An Alternate Approach to CBRN Operations

In a previous post, I discussed the difference between CBRN and HazMat Operations. Here, I  suggest an alternative approach to CBRN operations that can greatly aid in mission planning, equipment selection, training development, and a host of other issues where CBRN/HazMat worlds collide and tend to get muddled. The goal here is clarity and simplicity. If you know your target, you can quickly acquire distance and direction. In each and every case, I have personally carried out real-world missions in each target category, and this system was one I developed based on that experience.

Alternate Approach

Much of CBRN operations centers on sampling and information collection. Therefore, I suggest an approach that categorizes the sampling target by a new typology that differs from emergency response (where the focus is mitigation). This can aid in equipment selection and methods utilized, while still taking into account the unique requirements and constraints of CBRN operations. This approach increases the likelihood of capturing the proper information from any operation, which may not always be a CBRN material sample, and can assist in CBRN collection training and standard operating procedure development. It incorporates elements of the traditional OSHA/NFPA approach in a way that takes into account the unique nature of CBRN Operations.

Target Categories

This alternative approach can drive equipment selection and focuses on reducing equipment and logistical requirements to the minimum necessary to accomplish the mission. The approach uses categories of CBRN sample collection “missions” that use a target based criteria. Each of these target categories requires a different approach and methodology, dependent on the nature of the collect. There are four major categories of CBRN operation, and a fifth ancillary mission set:

1)      The “obvious” –These are most analogous to HazMat incident response. These are sampling missions where the use of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons or agents already occurred, and the collector seeks to sample the agent, or the individuals exposed to the agent. These missions may also include sampling of unused munitions or agents in storage or discovered as part of an improvised device. For instance, a mission to tap and sample a chemical agent artillery shell or a 1-ton storage container falls into this categor. Even in cases where the presence of an agent is in doubt, the nature of an “obvious” mission is that there are clear sample points that anyone can take, even those with minimal or low training. Obvious missions may also include sampling at suspected sites destroyed through bombing or other kinetic means. The sampling mission may occur under a variety of conditions, permissive, non-permissive, etc. but the sampling activity itself is straightforward. Most emergency response scenarios in homeland defense fall into this category. Likewise, traditional battlefield sampling missions fall into this category – the kind the M93A1 Fox carries out. Limited in scope, narrowly focused on a known set of agents, carried out by individuals who may or may not be “experts” in CBRN. In all cases, sampling and verification of agent is the primary focus of these missions. Most military equipment designed for CBRN will work in these scenarios, from M8 paper to IMS point detectors. This is the mission set where the majority of military focused CRBN missions fall, and where civilian HazMat plays in the CBRN world. It is about response and it usually happens "right of boom."

2)      Clandestine or state sponsored small scale laboratory – These are sampling missions where there is a clear, small-scale production or test process associated with laboratory scale operations. The lab may be in a basement of a remote farmhouse, or in a multi-million dollar research facility. The approach, however, will be the same – understanding and determining information about the process involved is often more important than any sample taken. These missions require a high level of knowledge and sophistication to carry out. Again, they occur under a variety of external conditions, but the process is generally the focus of these missions. Many times the initial focus is actually quite simple - are they making drugs, explosives, or something else - the CBRN mission being the something else. Likewise, these missions tend to take on an intelligence and information gathering focus. A laptop or notebook may be more important than the lab (which may or may not be fully functional or completed). These are left of boom missions and the are the world of specialized CBRN teams like CST-WMDs, Tech Escort, and other government assets like the FBI HRMU/HMRT.

3)      Industrial/State Level Production – these missions are even more difficult than laboratory scale missions as the number of factors involved are even more pronounced. A well-trained chemist can easily identify a laboratory scale process. Determining the process activities at a large industrial scale facility are another matter entirely. Sample collection from these facilities is particularly problematic, as is determining the process utilized. Many of these facilities are multi-use or dual use. What is a surfactant plant today, can convert to organophosphate production tomorrow. Consequently, these are the most difficult of CBRN operations where agent might be present. Fortunately, a multitude of approaches exists to address these problems, often involving external expert support from trained and experienced engineers and scientists. Again, the process is the focus of these missions, but as a particular site might be only part of that process, these operations are always about information collection and piecing together a bigger picture. This is the target set where folks like DTRA, the IAEA, and the OPCW earn their money.

4)      Cleaned Sites – these kinds of missions were incredibly common during the UNSCOM/UNMOVIC/Iraq Survey Group era. Typically referred to as “proving the negative” missions, they are actually two missions - proving that something is not occurring, or determining if something did occur at a site that has been “cleaned.” These are two of the more frustrating collects for CBRN operators because there are no processes to evaluate, nor clear sample points like those associated with an obvious mission. Yet, there are methodologies that can prove useful for these kind of sampling and information collection activities (covered in a future post). This target set is also likely to involve folks like DTRA, the IAEA, and the OPCW, but not exclusively, a suspected small scale site may have moved before it is secured - a headache for a CST or Tech Escort team, or FBI HMRT/HMRU where instead of asking "what happened here," the more important (and immediate) question is "where did they go?" 

5)      Ancillary Mission: Protection – These are not CBRN mission focused, rather they are operations carried out in support of personnel protection that may or may not include operations in contaminated or potentially contaminated environments. This mission set includes the sort of CBRN based extraction scenarios employed in protecting high ranking government and military officials, and operations carried out in support of a broader facility security/protection program, to include mail screening, training for security personnel on evacuation, police and security training on operations against active shooters in a contaminated environment, etc. It is a catchall for a lot of stuff, but it all fits into the same category. The mission focus is personnel protection and security from CBRN threats. These missions are not discussed in detail herein, but are still an important consideration as it relates to equipment, training, and PPE selection, which varies across the foregoing categories. Likewise, decon requirements run the gamut from the most basic to large-scale mass casualty decontamination.

A Note About Equipment and Knowledge Sets

Using the above target categorization, PPE, decon, and equipment requirements are greatest at the “Obvious” end of the spectrum and diminish as they move toward the "Cleared Site" target set.

However, operator training, knowledge, and ability increases in the same direction. Many obvious missions can be carried out by individuals with basic training and instruction, though some, like those involving live munitions, may require specialized EOD or Tech Escort based training and personnel. As you move up the ladder from small scale to industrial processes, knowledge and experience requirements increase dramatically, even as PPE and equipment requirements diminish. An inspector at a chemical plant is unlikely to be in any significant PPE, but they are also likely to be a chemical engineer, not a recent CBRN AIT graduate.  

Cleaned sites are a special category, and one I will address further in a future post. Suffice to say, they don't require much in the way of PPE or equipment (outside of two key devices) but they do require a certain ingenuity that can't  be trained or taught, though training and instruction can improve the ingenuity already present in some individuals.

Protection (an ancillary mission set) can vary widely in PPE and knowledge requirements, based on the specific mission of the organization/individuals involved, another reason they are categorized separately here and I'm not going to really talk about them. If your target set falls into this category, you usually know what you need.

In future posts, I will be discussing each of these categories (with the exception of the Protection) in some detail. Stay tuned, and be sure and like our facebook page to stay up to date on everything on