CBRN Preparedness in the UK

A CBRN incident is a serious event that requires special preparedness. It may involve chemicals, biological agents, radiological materials or nuclear devices. All of these require a high level of alertness and specialized equipment like personal protective equipment, detectors, decontamination aid and medical support measures. These incidents also demand a comprehensive response from all the public and civil services.

CBRN is a group of substances that can cause harm to the human body in many different ways, depending on how they are used and their characteristics. They include poisons, toxins and biological organisms that can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. They can also be spread through airborne particles or contaminated objects. Radiological substances such as gamma radiation or X-rays can penetrate a few centimetres into the human body and cause acute and life-threatening injuries (“deterministic effects”), or increase the risk of cancer (stochastic effect). Nuclear devices can cause thermal burns or radiation sickness.

These substances are often very difficult to control once they are dispersed. This is particularly true for chemical and biological weapons, which can remain in the environment for a long time. They can also be transported across borders, enabling terrorists to target multiple locations in one attack.

A large number of emergency services personnel in the UK are trained to deal with CBRN incidents, and they receive regular training to prepare them for such situations. Fire services, for example, have their own CBRN teams who train with police and ambulance personnel. In addition, all firefighters in the UK are required to take a basic web-based CBRN assessment every year.

While most CBRN incidents are not terrorist related, the threat of WMD proliferation is always present and must be defended against at all times. Terrorists and criminals are continuously searching for ways to acquire and use CBRN materials in their attacks. The emergence of the internet as a global communication platform increases the risks that criminal organisations will share their knowledge and expertise on how to acquire and use WMDs.

The US government is taking action to protect the country from these threats by developing and deploying reliable CBRN countermeasures. A national effort, termed the GNDA or Global Nuclear Detection Architecture, is being coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security and involves the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Energy, and state, local, tribal and territorial governments.

The President of the United States has made a commitment to ensure that the nation has robust and reliable CBRN detection systems. As part of this, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy has created the National Strategy for CBRNE Equipment Standards. This outlines the federal vision for coordination, prioritization, establishment and implementation of CBRNE equipment standards by 2020. In addition, the White House is establishing a task force to oversee the development and production of the necessary technologies to meet these objectives. The task force will provide recommendations to the Administration and Congress on how to achieve these goals. cbrn

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