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Blogging in 2017

Blogging in 2017

One of the things I find most interesting about the Timehop app on my phone is how much my style of posting (especially to Facebook) has changed over 10 years. The melodrama is embarrassing and entertaining in equal measure. It’s interesting to see how what I was prompted to post about has changed. (Notice how I have deliberately stayed away from labelling this change as growth!)

this isn’t me, obvs

The last blog post I wrote was waaaay back in August. I was thinking about the reasons for this, and it’s a combination of two things

  1. Too many boxsets to catch up with on Netflix – seriously, if you haven’t seen Designated Survivor you are missing out! It’s prefect kick-back-and-relax telly for emergency managers!
  2. A feeling that I was loosing, or at the very least, confusing my own voice with my work one. As the lead for “external relations and digital” for London Resilience, I started to find it difficult to have enough to say that was notably different from what I was already saying at work.

I had some pretty strong views back in the day. You may remember such blog posts as “Exercises are pointless” and “CBRN is elitist“. Since then (maybe because I’d already vented?) I started to find I didn’t feel as passionately about things anymore. For a while I felt I was becoming disinterested, but realised it was more about feeling I didn’t have anything new to add to the conversation.

In 2017, I want to re-establish my voice and blog. This might sound grandiose, even pompous, but I’ve found blogging helps me solidify proto-ideas. The process of writing something down means wider reading, consulting different sources, opening myself up to new ideas and discussing with colleagues.

I guess the other aspect is that the nature of being online has changed too. Is a blog the best medium? Should I, in fact, be using Medium? What’s the relationship to other platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn? These are all things I’ll no-doubt continue to unravel throughout the year. As with Timehop, I hope that one day I’ll be able to look back through my blog and see how my thoughts have evolved and what they have been shaped by.

So what is likely to follow in 2017? I think it would be unwise to commit to a regular schedule of blogging, I don’t want to be a slave to the blog. However, expect posts about the things that interest me, that frustrate me, that could be better. I’ll try not to moan too much, it’s all intended to be constructive and to help me (and perhaps others) improve what we do.

Best wished for 2017, and remember, if you want to get in touch hit me up @mtthwhgn on Twitter – I’ve love to have a conversation not just air my own thoughts.

CBRN = HazMat = CBRN

CBRN = HazMat = CBRN

Sometimes when I bite my tongue it is an accident, and it hurts. Other times it’s quite deliberate, yet it still hurts. I had to do that today, and then realised it was a metaphor for why I was biting it in the first place!


I’ve mentioned it before, the somewhat false distinction which is drawn between hazardous materials and…CBRN. The later is deemed so important that it gets a sexy abbreviation, which incidentally is all in capitals, serving to further emphasise it, to separate it.

I wholly understand that there is a difference between an accident (Although in reality even accidents usually end up apportioning blame somewhere) and a deliberate act – I remind you of the tongue biting! However, for the public, and for the majority of emergency responders, I think the distinction is unnecessary jargon.

There is a false assumption that the deliberate use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear materials would be more impactive than an incident where these agents are released via accidental means. I took a look at some historical examples in a previous post which demonstrated this not to be the case.

As recent events in Syria have shown, the malicious use of chemicals (what has been reported today as the nerve agent Sarin) is extremely significant and I in no way wish to belittle that. However, daily 72,000 gallons of radioactive water are being poured into the sea following the Fukushima earthquake (2011). The Fukushima incident is categorised at the same scale as Chernobyl (incidentally also an accident, and therefore hazmat incident).

Read these three statements:
1) The incident is complex and requires a multi agency response, nobody can solve this on their own.
2) It could take a long time for the area affected to get back to normality, there could be long term consequences.
3) Those responsible should be caught and punished appropriately.

Which of the two incidents above am I talking about? I’d be really interested if anyone reading this blog is able to tell me why they don’t apply to both.

Fine, keep the distinction internally if that helps certain agencies (I expect the assistance relates to setting budgets), but ditch the elitism. Lets talk about incidents involving those agents and what actions are required to minimise the impact, not about who done it.

CBRN vs HazMat – essential distinction or elitism?

CBRN vs HazMat – essential distinction or elitism?

It’s something which has been bugging me for a long time, but today I feel compelled to form some coherent thoughts and put them out there, partly as catharsis, but also in the hope of instigating some debate.

I don’t see an valid reason for a distinction between CBRN and HazMat.


For non-specialist readers, this translates as “Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear” and Hazardous Materials”. Traditionally, these are largely considered separately by the Emergency Services and other responders. CBRN incidents being those of a deliberate or malicious nature, and HazMat the accidents. Even acknowledging that police and security services may find this distinction useful, even accidental incidents will be treated as potentially deliberate initially and will be investigated as crimes, albeit for civil rather than criminal prosecution.

Wikipedia, starting point for the masses, provides this info in it’s Google snippit.


Essentially saying that in addition to the intent aspects, that CBRN causes a larger number of casualties. Well, any emergency planner worth their salt will tell you that scale is just once facet of an incident. So lets have a look at some numbers…

I appreciate that non-emergency planners might not be as deeply familiar with the incidents in Bhopal (1984) and Chernobyl (1986), however, these were accidental (and therefore HazMat) incidents which caused extremely significant numbers of casualties and fatalities.

Firstly, looking at reports of casualty numbers from Bhopal…

Source Casualty Estimate
Supreme Court by the Union Government 558,125
Indian Council of Medical Research 50,000
New York Times 12,000

Even the lower estimate here, reported at the time of the event, would certainly be considered a mass casualty incident in the UK.

Assuming that if a CBRN incident can cause mass casualties, it also has the potential to cause mass fatalities. For variety, here’s some fatality statistics from Chernobyl, (also a HazMat incident).

Source Deaths Estimate
Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment  985,000
International Atomic Energy Agency 4,000
International Agency for Research on Cancer 16,000
Russian academy of sciences 200,000
Belarus national academy of sciences 93,000
Ukrainian national commission for radiation protection 500,000
Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts 50

It’s not quite as simple to infer from these figures as some are projections and others studies into the cumulative number of fatalities since the incident (which raises interesting questions, perhaps for another post, about when is an incident truly over). However, virtually all of them represent a significant number of fatalities.

Lets now take a look at arguably the most high-profile “CBRN incident”, the 1995 release of Sarin in the Tokyo subway. This information is from the Tokyo Metro Company in 2005.

Fatalities 12
Casualties 5642
(of which hospitalised) 999
(of which outpatients) 4643

I’m aware that I’m not comparing like with like here, but I think it goes someway towards demonstrating that in terms of consequences, those resulting from non-malicious means can be just as significant as those from terrorism.

Referring to these incidents with a special name seems to imply that there is something special about them, and encourages elitism. Regardless of whether they are used maliciously or not, hazardous materials are precisely that, hazardous.

There may be some very specific operational responses which are different, however generally speaking, the response principles and resources are identical. We should try to avoid confusing the public (and responders) by having two terms which essentially mean the same thing.