Dealing with CBRNE
The Threat is Real
The citizens of the U.S. should be very aware of the potential for a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. With each passing day, foreign and domestic terrorist groups appear more ready and willing to use weapons of mass destruction against an unsuspecting and largely defenseless civilian population. It is the specialized problem of dealing with chemical agents, biological threats, and radiological hazards that led ASP to add this module to our Situational Awareness Course. Here are a few of the general responses to a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attack we want you to be familiar with:
► Cover your body, especially nose and mouth.
► Wash any exposed part of your body with soap and water.
► Seek medical attention as soon as possible.
► Obey local authorities and first responders.
Chemical agents include nerve agents, blister agents, cyanide, pulmonary intoxicants (phosgene), and incapacitating agents. The following information will help with the detection of a chemical attack. A chemical attack or incident may not be immediately apparent. Many agents are odorless and colorless. Be alert to indicators of such agents:
♦ Droplets of oily film on surfaces.
♦ Dead or dying animals in the area.
♦ Liquid sprays or vapors.
♦ Odors (bitter almonds, peach kernels, newly mowed hay, or green grass).
♦ Low-lying clouds of fog unrelated to weather; clouds of dust; or suspended, possibly colored particles.
Signs of Nerve agents include:
♦ The most common effects are miosis (pinpoint pupils), rhinorrhea (runny nose), and dyspnea (difficulty breathing) followed by;
♦ Pronounced dyspnea, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and weakness;
♦ Severe exposure includes immediate loss of consciousness, seizures, apnea, paralysis, and death.
♦ Blister agents damage include:
♦ Most chemical agents are liquids, often aerosols, and though some effects are delayed, most induce an immediate response.
♦ Attackers might dress unusual (long-sleeved shirts or overcoats in the summertime) or wearing breathing protection, particularly in areas where large numbers of people tend to congregate, such as subways, or stadiums.
♦ Victims might display symptoms of nausea, difficulty breathing, convulsions, disorientation, or patterns of illness inconsistent with natural disease.
Defense in a Chemical Attack:
♦ Protection of breathing airways is key. Unless you have a gas mask, the only sure way to protect an airway is to get away from the source of the agent. While evacuating, cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief, coat sleeve, or any piece of cloth to provide some means of protection.
♦ Move upwind from the source of attack.
♦ If evacuation is impossible, move outdoors or to a room on a higher floor. Many agents are heavier than air and will stay close to the ground.
♦ If indoors and no escape is possible, close all windows and exterior doors; shut down air conditioning or heating systems to prevent air circulation.
♦ Cover bare arms and legs and bandage any cuts or abrasions. If splashed with an agent, wipe it off immediately with lots of warm soapy water or a diluted 10:1 bleach solution.
♦ Many chemical agents will break down when exposed to sun, diluted with water, or dissipated in high winds.
♦ If water is not available, use talcum powder or flour to decontaminate liquid agents. Sprinkle liberally over affected skin areas, wait 30 seconds, gently wipe off with a rag or gauze pad. Get immediate medical attention, even if the exposure is thought to be limited.
Biological warfare is the use of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) or toxins to produce death or disease in humans, animals, or plants. Detection of a biological attack:
♦ Public officials may not immediately provide information on what you should do. It will take time to determine what the illness is, how it should be treated, and who is in danger. Watch television, listen to radio, or check the Internet for official news and information, including signs and symptoms of the disease, areas in danger, if medications or vaccinations are being distributed, and where you should seek medical attention if you become ill.
♦ The first evidence of an attack may be when you notice symptoms of the disease caused by exposure to an agent. Be suspicious of any symptoms you notice, but do not assume that any illness is a result of the attack.
♦ Biological threats may show initial symptoms like common ailments such as the flu or allergies.
Defense in a biological attack parallels the standard approach to any natural disease outbreak such as flu, Rift Valley Fever, meningitis etc.
Use the following guidance:
→ If you suspect a biological attack, avoid infected areas and watch for signs of illness in yourself and others.
→ Move away quickly.
→ Washing your hands frequently with soap and water is a primary means of avoiding infection
→ Listen to the media for official instructions.
→ Get immediate medical attention, even if the exposure is thought to be limited.
Many of you have heard about the anthrax scare a few years back when envelopes filled with anthrax were sent to many locations in the U.S. Here are few ways you can identify suspicious mail or packages:
♦ Be alert for suspicious packages:
♦ Unusual or unknown place of origin.
♦ No return address.
♦ Excessive postage.
♦ Abnormal or unusual size.
♦ Oily stains on the package.
♦ Attached wires or strings.
♦ Incorrect spelling on the label.
♦ Return address different than the postmark.
♦ Appearance of foreign style handwriting.
♦ Peculiar odor (Some explosives smell like shoe polish or almonds.)
♦ Unusual heaviness or lightness.
♦ Uneven balance or shape.
♦ Springiness in the box walls.
♦ If you suspect a package is a threat: don't cut tape, strings, or other wrappings or immerse it in water. These could cause an explosive devic to detonate.
♦ Never touch or move a suspicious package or letter.
Terrorists or criminals using radioactive material or a device constitutes a plausible threat.
Such an incident could occur in one of five ways:
1. Simple radiological device.
2. Radiological dispersal device. This is what is known as a dirty bomb and is made by combining explosives with stolen radioactive material, say from a hospital or other location.
3. Reactor or nuclear facility sabotage or attack.
4. Improvised nuclear device.
5. Nuclear weapon (see our articles on EMP attacks and “Thinking the Unthinkable” for more information).
Detection of a radiological attack is important to recognize in order to protect yourself. Although the explosive blast will be immediately obvious, the presence of radiation will not be known until trained personnel with specialized equipment are on the scene. It would be safer to assume radiological contamination has occurred; particularly in an urban setting or near other likely terrorist targets, take the proper precautions.
Nuclear and Explosives Threats
Here are a few measures to defend yourself in a radiological attack:
♦ If the explosion or radiological release occurs inside, get out immediately and seek safe shelter.
♦ If the release occurs outside, and you are outdoors: seek shelter indoors immediately in the nearest undamaged building.
♦ If appropriate shelter is not available, move as rapidly as is safe upwind and away from the location of the explosive blast. Then seek appropriate shelter as soon as possible.
♦ Listen for official instructions and follow directions.
♦ If the release occurs outside, and you are indoors: seek shelter immediately, preferably underground or in an interior room of a building, placing as much distance and dense shielding as possible between you and the outdoors where the radioactive material may be.
♦ If you have time, turn off ventilation and heating systems, close windows, vents, fireplace dampers, exhaust fans, and clothes dryer vents. Retrieve your disaster supply kit and a battery-powered radio and take them to your shelter room.
♦ Seal windows and external doors that do not fit snugly with duct tape to reduce infiltration of radioactive particles. Plastic sheeting will not provide shielding from radioactivity or from blast effects of a nearby explosion.
♦ Listen for official instructions and follow directions.
After finding safe shelter, those who may have been exposed to radioactive material should decontaminate themselves. To do this, remove and bag your clothing (and isolate the bag away from you and others) and shower thoroughly with soap and water. Seek medical attention after officials indicate it is safe to leave shelter.
Follow these additional guidelines after an Radiological Dispersal Device (RDD) event:
♦ Continue listening to your radio or watch the television for instructions from local officials, whether you have evacuated or sheltered-in-place.
♦ Do not return to or visit an RDD incident location for any reason.
Defense in a Nuclear Attack:
♦ If you are not in the area affected by the blast, consider sheltering in place and tightly close doors and windows.
♦ Use duct tape and plastic to keep out radioactive particles.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IED):
An IED can be almost anything with any type of material and initiator. It is a "homemade" device that is designed to cause death or injury by using explosives alone or in combination with toxic chemicals, biological toxins, or radiological material. IEDs can be produced in varying sizes, functioning methods, containers, and delivery methods. IEDs can utilize commercial or military explosives, homemade explosives, or military ordnance and ordnance components.
♦ IEDs can be disguised as everyday objects. Look for:
→ Suspicious objects and packaging.
→ Unattended items that could conceal a bomb (suitcase, briefcase, flower planter, trash can, parked cars).
→ Items with unusual batteries, wires, cables, and strings.
Though they can vary widely in shape and form, IEDs share a common set of components and consist of the following:
→ A switch/trigger with a power source for the switch/trigger (could be mechanical).
→ An initiator (fuze).
→ Main charge (explosive fill).
→ A container.