A quick guide to CBRN threats, response, and solutions - Riskaware

A quick guide to CBRN threats, response, and solutions

CBRN/HazMat incidents are an unfortunate reality. The best approach we can take is to ensure responders have robust planning and response strategies in order to reduce the likelihood and impact of these kinds of incidents.

Understanding CBRN incidents and how they impact people is key to creating informed approaches. In this article, we discuss CBRN incidents and how they affect public health, as well as how responders can be empowered to act efficiently and effectively.

What is CBRN?

CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear. Often this term is used to describe incidents that involve one of these materials, ranging from an industrial accident to a terrorist attack. Similarly, HazMat refers to hazardous materials which pose a threat to human and environmental health.

CBRN defence includes activities, processes, and solutions designed to mitigate the risks of these incidents and protect against the impacts they may cause.

What is a CBRN threat?

CBRN/HazMat incidents are complex to detect and combat. These events can take place in a range of environments, but urban incidents pose a particular threat to the public. A CBRN/HazMat incident has the potential to cause severe impacts to people, infrastructure, and economies, and so although they are not frequent occurrences, they are still considered to be a significant threat to society.

The National Risk Register for the UK outlines in detail the many types of risks and challenges that are posed to the nation, spanning environmental, CBRN, cyber and societal domains.

CBRN Impacts on public health

The severity of CBRN impacts will depend on the incident itself – the characteristics of the hazard, the environment, and the conditions in which it occurs – as well as the efficiency of the response. Urban CBRN events have great potential to cause long-lasting and devastating impacts to people, places, and economies.

Short-term impacts:

Short-term impacts include the direct impacts on people’s health as well as the economic investment into response and clean-up.

Long-term impacts:

Impacts of an incident can last for many years. Economies can be affected on a macro level and incident areas can become hotspots for health issues and pollution and have lasting mental and emotional impacts.

The impacts of CBRN incidents and how to minimise them

CBRN modelling and incident response

Protecting public health

Protecting public health is the first and most important aim when a CBRN incident occurs. It’s the job of emergency services, first responders, authorities and other government or private organisations to respond to these events and try to minimise the impact to the surrounding population.

The more informed their response strategies, the more people they will be able to protect. Gaining as much information as possible is, therefore, a priority when an incident occurs.

Certain CBRN knowledge will already be known, from training knowledge to pre-established information about hazardous materials. Responders however also need to understand as much as possible about the behaviours and characteristics of the event.

Key information responders need to know include:

  • The nature of the incident and the material
  • The location and size of the incident
  • The severity of the incident
  • How the incident might spread
  • What the potential impacts are

Find out how responders can gain this information

CBRN hazard tools

What is the role of CBRN modelling?

The primary objective of using scientific models in response to a CBRN incident is to further the ambition of protecting public health. By quickly and accurately predicting the potential hazard, the data they provide helps authorities make more effective decisions about their response strategy.

Historically, organisations had to compromise between cost, quality, and speed of simulations. This meant the relevant authorities often have limited incident information, resulting in less appropriate responses which ultimately ended up increasing their associated costs.

UrbanAware solves this problem by introducing high-quality CBRN hazard prediction with reduced entry barriers. This makes accurate models accessible to those who need it, enabling better, more informed decisions about incident response strategies. The fast-running platform provides outputs and predictions at speed, making it suitable for timely response for critical and/or ongoing events, as well as advanced planning.

Advanced modelling concepts

CBRN models employ a variety of capabilities to improve their accuracy and efficiency; this is designed to help incident commanders maximise the value of their available intelligence and help first responders achieve the optimal impact from their actions.

The key features of the UrbanAware CBRN system include:

  • Data fusion to enhance model predictions
  • Accounting for specific urban environmental factors and their effects
  • Simulating outdoor and indoor dispersion simultaneously
  • Modelling the effects on people and infrastructure


Other applications

As well as informing a real-time CBRN incident response, simulation and modelling can be applied to help authorities prepare for any potential future events.

Firstly, creating realistic and accurate simulations is essential for effective first responder training. Synthetic data can be used during training exercises; depicting how a CBRN incident could potentially unfold and the hazards it may cause. This allows responders to take part in immersive exercises where they can test and optimise strategies.

Dispersion and effects modelling also helps organisations plan for any ‘what-if’ CBRN scenario. A variety of simulations that consider different conditions can be conducted to evaluate how an event can impact a specific area. Considering this, decision-makers can prepare robust mitigation strategies and evacuation plans well in advance of any potential incident, optimising public protection.

Benefits of incident models

  • Gain situational awareness and impact assessment
  • Analyse different scenarios and the likelihood of different event outcomes
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of intervention measures
  • Target resources and deployment of response
  • Reduce the expense of training
  • Increase the safety of response and training
  • Create more accurate and realistic response plans for incidents

Emergency CBRN response

A CBRN or HazMat incident can spread quickly. If appropriate action isn’t taken quickly, lives could be lost, so the people responding need to be prepared. CBRN incident modelling tools are designed to empower operators and responders with the right insights to help them create an effective response.

Who responds to a CBRN or HazMat incident?

Various stakeholders will be involved in organising a CBRN/HazMat response. Depending on the event, this can include anyone from first responders to military groups. Each country will have different protocols, and different agencies responsible for certain events.

How do emergency services respond to a CBRN or HazMat incident?

Stakeholders often need to integrate their response. The incidents can be widespread, fast-moving, and complex, introducing more challenges than “conventional” incidents. This also requires a higher level of planning and coordination between groups.

Incident modelling and information management tools help facilitate this process – giving groups the information needed to decide on a collective strategy and deploy the right teams.

CBRN: How modelling support incident response

What tools do emergency services use in a CBRN or HazMat event?

Emergency services need to respond efficiently and effectively to an incident in order to protect lives. This means they need the right information, quickly and clearly. A variety of information management tools are used to help them analyse an incident and determine the best course of action.

Some useful incident modelling and information management tools emergency services use are:

  • Forward Modelling: Predicting the likely movements of the CBRN threat helps authorities assess which areas are at risk and create accurate cordons.
  • Route Planning: These tools consider hazard levels in different areas to identify the safest and most efficient routes for key movements, such as evacuations.
  • Source Term Estimation: Using these, the original location, release time, and qualities of an incident can be determined to further inform responders.
  • Automation: Automating certain tools increases ensures responders receive important situational awareness data more quickly.
  • Integration: Enabling integration of tools makes the transfer and recognition of data even easier, for more timely decisions.



UrbanAware is our situational awareness and decision support tool. It has been designed to support emergency services, military organisations, and other incident responders to plan, train, and respond to CBRN events.

Combining modern software configuration and deployment paradigms with validated real-world deployment, UrbanAware allows users to obtain actionable intelligence and in-depth analysis on CBRN/HazMat threats.

UrbanAware can be deployed for a wide range of use cases and allows seamless knowledge sharing between users and teams.

UrbanAware CBRN intelligence

UrbanAware can be used throughout the lifecycle of an event, providing end-to-end intelligence, support, and awareness.

  1. Before – High-fidelity modelling and simulation for training and planning.
  2. During – Fast-running models to provide situational awareness and predictions throughout incident response.
  3. After – Analysis and evaluation of impacts, plus modelling to support targeted recovery efforts.

Mitigating impacts

UrbanAware can be used for both hypothetical and actual incidents. Ultimately, it is designed to give users the most comprehensive and useful knowledge about an incident so they are in the best possible position to act.

Training and planning – Users can simulate an incident to proactively create response strategies, train teams, and inform other defensive actions.

Timely response – Users can quickly gain results and analyse an incident to inform their response in the moment.

Situational awareness – Users can receive awareness of an incident and it’s impacts at every stage.

Our unique capabilities

Indoor dispersion models

We have developed the ability to model airborne contaminants within indoor spaces. The Rapid Indoor Dispersion Tool (RIDT) was developed for Defence Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl) allowing the organisation to predict the movements of a pollutant and visualise how this may affect people exposed.

This capability helps to understand how ventilation can reduce the risk of contamination, from airborne hazards such as COVID-19, and is integrated into our UrbanAware platform to model hazards in indoor environments.

Learn more about RIDT

Integrated dispersion models

Dispersion models predict the next steps of how an airborne material may develop to provide critical situational awareness to users.

It’s very possible that a plume released outdoors could infiltrate buildings, and vice versa. However, an airborne release will behave very differently in each environment, due to airflow, ventilation and other factors. Integrated models allow responders to understand the risks to each environment, and how contaminants may travel between the two.

The need for integrated indoor-outdoor dispersion models

Example scenarios:

Indoor source term: If a contaminant is released indoors, models can determine how the contaminant may travel and impact people’s health.

Outdoor/indoor infiltration: In the case of an outdoor release, models can show whether a contaminant may move indoors and therefore what action the people inside should take.

Combined modelling: Combined models model the relationship between indoor and outdoor environments and how a contaminant may travel between them.

Integrated data

To provide the most comprehensive and accurate intelligence possible, we use integrated data sources to support our modelling capabilities. Our GEDIS tool is the database which powers our platform to deliver rapid downwind hazard assessment.

GEDIS manages high-resolution geospatial data. It performs spatial analysis to generate derived parameters from this data, then feeds this into modelling components on-demand during execution.

We have worked with US and defence organisations, such as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to apply this capability into real-world solutions and integrate it with other core hazard prediction capabilities.

Read more about our work with GEDIS here

The HASP Suite

The Hazard Assessment Simulation and Prediction (HASP) Suite is our software toolset providing superior situational awareness and decision support in the CBRN/HazMat domain.

The HASP Suite is comprised of a number of individual components, each tackling a different aspect of the CBRN/HazMat challenge to create complete situational awareness. Through the integration of these modelling capabilities, underpinned by powerful data sources, the HASP Suite enables rapid and accurate hazard intelligence. The various tools provide complete analytical capability for CBRN/HazMat incidents, including simulation, detection, analysis, prediction, and protection.

The HASP Suite is available within our UrbanAware platform and as a standalone suite of tools.


What it does: UDM predicts the dispersion and movements of contaminant releases within urban and non-urban environments.

How it informs response: UDM can be used to model scenarios that lead to the release of airborne hazards. It provides outputs to inform the following:

  • Downwind hazard predictions
  • Cordon requirements
  • Evacuation needs
  • Road transport safety
  • Decontamination prioritisation


What it does: GEDIS is tailored to model large-scale urban geography, combining city and terrain topography with thematic data for comprehensive geospatial outputs.

How it informs response: As discussed, GEDIS integrates with several of the HASP Suite tools, for incidents such as an industrial leak, to enable enhanced fidelity hazard modelling.


What it does: USS combines both indoor and outdoor CBRN/HazMat dispersion models, providing increased situational awareness in complex urban environments.

How it informs response: USS is especially useful for high-value buildings to help determine the most appropriate protection strategy for the people inside. It provides outputs to inform the following:

  • Building evacuation needs
  • People’s safety inside vs outside
  • Safety of different rooms
  • The effect of closing ventilation routes
  • The impact of people’s movements
  • Contaminant spread


What it does: SPT helps define the optimal locations to place sensors/detection equipment to maximise the protection of key areas and optimise resources.

How it informs response: SPT provides decision support which leads to more effective CBRN response. It provides outputs to inform the following:

  • Contaminant detection timing requirements
  • Sensor reading accuracy requirements
  • Contaminant movements
  • Sensor deployment strategy optimisation


What it does: STE provides both CBRN/HazMat source parameter estimation and downwind hazard effects forecasting to empower real-time situational awareness.

How it informs response: STE fuses sensor data to estimate the likely incident source location, the amount and type of material released, and the predicted downwind transport hazard. It provides outputs to inform the following:

  • Initiates modelling
  • CBRN alerts
  • Response direction
  • Resource deployment

RELATED: 5 Information management tools for public health

To learn more about CBRN/HazMat incident response and how Riskaware’s incident modelling capabilities and consultancy can help, get in touch or explore our insights.

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