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Terrorism & Defence Failures

"The Need for Robust Resilience & Defensive Planning"


The threat of terrorism has been well explained and defined by government’s world wide. These governments have spelt out the nature of threat, risk and hazard and have committed huge parts of their national budgets to their countries preparedness and defence. The logic of prepare for the worst and hope for the best may have resulted in the waste of budgetary resources as individual procurement organisations used military doomsday assessments for civilian budget disposal.

The risks and hazards of CBR (chemical -biological- radiological ) agents are well understood by the military and they can reasonably be said to be the most experienced people to assess human exposure and collateral damage in warfare. This is based on the fact that they or their cohorts designed and developed the typical agent and delivery technique

Main priorities for the military were to kill or incapacitate the enemy and protect their own personnel from threatened or considered exposure. Casualty’s rates in war are seen as acceptable trade off between budget and fighting ability.

This paper explores the possible diametrically opposite requirements of military and civilian planning and reflective procurement.


Knowledge and competent advice was essential in the initial planning for civilian defence and resilience budget spending. The obvious choice for information regarding CBR was the military as they have for years trained and equipped for CBR warfare.

This may have been a mistake in the procurement of civilian defence. Not only are the defence and reaction parameters different but so are the objectives. Procurement parameters between military and civilian defence should therefore be expected to be mismatched, but is this generally recognised?

Military Focus

The military fighting force is generally formed by fit young men, given comprehensive and first class training and adequate equipment. With an objective of survival and ability to reduce injury or exposure they could simply take shelter and wait as technology supported them. They possibly had no need to fight or do anything except shelter. Few people in typical military CBR protective suits would be able to fight or do anything for more than a few minutes due to fatigue or heat stress caused by failures in their equipment design.

The reality is that although they are protected, their level of protection is sometimes only high enough to reduce and not eliminate exposure. This would enable them to fight on in the tactical arena but not necessarily survive for more than a few days. The CBR hazards faced by the military include lethal agents designed to kill or incapacitate. Radiation risks vary from alpha, beta, to gamma and time distance can be said to be main defences. Biological agents are usually seen as slow acting and can sometimes be treated by prophylaxis or antibiotics. Chemical agents however provide the real fear for active servicemen due to their speed of effect and often lethality.

The military assessment will often recognise the benefits of tactical weapons used against limited troop numbers and localised battle areas. The use of wide scale CBR agents is unlikely or indeed that useful, due to dissipation, and or ability to simply defend due to the alerted exposure. Long lasting effects of continuing contamination are not especially relevant as natural dilution, evaporation or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are used in the short term and evacuation is usually possible where persistent agents are utilised. Significantly servicemen can to some degree be seen as expendable ratios.

Civilian Focus

The civilian population however do not see themselves as expendable; have laws not PPE to protect them. Following a CBR release the civilian population will be expected to shelter, or move to safety, and most importantly decontaminate affected areas and carry on supporting themselves and indeed the economy. Civilians will not have the opportunity of moving to another battlefield or country but will be expected or required to return to normality within days of any event. The national survival and economy may depend on essential workers returning to work to fulfil essential tasks or management skills. Civilian organisations will be required to decontaminate buildings and the general environment too and therefore some form of protocol and training must be established.

To establish civilian defence, reaction policies and budget we must first assess the risk and hazard faced by the population, the potential target and impact analysis in terms of casualties and economy. This criteria must be anticipated and cannot be assessed from military assessments.

Military & Civilian Incompatibilities

If we accept that different criteria exist between the military and civilian communities it may become clear that equipment and general response protocol differ too. A platoon of soldiers facing a CBR threat would take cover and don protective equipment but civilians would run to escape or generally panic. One group under orders, trained and equipped will be safe and the other at the mercy of exposure.

Here lies the first problem; the emergency services are gearing up to respond to the aftermath, of terrorist CBR event. Contain, control, decontaminate and deal with the dead or injured. They plan to react and respond not defend and protect against expected events as would the military. The second problem is that in the aftermath of the event when people are in shock, dismayed at what they see as a total failure in preparation and lack of logistical support, they will be expected to calmly follow the orders of authority, from those who are safely protected within CBR protective suits?

The military assessment of public exposure to CBR agents released by terrorists covertly could therefore be assumed as catastrophic with known or expected casualty ratios.

Should we therefore make assessments on the terrorist’s ability to bring battlefield conditions to civilian population in the urban environment and not on the military assumptions? The first critical assessment is the agent type and intended casualty type or incidence. This will be broken down into the three distinct agents of CBR.


Chemical agents can be either military weapon grade or TICs toxic industrial chemicals. The former would be capable of inflicting heavy casualties quickly in a localised area and must be recognised as possibly the greatest threat, however, environmental conditions would dramatically alter the effects and casualty rate and the simplest defence may be to simply move up and away from the release as most are designed to hug the ground. This could be simply moving upstairs. Clearly not an option in the average battlefield. The effective use of TICs again would be influenced by environmental conditions such as wind speed and the built environment. Dilution over time and distance or shelter would be the most appropriate defence in the absence of warning or PPE availability. In both cases the most beneficial response post exposure is strip off and decontaminate by shower. Both are unlikely on the battlefield.


If exposed decontaminate and seek medical assistance.


Depending on the source or type of radiation, time and distance are most likely to be the only defence next to respiratory PPE.

These simplifications show that of the three CBR threats chemical is the most aggressive and dangerous and we should look at the current protocol to react or defend civilian populations. The civilian population must include blue light responders and those that have taken training or equipment procurement guidance from the military.

Current PPE Philosophy

If we look at the PPE of the military we can see it combines skin and respiratory protection.

Skin protection can take many forms but the most significant risk is from seams and joints to prevent any leakage in. The respiratory protection generally is normally a full face mask with canister or cartridge filter directly attached. The fully protected soldier can now it seems, face the foe but just how well protected are they? We will now explore this with a view to identifying shortfalls in the civilian arena.

The protective suit must be sealed and gap free. The specification of materials will provide the level and type of protection available. The mask will be fit tested to ensure an airtight fit and the filter is designed to prevent or trap the ingress of specific chemicals or particulates. The defence of gamma radiation is not included within this paper. Two points should now be considered. If this protection was as good as imagined, why do fireman wear SCBA self contained breathing apparatus in oxygen rich environments and why would it be illegal and dangerous for a soldier in their battlefield protection to enter even a normal asbestos decontamination enclosure in civilian life?

The reason is that the respirator used by the military worldwide, has a protection factor is only 10 to 20 times the exposure level. Asbestos fibres would leak into the mask in seconds and every movement would increase that risk. Although the military are confident that their troops will fight on, the industrial hygienist is a little more concerned at life expectancy.

Another major problem with cartridge filters is their ability to stop infiltration. No filter will stop everything and many chemicals will pass directly through even the best equipment. The obvious threat is, would terrorists design a chemical weapon that would pass straight through your mask?

The answer is obviously yes; the specification of all cartridges is displayed on the side and can generally be seen as ABECK or similar. Acid and gas, solvents, base and particulates all need different stopping capabilities. The American military developed a battlefield gas which was designed specifically to pass through the enemies PPE.

The military brought in to assist in the procurement and training for Police and national defence have reasonably followed their historic specifications which must be seen as suspect for civilian use especially where the risk of TICs are present and the following examples may be considered.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

  • The picture below shows Metropolitan Police offices at the Bank tube station in London 2003, engaged in a terrorist training exercise where a chemical release has occurred. You will see they hold a chemical detection device but really don’t need it. The officers can be seen to be wearing level C PPE Tyveck type suit with ample gaps and joints. The gas may affect their skin before the meter detects it. Their masks do not fit either and gaps can be seen between the elasticated hood and mask. This type of mask will leak from simple head movement, sweating, beard growth over several hours of use. These officers clearly in an expected hazard zone are almost totally unprotected. While this was a training exercise, the significance was the level of PPE used.
Parallel safety assessments of military and civilian blue light emergency responders PPE must be made and if those that are equipped are not safe, then decisions must be made to accept casualties or to recognise that their duties to assist the public must be limited.
  • The trainees equipped by “instructors” show different ideas on whether to tuck in or out the legs of their protective suits.
  • A major concern where uniformity or best practice is considered essential.
  • More significantly is the type of boots used. The black are garden boots offering no protection at all, the red sole designates it will protect against sharp object penetration and the yellow give protection against electric shock. None would protect against chemical agents.
Equipping and training of emergency responders in great numbers and indeed the logistics involved in the storage, maintenance and continual training of them, may prevent anything other than basic protection being issued. This would therefore reduce emergency responders duties and their involvement following a terrorist CBR event to possibly just, perimeter “Cold Zone” control.

This would extrapolate into possible failures in civilian safety including control of contaminated zone, evacuation, security and law and order.

Police forces are now equipping officers with escape hoods, this provision is seen as an indication that intelligence has assessed a greater threat is now present or that Health & Safety officials have recognised that legislation requires the safety of the employee (Police officer) as paramount importance over public duty. Ref Tender document European Journal

Public Equipment & Training

The general public have almost no idea of what they can or should do in the event of a terrorist CBR event. Taken a stage further, the reader of this article who may be expected to be somewhat interested in the subject, may find difficulty in knowing what to do if a CBR agent was released NOW! While it is generally accepted that any action is unlikely to assist, the contrary may be the case but the military it seems may have covered this too. Ex military CBR advisors to governments and commerce usually identify physical security and methods to quickly turn off HVAC systems as both essential and only actions. Of course senior executives are advised to have a safe haven available but we should consider time line and resilience issues too.

Employers in particular must assess the impact of both hoax and real threat terrorist event in terms of cost, disruption and lost business coupled to extensive civil and criminal liabilities.

The Legal Obligation

No government in the free world can insist that their employees (in the form of emergency responders) must enter a danger zone to assist the public. The following points should be considered here.

  • Could an employer be held responsible in tomorrow’s court, for the safety of their employees, where they requested them to enter a known danger zone with inadequate protection, training or resources?
  • Would that employee be safe and protected against the very people they were sent in to assist should authority break down?
  • Was the reported failure of 30% of New Orleans Police to report for duty following Katrina a new or unexpected phenomenon?
  • Would emergency responders report for duty faced with family dependency, little chance of making a difference to their community?
  • Possibility of facing extreme violence or civil disorder

SIP Shelter in Place

The British Government has advised SIP as first choice and in preference to evacuation. Studies have shown the benefits and shortfalls of this action and although sealing windows and doors is a first step it may become a suffocation risk if not properly understood. The reduction in airborne contamination exposure and inhalation risk within the shelter is extremely short lived in most circumstances as the external threat naturally dilutes and dissipates by air dispersal, the building interior however, holds the ingress and becomes a more concentrated risk than outside possibly, within an hour. Ref Journal of Hazardous Materials doi:10.1016/j.jhazmat.2004.11.012

Military CBR First Aid

Atropine pens are the militaries first aid for those exposed to unexpected chemical or nerve agent exposure. The pens self administered, deliver a short term antidote by injection. The antidote reduces the effects of muscle spasm and is a major benefit when assistance is near by to remove or protect the casualty, decontaminate them and provide further treatment. Obviously the battlefield may not have too much support therefore the pens may be seen as a psychological crutch only.

Governments are now equipping many fire, police and blue light personnel with packs of atropine pens.

The rational is that should responders be accidentally exposed to a nerve or chemical agent they will run to their truck and inject. Of course they would probably be incapacitated and might rely on their colleagues who may have been left in charge of the truck. Possibly the last thing he should or would do is rush forward and would more likely don level A, personal protective equipment before assisting. Outside or external support or back up would undertake a risk and hazard assessment before coming anywhere near a chemical release zone for fear of contaminating their truck, equipment or men and would follow the 123 rule of man down, and gear up. The point here is what is the value and does it give false security leading to accidents?

Civilian First Aid

Pods are said to be strategically placed around the country which will be deployed following CBR incidents and of course they are well outside the expected target and Hot Zone. These pods contain emergency supplies but cannot be available within the valuable minutes of the golden hour. Casualty rates are it seems, acceptable in the civilian population as current planning revolves around reaction to casualties instead of defence and protection.

Battlefield military protection usually ranges from carbon impregnation of battle dress to Potassium Iodide tablets. The usefulness in either is doubtful especially with the tablets as they only protect against radium, a doubtful source of enemy weaponry but generally offered by local authorities to protect the public in the event of a radiological release.

Military Decontamination Protocol

The decontamination of tanks, ships and fighting vehicles generally must be seen as a priority in the battlefield. Any protocol which reduces the contamination to a level which allows the fighting force in limited PPE, to continue their roles must be acceptable. Independent clearance inspection, residual contamination, environmental pollution is seen as secondary factors when facing a life or death situation. The military by necessity have developed many fast and efficient decontamination procedures which include, sand blasting, high power water hoses, the spraying of toxic chemicals and foams which provide satisfactory short term benefits or increased safety.

Civilian Decontamination Protocol

Following a terrorist CBR release the major concern after care of the casualties is the decontamination of the affected area and buildings. This will be essential to allow the local economy to be re-established and reduce the community disruption. Of course controls would be essential to prevent cross contamination and environmental pollution. It may therefore be seen as extraordinary that one government has adopted military decontamination procedures including sandblasting. The British have published archaic decontamination techniques such as sandblasting, bleach spraying in their DEFRA document http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/risk/cbrn/cbrn-guidance.pdf  This document informs and indeed recommends various techniques of decontamination which must be seen as military based and are unlikely to succeed in the urban environment. Buildings their tenants and insurers coupled to Health & safety legislation are most to unlikely to accept that sandblasting has removed all traces of contamination and may refuse to accept that a building is safe especially where post decontamination clearance will be challenged by the experts.

The military procurement route also appears from another British government department. The GDS government decontamination service was initiated and made available in 2005. As a new department it went to the trouble of requesting comments and a list of consultees can be seen on http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/gds/consultlist.htm

While debate and varied input is essential you will note that the majority of input is from what reasonably could be said to be government or uniform based organisations. What is clearly missing is the input from the industry of those actually engaged in commercial decontamination. While this assessment highlights possible failures in procurement or procedures in the UK, other countries are similarly blinkered in their approach to the commercial world. Indeed many have difficulty in taking orders or advice from fellow government organisations. Politics and the fear of commercial profit often result in the failure to identify new wave solutions.

Casualty Response

The provision of decontamination units is the prime response of the emergency services. These may be made available from fire pumps or purpose made decontamination units.

  • Blue light emergency response to large scale public decontamination.
  • This photograph shows spray hoses sometimes set up between two fire pumps/engines.
  • In the event of large scale events the public are expected to calmly walk naked through a cold shower, watched by a fully protected emergency responder.
Following decontamination medical assistance will be sought and the hospitals are front line providers. Obviously people will escape from the contaminated “Hot Zone” and turn up at the hospital emergency doors. The US hospital administration in some areas has adopted a security policy to lock down the facility within minutes of events to prevent contamination being brought in.

Decontamination is generally undertaken prior to patient receiving medical assistance. This is a time consuming but necessary arrangement which can be seen in foresight as essential but unworkable in hindsight. Casualty numbers will be swollen by those that are, and those that perceive have been affected. The idea that hospitals will be emptied of non urgent patients to allow room for CBR affected casualties again presupposes that ambulances and medical staff are available for this form of Triage when the reality is that all transport available should be used to move the injured or affected away from the Hot Zone and roads will probably be gridlocked.

The most significant points here are the potential casualty rate from the terrorist agent and target. Terrorist may, as others have, seen the Central Business District or major public event as a prime target for economic disruption and mass casualties. Typical CBD in major cities can contain more than 100,000 people per 1000 square meters of building footprint. With an extended control zone, caused by wind drift this area may expand to contain 300,000 people. Controlled evacuation through decontamination areas with safety is unlikely. Calculate possible and locally available decontamination units and throughput of compliant civilians and a time line of several days is most likely. The prospect of keeping thousands of people controlled for many hours or days when they need urgent decontamination is a serious concern.

Decontamination as a response instead of planned defence and protection may appear to be a poor choice, especially as those affected are most likely to be key players in the countries economy.

While the hazards and risks of exposure to CBR agents are universally accepted, it appears that procurement sources have ignored exposure risk and superficially increased the relevance of decontamination.

Unfortunately those in need of decontamination will be required to move unprotected through a contaminated zone to be told that 80% of contamination on the body will be removed by stripping off clothes and the remainder will wash off. This generally accepted statement appears to ignore the fact that these casualties may have had to wait for hours or days to get to the decontamination unit and more significantly have been asked to travel through contamination “Hot Zone” with no respiratory protection. It may be realistic to assume that without triage controls, education and ppe that uncontrolled panic will ensue.

This could reasonably be expected to include the overwhelming of the decontamination facility and cordon collapse, the ramifications would be the growth of contamination spread as those fleeing, make their way home, or worse still contaminate local hospitals. Muffled words of instruction through respirators by authorities in full protective equipment are unlikely to pacify those naked and relying on hosing down as their only treatment. It should be foreseen that where police or authority have inadequate resources the panicking public would steal available resources from those sent to assist and that within minutes all emergency responders may be withdrawn

Military Contamination & Plume Dispersal

The military priority following a CBR release is to identify the agent type, and route. Environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, cloud and inversion layers have important effects but wind speed and the built urban environment can have the greatest significance on contamination route or plume concentration. Low wind speed may result in nothing more than a localised swirl around buildings. While wind speeds over 20km/per hour may develop contamination plumes in the rural environment it is most unlikely to provide a plume in the urban environment. The accurate identification of the plume or contamination direction is essential to prevent unnecessary casualties and effective utilisation of logistical resources.

The military use computer software to calculate plumes from the mass of data which must include information of the agent released. Typically a ground hugging CBR agent designed for military use may have different aerosolisation or buoyancy characteristics to that of a TIC toxic industrial chemical, a likely terrorist tool. The military will or should be, alert to the potential enemy release and be ready to identify released agents and take appropriate action.

Civilian & Urban CBR Release

The urban terrorist is unlikely to give warning and therefore any response will have to be made significantly, without agent or environmental information. Computer software assessments require the input of various data including the characteristics of the agent released and localised wind patterns and this may not be available immediately, especially following a terrorist covert action

The most important factor is that plume plotting software is unlikely to work in the urban environment. This is because air circulates around and not necessarily through or over buildings. Simple tests show that in typical built up urban environments that wind direction and speed at the four corners of buildings are different. Channelling of wind, caused by laminar or turbulent air flow through streets can disrupt almost any wind direction.

The reliance of plume management software, which may be accurate at sea or the rural environment must therefore be seen as a significant risk to both the public and emergency responders although many have adopted its use as a management tool from advice by the military.

The establishment of control areas such as Hot, Warm & Cold zones around a CBR detonation or release are essential if people are to be assisted in medical and decontamination procedures. The obvious question from the forgoing is “where to designate a cold zone and establish the decontamination and assistance units”.

The continuing movement of contamination in swirls instead of in linear projections can result in 180 degree turnarounds. Upwind and downwind are luxury terms not available to the public or in the urban environment.

As any chosen area is likely to become overwhelmed or contaminated it must therefore be placed far enough away to be safe. This of course will substantially increase the “Hot Zone” and people therein who not only require decontamination but control and protection.

Clearance Levels

Decontamination has been achieved when levels of pathogenic or harmful materials have been removed or reduced to acceptably safe levels. The public opinion and right to vote with the feet may and probably will differ from the scientific advisor who failed to protect us from the multitude of preventable health problems and consequences such as Gulf War Syndrome SARS MRSA etc.

The picture shows the London fire brigade donning level A, PPE, at the failed tube bombings in London 21July 2005. A white powder was reported at the detonation scene and this resulted in 20 minute delay to allow safe inspection and confirmation that the powder posed no threat. The significance of the level of protection required here, clarifies the concern that following a CBR event, assistance to the public would be delayed and in short supply. No emergency responders entered the detonation area until the substance had been identified as not being a safety hazard!


The evacuation of military personnel away from a battlefield danger zone has been standard retreat procedures, used for centuries and this again, has been adopted as a response to both threat or more likely to exit the “Hot Zone” for the civilian population.

This of course assumes that people facing danger will respond the same way as trained and equipped military personnel who historically have seen the danger and consequence of not following orders.

The infra structure currently available in most cities struggles to move all workers in and out of the CBD in rush hours and evacuation if called for, this time frame would be reduced to minutes. The alternative may be defence and resilience or extensive casualties.


Governments world wide usually fail in their approach to major disasters, and the likely public response will be the cry for a public enquiry, the possible rebuke of a government minister or dismissal of those responsible. The current world wide Avian Bird Flu threat is a typical example of high hazard, accepted risk and little planning or information.

Nosocomial infections such as MRSA in hospitals should be easily eliminated or controlled by standard infection control methods but they are not, if we cannot control infection in a hygienic environment, what chance is there in the open environment?

Foot and mouth disease spread throughout the UK and the 2001 outbreak mirrored the 1967 event. The graph below significantly shows the growth of outbreaks and perhaps should have seen tighter controls developed in 2001.

Perhaps the 25kg of extremely toxic Dioxins released from the funeral pyres of dead animals should have been foreseen and prevented too.

Katrina casualties should have received assistance in hours or days but had to wait weeks, Bhopal and many more toxic release events show typical failures in management which should have been seen as rehearsals for engineered terrorism and terrorists that won’t rely on accidental spread or luck in their goal of devastation. More importantly these events show how vulnerable we are against accidental but natural events, consider the ramifications of deliberate terrorist actions, intended to maximise casualties.

Isn’t it time that the indigenous population were given the true risk assessment and more importantly reasonable advice and information on defensive action, risk reduction techniques and given the opportunity to prepare to defend them selves?

The International public have little of no understanding of risk, hazard or defence against terrorist CBR events. Governments and blue light emergency services have it appears, relied on and adopted the military outlook on CBR agents and their hazard assessments. While the benefits of hindsight are often acknowledged and indeed criticised the current situation simply requires foresight for the risks of the 21st century. The unfortunate reality is that those in control of procurement, invariably have no technical knowledge and where specifications are identified they reflect military requirements. The defence and protection of our peoples and economies may depend on commercial nous and not military casualty rates or doomsday scenarios. Defence and better protection of the public and the workplace is possible but requires a movement away from the established planning for response and reaction to one of defence and resilience.

About the author

Jeff Charlton is a disaster recovery and hazmat consultant based in London his web site can be found on http://www.disasteradvice.org/Home/tabid/310/Default.aspx     Tel ++44 (0) 8700 789 999
This paper is copyright but may be reproduced with permission and accreditation to Jeff Charlton http://www.disasteradvice.org/Home/tabid/310/Default.aspx      ++44 (0)8700 789 999
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