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CBRN = HazMat = CBRN

CBRN = HazMat = CBRN

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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.

Response – The Great European Stink

Response – The Great European Stink

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Now, this blog post is a bit delayed, more than a bit actually, nearly a month! But as well as my occasional musings on resilience and emergency planning, this blog is also a mechanism to capture the incidents that I’ve been involved with.

Just a week after the Helicopter crash, our team was called into action again, for a chemical release in Rouen, northern France.

Now, there are thousands of chemicals out there, probably more than that, so I’m not going to claim to know the response precautions for every one, however, thanks to some research I did following this episode of TV’s F.R.I.E.N.D.S, I did have a basic knowledge of Mercaptan! The smell that they add to odourless natural gas as a safety measure to identify leaks.

A quick call to expert colleagues in the Health Protection Agency (or Public Health England depending on when you’re reading this) confirmed my suspicions. Mercaptan is detectable by the human nose at around 0.27-0.93 parts per billion, whereas exposure limits are around 0.5 parts per million, and given the gas has diluted considerably as it crossed the Channel, no health concerns were likely; and the work for our team was relatively short-lived.

Meanwhile, in Norway, another incident was creating fumes of a different kind, as 27 tonnes of goats cheese caught fire!

These incidents gave me the impetus I needed to start a personal project to gather information on these ‘low end of the scale’ incidents. I believe that perfecting the response to smaller incidents will make responding to larger incidents more habitual.