CBRN: Empowering the emergency services in a CBRN incident - Riskaware

CBRN: Empowering the emergency services in a CBRN incident

By Russell Mills, Jamie England and Murray Purves

When a CBRN or hazardous material (HazMat) incident takes place, emergency services need to act quickly to protect the public. However, without the proper resources or information, the response could be delayed and lives could be lost.

CBRN/HazMat incident management tools empower operators and first responders with actionable insights, when they need them. This enables a more timely and impactful tactical response.

Who are the key stakeholder involved in CBRN incident management?

A CBRN or HazMat incident can involve various organisations, including fire services, ambulances, police, and other first responders, as well as military and government organisations. These groups will work together to combat and mitigate the hazards to both people and infrastructure involved.

Depending on the country or region, different agencies will have different responsibilities in response to a CBRN/HazMat incident. Each agency may also have differing roles within a response, which may lead to the prioritisation of different strategies.

How do these stakeholders respond to a CBRN incident?

In the face of a CBRN/HazMat event, stakeholders will most likely need to coordinate their efforts based on the specifics of the event that takes place.

CBRN and HazMat incidents present a unique set of challenges to the responder community. The hazards presented to personnel are varied and may spread across a wide area. The incident is likely to be fast-moving in nature, and require a complex response involving many different specialisms.

The level of planning, resource and coordination required for a successful response to a CBRN or HazMat incident is therefore likely to be far greater than a response to a more conventional incident. This means that emergency services need to coordinate effectively between agencies to decide on a best strategy and to deploy the appropriate teams for the situation. The real-time elements of their service emphasise the importance of tools which can help facilitate this process.

Read our guide to CBRN incidents, solutions and response

How do different emergency services and national organisations collaborate to best manage a CBRN incident?

How local emergency services, national authorities and the military collaborate is determined by the type and severity of event.

Localised HazMat incidents, such as the release of a toxic industrial chemical, may only require the involvement of local response networks. But for large HazMat incidents or CBRN related incidents, regional networks or national agencies may become involved. Typically, the larger the incident, the greater the level of collaboration required.

However, each group or agency is likely to use similar techniques and technology to organise their responses to different events.

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Which tools help emergency services to be most effective in the event of a CBRN incident?

Emergency services, whether at a large or small scale, need to take action in a timely and impactful way. This means they require the right information at the right time to make good decisions. CBRN/HazMat information management tools, such as Riskaware’s UrbanAware, empower responders to do this by analysing an incident and providing actionable insights that help them deliver informed responses that protect the public.

Disseminating information is also crucial. There will often be various stakeholders involved in a single incident and so information needs to be easily and quickly shared. Whether it is police and fire services, or operators and commanders, incident data needs to be understandable to everybody involved.

There are various key incident modelling tools emergency services can use in a CBRN/HazMat incident which take into account these key considerations:


Once an incident is detected first responders will likely seek to cordon off an area surrounding the incident from the public. The larger the cordon, the more resources will be required to set up and maintain it. Responders can determine a cordon using estimates of the hazard and basic rules of thumb. However, such methods are conservative by design, often leading to a cordon which is much larger and more resource-intensive than required.

Forward modelling tools enable responders to get an accurate picture of the potential hazard. This means that they can define cordons which are less conservative while still containing the affected areas, freeing up valuable resources for other elements of the response.

Forward modelling tools also provide valuable information on the specific areas which are at the most risk, enabling responders to make best use of resources through a targeted response. This can be temporally enabled, allowing responders to visualise how the hazard may change and evolve

Riskaware’s UrbanAware system utilises the Urban Dispersion Model as its primary forward modelling tool. This model – developed over 20 years for the UK and US defence communities as part of the HASP Suite – takes the effects of the urban environment on dispersion into account. This means that meaningful and accurate results are produced in a rapid fashion, maximising the utility of the model for the emergency response community.


Some of the next considerations of first responders may be to evacuate people at risk of harm, transfer victims to the hospital, or to manoeuvre equipment and assets into position. These tasks involve planning an optimal route, potentially through hazardous areas. Route planning tools consider the level of the hazard to generate the safest and most efficient routes possible, minimising the exposure of both people and assets.

For example, the fastest route to transfer a victim to a hospital may travel through a highly contaminated or otherwise restricted area. A route planning tool can help determine whether the benefit of using this route outweighs the risk, or if another route could and should be taken.


In certain incidents the origination and specific qualities of the incident may not be known. Authorities and emergency services can use source term estimation tools, such as the HASP Suite’s Source Term Estimation capability, to help identify these factors.

Using sensor readings, Source Term Estimation can proportionally determine the most likely source location and time of the release. Other useful source characteristics, such as any chemicals contained in a fire, can also be concluded to help first responders decide how best to respond.


Many elements of these tools can be automated, to further increase the speed and flexibility of a response by reducing the human interaction required. For example, a system integrated with sensors can immediately begin modelling the potential hazard as soon as an elevated contamination level is detected. This means that situational awareness data can be made available to responders more quickly, further facilitating a timely and effective response.

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Should CBRN/HazMat incident management tools be integration friendly?

The primary aim of CBRN/HazMat tools is to facilitate users to gain improved situational awareness and actionable insight about an incident. This often involves ensuring they work in concert with existing tools and infrastructure in use by first responders.

CBRN events are thankfully rare, and so CBRN information management tools might not be used every day. Therefore, a key consideration of a good system is ensuring that the information generated by it is understandable, recognisable and transferable for non-experts. This can be achieved through robust integration. An effective solution will transfer information quickly and clearly, helping emergency services make timely strategic decisions.

Integration is a core feature of Riskaware’s solutions. We integrate our tools with other software to add value and provide more robust CBRN/HazMat capabilities. This is beneficial to users as they receive a validated and proven product which works seamlessly with their existing systems.

Should CBRN incident management tool providers work with the emergency services and other first responders?

Collaboration between providers and incident responders is essential. Only by understanding what challenges they face can providers create solutions that empower users and meet their needs.

Riskaware collaborate with partners, such as Dstl and DASA, to create tailored solutions that address real-world problems. For example, our UrbanAware solution combines our experience with customer insights to create CBRN/HazMat incident management tools that successfully help combat urban incidents.

Get in touch to find out more about how our incident modelling solutions empower emergency services.

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