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 that can cause widespread harm. They require specific CBRN defence strategies in order to minimise the potential impact of CBRN threats.

The best approach we can take is to ensure responders have robust planning tools to support CBRN training and the creation of informed and proactive response strategies. With the right intelligence tools, teams can ensure they’re prepared to deal with any potential CBRN environment.

Understanding CBRN hazards 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 military or civil 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?

A CBRN threat occurs when CBRN material is released, or has the potential to be released, in a dangerous way. For example, if a factor containing chemicals has a spill or a leak, or if there is an airborne toxin. CBRN hazards may be caused by accidents, poor safety measures, or by malicious actors.

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 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 incidents 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:

The 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. They may also have lasting mental and emotional impacts. Read more about the impacts of CBRN incidents and how to minimise them

The impacts of CBRN incidents and how to minimise them

How to protect 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.

The key information that responders need to know includes:

  • 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

The role of CBRN intelligence tools

Data analysis is a necessary string in the bow in CBRN incident response. It is what stops stakeholders going in unprepared, instead giving them a clear insight into the actions they should take. For example, modelling or forecasting the next steps in a chemical release allows responders to identify what areas they need to evacuate, how the chemical is likely to behave, and so on.

Let’s look at how stakeholders use CBRN intelligence tools and technologies to gain situational awareness and decision support in this process.

Why use CBRN intelligence solutions?

The primary objective of using scientific models in response to a CBRN incident is to mitigate impact. This could be by containing the hazard, or by minimising people’s health impacts. To do this, stakeholders need CBRN intelligence.

CBRN intelligence can help them quickly and accurately assess the hazard and its potential movements or impact. This data helps authorities make more effective and timely decisions about a response strategy. This allows them to identify several things, including:

– Where to focus their resources based on what areas will be impacted the most

– How many resources need to be deployed and how quickly

– How to safely approach and/or contain the hazard and what equipment they need

– How it will impact people’s health, and therefore what protective actions they need to take for the population

– How effective intervention or strategic deployment methods will be in achieving their goal

– At what level or condition the storage of CBRN material becomes unsafe

Without this data, they may focus their resources in the wrong place, put themselves at risk, or be delayed in deploying a response.

Modelling and simulation for CBRN incidents

The most commonly used solutions are simulations and models that predict the next steps of an incident, such as how it will spread or disperse through an environment.

Historically, organisations had to compromise between the cost, quality, and speed of their simulation solutions. This meant the relevant authorities often had 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.

How our CBRN hazard models work

Our CBRN models employ a variety of capabilities to improve their accuracy and efficiency. This is designed to help military commanders and civil operators 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:

– Using data fusion to enhance model predictions

– Accounting for specific urban environmental factors and their effects, such as meteorology and topography

– Simulating outdoor and indoor dispersion simultaneously

– Modelling the effects on people and infrastructure within the impact area

– Adjusting the model based on the scale of the incident

– Simulating multiple scenarios, including worst- and best-case scenarios

Overall, we factor many different conditions into our models to ensure we get the most accurate and useful outputs possible. When the event is known, we can provide even more accurate data such as times and dates.


Types of CBRN hazard modelling

· Dispersion modelling

CBRN tools can forecast how a hazardous material may spread and disperse in the air. This can be used to examine hypothetical incidents to inform health and safety measures at industrial facilities, determine evacuation plans at events, or test the effectiveness of intervention plans in an urban area, amongst many other applications.

· Combined indoor / outdoor modelling

These models predict how airborne materials will move between indoor and outdoor environments, considering factors like ventilation and doorways. This is particularly useful for areas that are a greater threat, such as government buildings, industrial facilities, or event spaces.

This allows stakeholders to determine whether an evacuation is necessary and, if so, the best strategy.

· Meteorological modelling

Meteorological datasets can be used to help determine what may happen in situations where parameters are unknown. Using years of historical data, combined with carefully planned models, we can produce estimates of the potential hazards presented by a potential incident to inform mitigation and response planning.

Learn more about how we use hazard models and prediction to assess CBRN risks

CBRN training and planning

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 CBRN training for military and civil first responders. 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.

These kinds of models may also help inform organisations like the Department of Health, so they can prepare for the human impacts of any given CBRN incident.

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 expense of training

– Increase 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.

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 a best course of action.

Some useful incident modelling and information management tools that 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 ensures responders receive important situational awareness data more quickly.

· Integration: Enabling the integration of tools makes the transfer and recognition of data even easier, for more timely decisions.


Our CBRN intelligence suite: UrbanAware

UrbanAware is our CBRN 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 the impacts of a CBRN incident

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.

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

2. 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 CBRN 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 air flow, ventilation and other factors. Integrated models allow responders to understand the risks to each environment, and how contaminants may travel between the two. YOU MAY LIKE: 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 thelikely 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

CBRN technology consultancy

Every incident is different. The parameters from one scenario to the next could vary wildly , and depending on the scenario, stakeholders may be focused on very different data.

Many questions could be asked – the answers to which can vary dramatically based on small environmental conditions. If there’s a material release in an urban area, how many people will be affected? Where will the material travel or disperse over time? What areas need to be cordoned off, if any? Is it safer for people to stay inside or to be evacuated?

That’s why bespoke solutions are so important for the management of CBRN risks. We take into account your priorities to create customised CBRN intelligence tools – whether it’s speed or accuracy, real-time incident analysis or simulations for training, key decision support or in-depth analysis for safety reports.

Often, CBRN incidents are high-risk scenarios with multifaceted influences. Therefore, bespoke solutions delivered through our experienced consultancy ensure nothing is left to chance, and that you are equipped with the best intelligence for the situation.

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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