About 40 bomb squad technicians, military personnel, and other emergency responders gathered in a basement in Fairfax on Feb. 22 to assemble some eggs.
With stacks of brightly colored domes stretching up from tabletops toward the ceiling like plastic stalagmites, the volunteers worked in assembly lines to construct functioning electronic Easter eggs out of the supplied egg shells, switches, beepers, and batteries.
It turns out that the skills needed to defuse explosive weapons can also come in handy for this much less dangerous activity.
Participants in the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators’ (IABTI) third annual beeping egg build have gotten so familiar with the process of putting these devices together that they managed to assemble more than 350 eggs in less than two hours, according to the Fairfax company DAGER Technology, which hosted the event.
“Bomb technicians are good with electronics, they’re good with soldering, and here, they’re helping kids, which is just an all-around great thing for the community to do,” DAGER Technology vice president Jeff David said. “We’re using the skills that we have and devoting time we have to helping people.”
The national bomb technician and investigator community first got involved with building beeping eggs thanks to one of its own.
A member of the IABTI, a nonprofit that represents first responders, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) veteran David Hyche discovered the eggs in 2005 while searching online for ways to help his daughter Rachel, who is blind, according to the IABTI website.
When she was approaching 2 years old, Hyche took Rachel to a church Easter egg hunt, but the experience was not as fun for her as it was for sighted children, since someone needed to lead her to the eggs.
Hyche’s research on his daughter’s behalf led him to the Blind Children’s Center in Los Angeles, Calif., which featured information on its website about plastic eggs that beep so that blind and visually impaired children can find them independently.
The ATF agent held an egg build that year with volunteering coworkers and friends at a local church in Birmingham, Ala. That group of bomb technicians and explosives specialists put together 40 eggs.
Since that one event, which assisted 11 children, The Rachel Project has gained popularity throughout the first responder community, helping hundreds of children in cities across the country and becoming the IABTI’s official charity.
By 2009, the project also expanded to allow for the participation of children who are deaf and those who are in wheelchairs or otherwise have limited mobility.
DAGER Technology supports federal, state, local, and military personnel doing homeland security and anti-terrorism work, meaning that it frequently collaborates with bomb squads and other explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) professionals.
The company became aware of The Rachel Project about four years ago when a bomb technician gave a briefing on the charity.
“We thought it was an excellent opportunity to bring the skills of all the people that we work with to help support this charity,” David said.
DAGER organized its first egg build in 2016 with less than half the number of volunteers who turned out for the 2018 event.
The second egg build was held on Mar. 9, 2017 and attracted about 30 people, who produced 330 eggs over the course of that afternoon. Those eggs were distributed to schools for the blind in Pennsylvania and Baltimore, Md.
The third annual TEAM-REDOPS “Beeping” Egg Build brought volunteers from federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the FBI, and the ATF, as well as the U.S. Army and a host of state and local organizations, including the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office bomb squad.
A handful of individuals even represented overseas organizations, as people with agencies from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia who had been temporarily stationed in the U.S. joined their American counterparts.
The diversity of organizations interested in participating in the egg build presented some logistical and scheduling challenges, but the IABTI community is tight-knit and communicative so the event itself went smoothly, according to David.
The eggs from the build will be distributed to schools for children who are blind along the East Coast.
Because they were able to assemble so many eggs in such a short period of time, organizers have set a goal of 600 eggs for the build in 2019.
“This is something we plan to keep doing,” David said. “We’ll keep inviting the bomb squads to come and participate, so as long as we can get people to come, we’ll keep building the eggs for the kids.”