|ET: What is CBRN warfare and how does it impact us in Industry?
Col. RA: CBRN is an acronym for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear, CBRN Warfare is the offensive use of CBRN material in warfare. This could be in the form of Atomic weapons and/or Chemical and Biological Warfare agent dispersal by munitions, rockets and bombs. CBRN Warfare has been practised in various forms since the Mahabharata (5,000 BC). Evidence has been found of radiological damage and nuclear devastation in the sites of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Radioactivity in the skeletal remains found was 50 times greater than normal.
CBRN Warfare was extensively practised during the World Wars and even by the Iraqi Army against Kurdish tribesmen in North West Iraq. The only use of atomic (nuclear) weapons was during the World War II by the US against Japan at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 06 and 09 Aug 1945. Radiological weapons or ‘dirty bombs’, as they are commonly called are explosive devices packed with radiation emitting substances in powder form. This radioactive powder is dispersed by the explosion and each particle is a radiation emitter.
However, today CBRN Warfare by State Actors is more or less negated by enacting Conventions, Confidence Building Measures (CBM), Pacts and Treaties. Hence CBRN Warfare has taken a different form. It manifests in the form of use of such material by terrorists and Non-State Actors. Since the last couple of decades, terrorist organisations across the globe have been experimenting and trying out terrorist acts using CBR material. It is but a matter of time when this threat begins to manifest in India. Coupled with this is the rapid industrialisation, increased (and mostly uncontrolled) use of chemicals and radiological substances, bio-engineering and genetic research, disregard to waste disposal norms (industrial and medical) and gross public and administration apathy to rising threats.
Industry: Industries, especially Chemical, Petrochemical, Paint, Fertilizer and Pesticide industry, use highly toxic chemicals which can by themselves be used or can form precursors to lethal Chemical Warfare agents. It is therefore incumbent on such industry to be their own police and ensure (for the good of mankind) that chemicals being used have the necessary clearances from the authorities, proper secure storage is catered for and waste material is disposed off as per environmental norms under proper supervision. Pilferages, accidents and spillages/overruns must be reported and investigated. Necessary safety equipment, response plans and medical aid must be catered for. It is a great CSR issue that must be followed.
ET: Is it true that the world has come close to disaster through weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or is this in the arena of science fiction?
Col. RA: Use of WMD by state actors is a dying notion. Most states have signed Conventions, Confidence Building Measures (CBM), Pacts and Treaties to help curb the use of such weapons. A number of states have also formalised bilateral pacts and treaties against the use of WMDs. So, it is less likely that State Parties would use WMD in armed conflicts. However, there are some ‘rouge’ states that have not signed or enacted such pacts or treaties. They remain potent threats to the rest of the world and especially to their adversaries. Use of WMD by Non-State actors aided or abetted by State Parties is the more likely scenario. We have already seen ‘Proxy Wars’ and Cross Border Terrorism incidents. It is just the choice of weapon which could turn any of these into CBRN or WMD incidents. Ease of manufacture, freely available literature on how to make or construct such weapons (aka internet knowledge) and wide choice of off the shelf precursor material has made it simpler for rouge elements, trained militants and global terrorist organisations to acquire WMD.
Fig : Probability Vs Impact of CBRN Weapons
ET: How can we raise awareness amongst citizens that CBRN issues are not esoteric matters left to national policy makers alone? Is there a role that ordinary citizens can play in this matter?
Col. RA: Until the US 9/11 attacks and closer home the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, CBRN was a closed subject in the domain of military. But, the world has now woken up to the threat of CBRN weapons against common public via the terrorism route. Homeland Security has gained prominence and Home Ministries, Police Forces and Paramilitary Organisations are getting increasingly sensitised to CBRN threats. It is time the common public took notice of this looming threat. Unfortunately, poverty levels and illiteracy force majority of the Indian population to focus their worries on basic survival due to hunger. Then there is gross public apathy against anything wrong happening around them. We are a nation where a few hundred less (read dead) is almost a welcome state. Corruption and scams have degraded Administration response to grave threats. Just generating awareness on CBRN threats is a huge (and seemingly insurmountable) issue.
CBRN Incidents demand immediate response to save lives. Casualties can manifest within minutes. There is the ‘Golden Hour’, or the first hour which is most critical for administering treatment (antidotes) to save lives. With the given size of our nation and the meagre resources (trained response forces and equipment), it is nearly impossible to react with the requisite trained responders to CBRN incidents in most parts of the country. It thus becomes incumbent on the available ‘First Responders’, the common man on the street or the local beat policeman to respond to CBRN situations. These are the people we need to train, to be made aware and to be capable to respond to CBRN incidents.
There are various methods to enhance awareness levels for responders and general public. Some of these are listed below:
- Lectures, workshops and talks in colleges and high school for the youth
- Special classes and workshops for District Administration personnel
- Training and awareness workshops for Police and Paramilitary personnel
- Corporate workshops and mock drills to display required skills and standard operating procedures in CBRN incidents
- Collective mock drills to practise and hone response skills by response personnel
- Creation and maintenance of resource Database at State and District level
- Creation of Citizen Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) in colleges, corporate offices, residential societies, factories and such institutions
- Special training to Civic Bodies, NGOs Medics and Paramedics to handle CBRN casualties
Apart from raising awareness levels, it is very important to adequately equip the response forces with state of the art CBRN protective equipment. Similarly, citizens have a responsibility to aid in vigilance and reporting of unnatural circumstances, unaccompanied packages/bags, suspicious persons and occurrence of unusual events. For this, there is a need to display and provide contact details of key functionaries, help lines of emergency services and circulate Do’s and Don’ts to the public.
Industry has a major role to play in prevention of CBRN Incidents. Some of these are listed below:
- Ensuring only the required raw material/chemicals are procured and stored as per safety norms
- Prevent pilferages and thefts. Report any to authorities immediately on occurrence
- Maintain machines, pipelines and systems in proper condition to avoid accidents, explosions, spills, fires and vapour leaks
- Train and maintain an onsite response team adequately equipped to deal with CBRN incidents
- Upgrade and check equipment and expertise of Response team periodically so as to maintain optimum response capability at all times
- Devise and implement Standard Operating Procedures for CBRN Incident Management. Practise these as mock drills at random times
- Ensure strict measures for waste disposal (liquid, solid and gaseous) as per laid down environmental norms
- Procure specialist equipment for CBRN Incident Management, Personnel Protection and Waste Disposal
- Periodically carry out surprise checks to ensure SOPs are being followed
- Generate awareness and follow guidelines for effective CSR by industry. This will lead to the staff carrying the message to their social environments and spreading awareness and best practices to other areas.
ET: You are a specialized security consultant in a niche area. What challenges do you face in raising the profile of your specialised function?
Col. RA: CBRN Security is indeed a niche area. Very few people are qualified in this field. Most of them are (or were) in the Armed Forces. The Civil Administration is practically unaware of the nuances of CBRN Security and Incident Response. So the first challenge is to generate awareness amongst the official responders. A beginning has been made by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) by forming the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). There are 10 such battalions in India and are trying to reach out to the key personnel and likely responders, to train them in CBRN incident response. However awareness woes and apathy degrade such efforts. Fortunately, India has not seen a CBRN incident of large magnitude in the recent years. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is forgotten by all, except by the victims and a handful of activists. It therefore becomes difficult to make people understand the frightful impact of BRN incidents.
The second challenge is the lack of market. As such incidents are rare, there is practically no industry and market for CBRN equipment in India. Most companies engaged in producing CBRN equipment are doing so for the Armed Forces. The civil domain for CBRN equipment is still latent. As a result, there are really no jobs for CBRN specialists in India. In the US and EU, CBRN industry is a major part of the defence and Homeland Security industry. Indian administration, and more importantly the industry, is yet to fully understand the need for detection devices, protective equipment, decontamination (or detoxification) and specialised casualty management measures post a CBRN incident.
ET: What else would you like to share with our readers about this little known area which has the potential to change the world around us?
Col. RA: CBRN threats are a reality and already looming large on us. We need to wake up to this potent life threatening issue and empower ourselves with knowledge, expertise and response measures. It is not only the concern of the polity or the administration. It is every citizen’s concern and the sooner we understand this and make ourselves capable to respond to CBRN threats, the better will be our resilience and surer will be our survival.
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