It was supposed to be funny. And maybe 25 years ago, it would have been. But today as we watch bombs explode across the nation and around the world, the kind of jokes that rely on fake explosive devices are sure to, well, bomb.
One did in Moline in a big way this week. There's no need to recount the story in great detail. Suffice it to say that if you want to play a prank on a friend, just don't put a device with pipes, wires, a watch and duct tape all over it on his pickup truck. The butt of the joke just might be wise enough to call police and you'll end up being the punchline.
Not surprisingly, the 10 police officers, three firefighters and the batallion chief called to the scene were not at all amused. They had to seal off a condominium complex and idle emergency vehicles until they uncovered the joke gone awry. And the locals weren't the only ones inconvenienced. A bomb expert from Peoria was already here and another from Springfield was on the way before emergency officials uncovered the hoax.
What the fake explosive did point out, however, was how long it would take to get expert help if a real bomber were to target a Quad-Cities site: 2 1/2 hours in Tuesday's phony incident. Is that too long? Moline Police Chief Steve Etheridge says the locals have looked at starting a bi-state bomb squad, but it's not a cheap proposition to organize or maintain. ``The training would have to be non-stop and the expense is incredibly high,'' he said. ``We're no longer just dealing with plastics. Now, you've got fertilizer and chemical mixtures.''
And a quick response doesn't necessarily make anyone any safer. Local law enforcement needs time to evacuate, secure the area and gather intelligience. So long as nobody does anything stupid, like play McGiver and try to disarm the bomb themselves, or it is not set to detonate immediately, the wait doesn't increase the danger. Besides, such incidents are so rare in the Quad-Cities, not even the Rock Isalnd Arsenal has a bomb squad.
Even if Tuesday's scare had been real, emegency officials did what they were supposed to: they kept people safe and waited for the experts trained to handle explosives. Don't know about you, but we feel safe with that.