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What is a Flashbang?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A flashbang is a type of explosive device which is designed to create a very disorienting flash and bang. It is classified among the grenade family of explosives, since it is designed to be activated and then thrown or launched before it explodes. The advantage to a flashbang is that it does not generate shrapnel, making it ideal for situations in which innocent bystanders could be hurt. Law enforcement teams which specialize in defusing tense or confusing situations often carry flashbangs because these devices can be used to control groups of people without injuring them.

When a flashbang is detonated, it produces an extremely bright flash of light which temporarily overstimulates the retina. As a result, people cannot see for around five to 10 seconds; since most people prefer to remain stationary when they are visually disoriented, the flash can bring the people involved in a situation to a temporary halt which can allow members of law enforcement to quickly move in and take control. The deafening bang also contributes to feelings of disorientation; depending on one's proximity to the device, it can cause a lingering ringing feeling in the ears.

Under safe conditions, a flashbang is totally harmless, although disorienting. However, they do contain explosives, and as a result, they can trigger secondary explosions. This is a risk which should be considered when working in volatile environments; gas leaks, for example, can fireball when a flashbang is detonated, and methamphetamine labs can explode. Law enforcement personnel are expected to consider prevailing conditions before detonating a flashbang grenade.

These devices are used in crowd and riot control and to defuse hostage situations. It is standard policy in many law enforcement communities to toss a flashbang grenade into the door when entering the site of a standoff, to ensure a safe surrender of those involved by incapacitating them as law enforcement moves in. In riot control, a flashbang can be a very effective tool, because it gives law enforcement personnel the upper hand. Flashbangs are also useful in war zones where civilians are mixed with combatants, because soldiers can neutralize everyone within an area while they figure out who is who.

Several companies manufacture various styles of flashbang grenades which are sold to military and law enforcement organizations. It is also theoretically possible to make your own, although it is not recommended unless you have a good reason to do so and explosives experience. Consumers should also be aware that the possession of all grenades including flashbangs is restricted in many parts of the world.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By titans62 — On May 12, 2012

@Izzy78 - As far as I know, the grenades are made so that they don't make much of a lasting fire. It is enough to light gas vapors, but not to burn something outside of maybe charring it a little.

I always hear about flashbang grenades and stun grenades. I am not sure if they are the same thing or not. I can't really imagine how they would be much different unless one is more meant to blind and the other is meant to disorient. Outside of that, I haven't heard of any other similar grenades.

Different war-based sports have variations on flashbang grenades, though. I used to go paintballing a lot, and there were some people who would buy paintball flashbangs. Obviously, they weren't anywhere near the same effectiveness as military grade grenades, but you could throw a flashbang through the door of a building, and the sound would be enough to startle someone and make them vulnerable for a few seconds.

By Izzy78 — On May 11, 2012

I guess I never thought about the explosion being able to ignite flammable vapors or whatever else might be in the area. It makes sense, though. That being said, would one of the grenades also be able to start a fire if it detonated on top of a stack of papers or furniture or something?

Are there any other grenades that are similar to flashbangs that have the purpose of either disorienting people or making them temporarily incapacitated? The only one I can really think of would be the tear gas grenades that you sometimes see used to control riots.

By Emilski — On May 10, 2012

@JimmyT - I am not an explosives expert, but I believe flashbang grenades have a pretty limited range so that only people in the immediate vicinity are affected.

The way the grenade works would also have an effect. The flash part would only blind people who were exposed to the light itself or were in the same room. Anytime I have seen one of the grenades used, they usually will toss it in through a window or door and protect their own eyes while it explodes.

The sound would work the same way. As long is you aren't in the direct path of the sound waves that come from the grenade, your hearing should be pretty well protected.

By JimmyT — On May 09, 2012

@anon8123 - I always wondered the same thing. I looked it up, and one of the most popular flashbang grenades used by the military today is made of a magnesium compound. It's hard to find more information than that. I suppose because they don't want people trying to make homemade flashbang grenades on their own. I would assume, though, that the compound is able to react with the oxygen or nitrogen in the air to trigger the explosion.

I have seen a lot of television shows were cops are busting into a house to do a drug raid or something and throw in a flashbang first to disorient the people. The thing I always wondered about was why the officers themselves were never effected by the explosion.

By anon8123 — On Feb 08, 2008

What are Flashbang Grenades made of?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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