How to maximise CBRN impact mitigation and health protection

CBRN/HazMat incidents can be extremely varied and unpredictable. Their cause and effects can be entirely different, ranging from chemical vapour being leaked from an industrial plant, to a hazardous spill caused by a traffic accident, to a malicious release of a warfare agent. The detailed nature of these incidents, and therefore their potential behaviour and impacts, can drastically change on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, these details remain unknown until the scene has been assessed.

Nevertheless, the primary goal – no matter the situation – is to reduce the potential impacts: primarily those to people’s health and wellbeing. The challenge responders then have to address is balancing a timely response with an informed one, in order to most effectively mitigate the impact on the population.

In this article, we discuss these challenges and how incident modelling and decision support tools can be used to plan for events and create coordinated strategies in advance of an incident taking place to enable faster, more appropriate action when events do happen.

The impacts of CBRN/HazMat events on populations

The impact and severity of a CBRN/HazMat incident will vary based on the incident itself. This is determined by characteristics such as its environment (e.g. where it occurs and the weather conditions), the nature of the release (e.g. the contaminant involved and how it is released), and its proximity to people and infrastructure.

CBRN/HazMat events that take place in urban environments, such as cities and populated industrial areas, pose a greater risk to people than those in unpopulated areas – with more opportunity to impact people’s safety and health, civil infrastructure, and economic factors.

Short-term impacts

There will be various immediate dangers that need to be addressed during an incident – primarily the direct impact of a contaminant release on people’s health and the indirect consequences of mass panic. Any civil or private response will also require economic investment, including the cost of resource deployment, clean-up, and medical aid.

Long-term impacts

The impacts of large-scale or severe CBRN/HazMat incidents will continue to permeate through time. Areas affected by chemical warfare have become epicentres for illness and consistent leaks or contaminations have resulted in disease hotspots, such as the exposure to asbestos or water pollution. There may be also be macro-level economic or societal shifts caused by such events.

For example, the Chicago Tylenol murders caused by drug tampering initiated a reform in how medications are packaged, to prevent similar attacks. The events of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters have had profound impacts on the nuclear industry, its regulation and its perception, as well as on hazard planning and mitigation policies, capabilities and R&D efforts.

Many consequences are more difficult to directly quantify and yet equally devastating, such as mental health and psychological effects, as well as underlying changes to people’s way of life.

The importance of advanced HazMat/CBRN incident planning

As we have seen, the primary aim of any response team is to reduce the impact of the incident, often centred around the safety and wellbeing of the people in the vicinity. The more responders are able to plan, train and prepare for an incident, the better they can prepare for these impacts and take steps to control, mitigate or prevent them when it counts.

This is relevant across sectors and events – from military personnel preparing to enter CBRN environments, to emergency services or organisations performing incident planning for civil situations and industrial sites. Each group will be concerned with minimising impacts, but in different ways. Civil groups will be focused on protecting the public and key infrastructure, whereas the objectives of military commanders will be to safeguard their troops against exposure.

A key factor when considering planning and training activities is how close to the “real thing” these activities can be; the closer an exercise can feel to an actual incident, the better preparation that exercise can offer; this includes being able to use the same tools and techniques as they would in a real incident. Advanced tools and techniques incorporate modelling and simulation throughout, to ensure that such efforts lead to maximum effect.

How does incident modelling support incident planning?  

Incident models are useful to civil authorities and emergency services, as well as a range of other users, from insurance companies, to industrial facilities, to health and safety executivesThey provide critical information about CBRN/HazMat events, their characteristics, and their potential impacts in order to empower human decision-making.   

They support the overarching objective of protecting human health. With greater situational awareness about an incident, organisations can create more coordinated, timely, focused, and appropriate deployment strategies to maximise the efficiency of resources and optimise impact mitigation. 

Here are the primary benefits of using incident models: 

  • Provides additional data about a scenario and its potential outcomes 
  • Allows users to analyse different permutations of scenarios and impacts, as well as evaluating the probability of events and outcomes 
  • Enables users to evaluate the effectiveness and outcomes of intervention measures as well as their own capabilities so they can optimise their response strategies 
  • Facilitates targeted, efficient, and appropriate levels of deployment and response in order to optimise the use of limited resources 
  • Reduces the resource requirement and expense of training, as well as increasing safety 
  • Creates more accurate and realistic plans for incidents  

RELATED: 5 Information management tools for public health [HazMat]

What impacts can responders prepare for in advance?

Incident response teams, such as local authorities, military, and emergency services, need to focus their preparations on the immediate outcomes of an incident. These events can only be prepared for to a certain extent as the characteristics of every incident will vary, but there are a range of possible scenarios and fundamental procedures for which these teams can perform readiness planning.

These preparations would include building up the right resources for certain events, such as human teams, equipment stores, and medical stockpiles. For example, the Government has iodine tablets in case of a civil nuclear incident. It would also include developing processes and procedures for a range of exercises, such as evacuations, and team training on response and deployment scenarios.

What methods can responders use to prepare?

Modelling and simulation

On a day-to-day basis, teams can run models to evaluate the characteristics and outcomes of ‘what-if’ scenarios. The outputs of these models can help inform official strategies and plans, as well as the training exercises teams run. Teams can use set models, which run according to pre-determined parameters, or adjustable models which allow the simulation inputs to be changed to account for real-life, evolving data.

For day-to-day training drills teams can use historical data about past events to evaluate their performance, improve their response tactics, or build new strategies.

Find out more about how emergency services use modelling tools here

Exercises

Exercises involve running through hypothetical situations and modelled simulations. This allows organisations to determine the responsibilities of various teams and theoretically test the deployment of resources and procedures. For example, understanding how teams gain the information they need and testing critical lines of communication. This type of planning would be most appropriate for large-scale incidents that would require strategic inter-agency collaboration. Such exercises can be run as a purely theoretical (“table-top”) event, involve the participation of real response personnel and assets in a field exercise, or be some hybrid of the two.

Instead of using historical data, planners will formulate the exercise parameters based on the operational objectives of the exercise. This may be to fulfil specific regulatory or training obligations, to test a specific element of the response, or to provide some other training or preparatory benefit. Parameters that may be altered include the type of event, its location, weather conditions, the level of resources available, or the communication channels available. By running multiple possible circumstances, restrictions, or outcomes, response teams can prepare their approaches for many different variations of a scenario.

The UrbanAware platform and HASP Suite

The primary aim of our incident modelling and information management tools, included in our UrbanAware platform and the HASP Suite of tools, is to make CBRN/HazMat response planning more accessible and accurate, and to facilitate seamless integration with other capabilities.

Our advanced modelling capabilities are delivered through intuitive design, so that teams do not require specialist skills to benefit from accurate and reliable intelligence. Riskaware’s CBRN/HazMat tools further facilitate easier information sharing so all organisations and team members involved in a response can more efficiently collaborate and transfer knowledge in order to create integrated strategies.

With sophisticated abilities made readily available to more users, such as hazard prediction and forecasting the spread of a contaminant, responders are able to prioritise their responses in a more timely manner in order to optimise impact mitigation and public health protection.

Get in touch to find out more or download our HASP Suite datasheets for more information.

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