F4 presents a high hazard and is restricted to specialists and professionals. Their danger to local security is likely to be exploited by individuals or groups with terrorist aims and is very likely to cause significant injuries to individuals caught in the blast. Since their purchasing is limited to experienced pyrotechnicians, terrorist groups are very likely to obtain these fireworks from illegal markets, either through the dark web or by local or regional sellers. Countries with loose regulatory checkups are very likely to experience more illegal fireworks than ones that complete controls regularly. Category F4 fireworks are very likely to be used in terrorist attacks, as well as homemade fireworks created with pyrotechnical material from commercially-purchased fireworks.
Terrorist groups and lone actors are very likely to target mass gatherings celebrating the beginning of the New Year. Since COVID-19 restrictions in many countries limit both the amount of public events and of attendees, potential targets are limited. This very likely gives law enforcement an advantage in assessing the security risk of certain events and allows for higher numbers of security personnel to be deployed at an event. Private security companies are likely to have fewer contracts with event planners due to the pandemic, likely allowing for greater availability to work with local governments.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends organized events to ban the personal use and possession of fireworks. Security measures including bag and personal item checks will very likely aid in impeding the smuggling of prohibited fireworks into events' grounds. Emergency response teams should be at multiple stations in case an attack occurs and medical assistance is needed. Using canine detection is very likely to be effective when searching for fireworks among the crowd and at entry points. CTG recommends pyrotechnicians follow and implement threat awareness guidelines presented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) such as reporting suspicious activity by customers buying fireworks and notifying law enforcement immediately. National and regional governments are advised to educate the public on the safe handling of fireworks to spread awareness of its potential dangers. CTG recommends law enforcement and investigators pose as potential clients in order to expose illegal fireworks sellers.
The Weapons and Tactics (W/T) Team will continue to assess the safety risks of commercial fireworks and monitor the weaponization of fireworks by terrorist groups. The development of illegal fireworks will be closely monitored to determine the increasing security threat. Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) Officers and Threat Hunters will continue to report related incidents and events.
 “Fireworks-Related Deaths, Emergency Department-Treated Injuries, and Enforcement Activities During 2020,” CPSC, 2021, https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/2020-Fireworks-Annual-Report.pdf
 Fireworks, CPSC, June 2021, https://www.cpsc.gov/Safety-Education/Safety-Education-Centers/Fireworks
 Leave Fireworks to Experts, NSC, https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/summer/fireworks
 30% fewer calls to emergency services this New Year's, NLtimes, January 2021, https://nltimes.nl/2021/01/01/30-fewer-calls-emergency-services-new-years
 The Danger of Illegal Fireworks, Phantom Fireworks, https://fireworks.com/education-and-safety/illegal-fireworks
 120,000 kilos illegal fireworks intended for NL found in Germany, NLTimes, November 2021, https://nltimes.nl/2021/11/05/120000-kilos-illegal-fireworks-intended-nl-found-germany
 Fireworks expenditure in the Netherlands from 2015 to 2018, Statista, December 2018, https://www.statista.com/statistics/805480/fireworks-expenditure-in-the-netherlands
 Police seize record haul of illegal fireworks in German bunker meant for Dutch market, Dutchnews, November 2021, https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2021/11/police-seize-record-haul-of-illegal-fireworks-in-german-bunker-meant-for-dutch-market/
 Fireworks categories and your business, Nibusinessinfo.co.uk, https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/fireworks-categories-and-your-business
 Cities that are canceling their big New Year's Eve events and those still going forward, CNN, December 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/new-years-eve-2021-celebrations-cancellations-pandemic/index.html