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In English the term CBRN is a replacement for the cold war term NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical), which had replaced the term ABC (atomic, biological, and chemical) that was used in the fifties. The addition of the R (for radiological) is a consequence of the “new” threat of a radiological weapon (also known as “dirty bombs”). In the new millennium, the term CBRNE was introduced as an extension of CBRN – the E in this term representing the enhanced (improvised) explosives threat.

CBRNE are weaponized or non-weaponized Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear materials that can cause great harm and pose significant threats in the hands of terrorists. Weaponized materials can be delivered using conventional bombs (e.g., pipe bombs), improved explosive materials (e.g., fuel oil-fertilizer mixture) and enhanced blast weapons (e.g., dirty bombs). Non-weaponized materials are traditionally referred to as Dangerous Goods (DG) or Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) and can include contaminated food, livestock and crops.

The question is that why is CBRNE defense needed? Firstly, due to accidental CBRNE incident an event caused by human error or natural or technological reasons, such as spills, accidental releases or leakages. These accidental incidents are usually referred to as DG or HAZMAT accidents. Outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as SARS, or pandemic influenza are examples of naturally occurring biological incidents.

Secondly, there is intentional CBRNE incident which includes:

  • Criminal acts such as the deliberate dumping or release of hazardous materials to avoid regulatory requirements
  • The malicious, but non-politically motivated poisoning of one or more individual
  • Terrorist acts that involve serious violence to persons or property for a political, religious or ideological purpose and/or that are a matter of national interest The response to an intentional CBRNE incident may be similar to an accidental CBRN incident; however, intentional CBRNE incidents differ because there are unique implications relating to federal/provincial/territorial responsibilities, public safety, public confidence, national security and international relations. CBRNE incidents may include all or some of the following characteristics:
  • Potential for mass casualties
  • Potential for loss of life
  • Potential for long term effects
  • Creation of an extremely hazardous environment
  • Relative ease and cheapness of production
  • Initial ambiguity and/or delay in determining the type of material involved • potential use of a combination of CBRN materials each presenting different Response requirements
  • Narrow time frame in which to administer lifesaving interventions/treatments
  • Need for immediate medical treatment for mass casualties
  • Need for immediately available specialized pharmaceuticals •
  • Need for specialized detection equipment
  • Need for timely, efficient and effective mass decontamination systems
  • Need to work closely with Police on site and at health care facilities, as they perform their legal duties in relation to victim identification/registration and evidence gathering
  • Need for a pro-active media policy to ensure the community is informed and thus its anxiety allayed. Countermeasures include:
  • Technical equipment such as respirators that can detect chemical agents and masks that prevent exposure
  • Medical therapy and, for some agents, prophylaxis
  • Organizational strategies, such as specially developed intelligence systems, standard operating procedures, and training

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRNE defense) is protective measures taken in situations in which chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear warfare (including terrorism) hazards may be present. CBRNE defense consists of CBRNE passive protection, contamination avoidance and CBRN mitigation.

A CBRN incident differs from a hazardous material incident in both scope (i.e., CBRNE can be a mass casualty situation) and intent. CBRNE incidents are responded to under the assumption that they are intentional and malicious; evidence preservation and perpetrator apprehension are of greater concern than with HAZMAT incidents.

A 2011 forecast concluded that worldwide government spending on CBRNE defense products and services would reach US$8.38bn that year. Countries like Canada, Hong Kong and India to name a few, are working or having CBRNE response capabilities.

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