Lest we Perish: CBRN Incident Management

Sub Title : CBRN threats, both accidental and intentional, are for real in today’s world

Issues Details : Vol 13 Issue 4 Sep/Oct 2019

Author : Col (Dr) Ram Athavale

Page No. : 58

Category : Military Technology

: September 26, 2019

Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) security is a matter of grave concern for most nations today. CBRN security in India is still in its nascent stages. There is a need to look at it from a broader perspective of internal and regional security challenges that manifest in the form of CBRN terrorism, among others.

CBRN emergencies occur as a result of occupational exposures, fires, explosions, release of toxicants and warfare, and are caused either by ignorance, negligence, incompetence, accident or malicious intention. Such incidents would instil  panic and fear, in the population affecting their health and morale. The impact is multipronged – physical, psychological, economical, and social. CBRN threats can be natural or manmade. It is the manmade threats that are of concern and need to be addressed.

The March 2018 nerve agent poisoning of Sergei and YuliaSkripal in the UK and the public poisoning of Kim Jong Nam at a crowded Kuala Lumpur airport terminal in February 2017 raise fears of similar threats on a larger scale  to the general public as well.

In most developing nations, including India, issues like poverty, lack of health infrastructure, conflict situations, unstable governments, lack of good educational facilities, ignorance of/or inability to provide adequate safety measures are issues that would have an impact. Growing industrialisation, increased imports of chemicals and machinery, coupled with lack of or non-stringent regulations on customs, safety and transportation of these leads to huge gaps in securing these assets. Waste management of toxic and hazardous substances is another shortcoming. Awareness of CBRN threats and risk mitigation measures is necessary at all levels. There is an urgent need to educate and train all concerned stakeholders in CBRN risks and threats and the need to adopt risk mitigation measures.

Present Structure and Mechanism

On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act 2005, which envisaged the creation of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the Prime Minister, and the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) supervised by respective Chief Ministers, to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.

The NDMA is mandated to deal with all types of disasters, natural and man-made (including CBRN disasters). Whereas, other such emergencies including those requiring close involvement of the security forces and/or intelligence agencies such as terrorism, law and order situations, serial bomb blasts, hijacking, air accidents, mine disasters, ports and harbour emergencies, forest fires, oil field fires, and oil spills will continue to be handled by the extant mechanism i.e., National Crisis Management Committee, the Government of India has earmarked nodal ministries for CBRN disasters and incidents as under :

  • Biological Disasters – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
  • Chemical Disasters – Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change
  • Radiological and Nuclear Disasters – Atomic Energy Commission

The NDMA has issued 22 Guidelines for various types of disasters (natural and manmade) and their management.  These cover aspects of  CBRN related attacks and disasters, psycho-social support, incident response and medical preparedness.

CBRN Related Acts and Laws

India is party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BWC), and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC). We have also joined many protocols and agreements towards effective non proliferation and misuse of dual use goods.

While there is no overarching law which covers CBRN as a whole and addresses all related aspects, there is a gamut of administrative, regulatory and legal arrangements obtaining in India which aid CBRN risk mitigation.  These acts and laws complement the Disaster Management Act 2005, Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005 (The WMD Act 2005) and the Chemical Weapons Act 2000 towards effective CBRN Incident Management in India. In fact, India has a very comprehensive coverage of legal instruments for all aspects of CBRN incident prevention, control, response and mitigation.

Much work has been done in the field of Radiological and Nuclear safety and security. Even disease control is quite effective in India. However, India does not have a National Registry of Chemicals and has not completely implemented the Global Harmonised System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals.

Government Initiatives 

The Indian Government has given reasonable thought to disaster management aspects relating to CBRN threats.  It has instituted a number of measures to deal with CBRN disasters.  Salient ones are :-

  • Enunciated standard operating procedures (SOPs) to deal with terrorist attacks involving CBRN Weapons right down to District and Municipal levels. These SOPs provide for preparedness in terms of identification of potential targets, formation and training of specialist response teams, training of fire service and state police personnel etc. SDMAs and DDMAs have also developed their own SOPs for response to CBRN Incidents (including CBRN Terrorism incidents).
  • Earmarked twelve battalions of the Police (CRPF, CISF, BSF, ITBP and SSB) as the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). Four more have been sanctioned by the Government. NDRF Battalions are nominated first responders for CBRN disaster/terrorist strikes. One team of 45 personnel from each Battalion is specifically trained and equipped for response during CBRN emergencies.
  • States have been asked to raise their own State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) to be the First Responders at State level and augment the NDRF when so required.
  • The Government has, with the help of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), set up 23 Radiation Emergency Response Centres (RERCs) in different parts of the country to deal with any nuclear and radiation emergencies.
  • Guidelines issued by NDMA for accidental or Terrorism incidents concerning CBRN weapons/agents.

Core trainers of these NDRF CBRN teams have been specially trained by the Indian Army at Faculty of CBRN Protection, College of Military Engineering (CME), Pune and various other CBRN establishments in India and abroad. Presently, most of the CBRN Training for Central Police Organisations (CPO) is conducted at National Industrial Security Academy (NISA) Hyderabad.

Gap Analysis 

The first question that is asked when we mention CBRN risk mitigation and prevention as regards India is, ‘are we adequately prepared?’ Listed below are the main shortcomings that ail India’s preparation for CBRN incidents.

  • Acceptance and Awareness. The fundamental weakness is the lack of understanding (and belief) about the likely occurrence of CBRN incidents by policy makers and administrators. Municipal officials turn a blind eye to CBRN situations and a very cursory interest is shown by District and State administration, primarily due to lack of awareness.
  • National CBRN Strategy and Plan. Till date, India does not have a National CBRN Strategy to prevent, respond and mitigate CBRN threats. There is no overarching document that governs India’s national policy to prevent or deal with CBRN incidents.
  • Institutional Shortcomings. The establishment of NDMA has been a pioneering effort by the Government. However, its organisation lacks a department to deal exclusively with CBRN incidents. Further, the States too do not have a structure for CBRN disasters and incidents.
  • Response Mechanism. Delayed execution of response protocols by various response agencies – Operational understanding, equipment woes (outdated and inadequate), low footprint and transportation logistics.
  • Inadequacy of Incident Command Mechanism – forces reporting to verticals. Incident Command System and Unified Command guidelines need validation on ground through practices.
  • Near zero understanding and lack of basic training for the Local Police; they are a first responders for any crisis.  Today the local police do not have even basic understanding of CBRN threats and immediate mitigation measures. They even do not know whom to contact in the event of a CBRN incident. More often than not, the local fire brigade may be called in. This takes up lot of time and the proverbial ‘Golden hour’ may elapse before any credible response is initiated.
  • Social responsibility. The gross lack of awareness at Government and administration levels percolates down to the common citizen. It is the victim and persons next to him who should know how to react. There is a need to educate students and working class on basics of CBRN incident mitigation.

Enhancing CBRN Security 

Keeping the many shortcomings and weaknesses in mind, there is a dire need of changing and revising the Governance structure, nodal agencies for CBRN Crisis and Consequence management and response mechanisms for CBRN incidents.

  • Developing a National CBRN Strategy and Plan. There is a need to have a clear National CBRN Strategy aligned to and drawn from the National Security Strategy. The CBRN Strategy should spell out desired objectives to be achieved with broad timeframes. These objectives when matched with mapped existing capabilities and capacities would be able to cull out the gaps and shortcomings. Based on the same a multi stakeholder multi faceted National CBRN plan can be developed.
  • CBRN Incident Management Structure. The present structure is grossly inadequate for effective CBRN preparedness and needs refinement and enhancement. We need to enact and constitute Nodal agencies for CBRN Crisis and Consequence Management. It is recommended to merge some existing bodies like the NCTC and Internal Security Cell under the MHA into a National Internal Security Authority (NISA) to deal with, among other threats, CBRN Crisis management. The existing National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) should be the CBRN Consequence management agency.
  • Enforcement of Laws and Protocols. While we may have the best of laws, enforcement is weak and porous. India needs to strengthen its enforcement mechanisms by strict oversight and rooting out corrupt practices.
  • Proliferation Prevention and Border Control. We need to understand the role of Customs, Excise and Border security agencies in CBRN non proliferation. These agencies have a major task of proliferation prevention and must be trained in detection of hazardous shipments, toxic threats, dual use goods and measures to respond to such threats.
  • CBRN Security for Critical Infrastructure and High Visibility Events. This is an area of concern and needs to be carefully planned and executed. As of today, very little attention is paid to CBRN security of important Government buildings, critical infrastructure and also to high visibility events like sports extravaganzas, religious mega events and major public events.
  • Industrial and Logistics Security. This is another weak area. Industrial security, pilferage prevention and appropriate waste disposal need to be re-examined. Strict oversight and inspections at various levels need to be diligently enforced. Safety and security measures need to be imposed and regular practices and mock drills in liaison with District/Municipal authorities must be planned.
  • Response Essentials. Attention needs to be given to training and optimal equipping of response forces, on their SOP refinement and actions on ground. Today, other than the twelve teams of NDRF, very few agencies are trained to respond to a CBRN incident. All Critical Infrastructure, major SEZ and Industrial areas need to constitute on-Site response mechanisms in terms of trained teams and appropriate equipping. There is a need to standardize such training so as to achieve right coordination amongst various responders in a CBRN incident situation.
  • Societal Response and Community Participation. The victims in a CBRN incident would be the society. There is a dire need for the population at large to understand CBRN risks and threats and be ready to take small yet effective immediate mitigation steps. Developing a CBRN Security Culture and the establishment of Citizen Emergency Response Teams (CERTS) are means to enhance citizen awareness and participation in CBRN risk mitigation.
  • Embracing Emerging CBRN Technologies. Emerging technologies are a force multiplier in preventing and effectively responding to a CBRN incident. The young generation needs to put the newer technologies in the CBRN field to good use. This would help prevent casualties and save precious lives. Use of robotics, drones, unmanned ground vehicles and artificial intelligence need to be aptly integrated in existing prevention and response mechanics.

CBRN threats, both accidental and intentional, loom large over India. It is imperative that we prepare for such threats in earnest and empower ourselves, the polity, administration, law enforcement and the public at large to prevent and respond optimally to these.