CBRN(E): With or Without the (E)xplosive


By George Javier McKerrow, Director of MAC7 Training, USA

Debates around whether CBRN teams are also responsible for devices containing explosives have gone on for years, hence some groups being CBRN while others are CBRNE. Certain groups will even refer to it as CBRNe, with the lowercase “e” minimizing their association with explosives.

In some cases, hazardous CBRN devices containing explosives often require cooperation between the CBRN team and an EOD team. However, there is the opportunity for a stalemate when it comes to handling or defeating a device if neither team can agree on the correct approach. For example, the EOD team may have protocols limiting their approach on devices that contain radiological elements, and the CBRN team’s protocols may restrict their procedures for IEDs, regardless of whether a radiological threat is also suspected. It is crucial that training between these two groups take place in a safe, controlled environment so the teams can develop cooperative standard operating procedures.

These requirements led me to the development of several training scenarios that took place recently at the NCT (Non-Conventional Threat) event in the Netherlands. The National Training Center offered various settings such as metro stations, airplanes, and theaters where we were able to implement realistic training events. The scenarios, while varied, all included inert CBRN devices that sometimes added explosive elements.

Teams involved in these exercises ranged from military and civilian first responders, with joint groups often featuring a mixture from both fields. Additionally, these teams were typically a combination of personnel with CBRN and/or EOD backgrounds.

As mentioned, the Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) could be set up as CBRN or CBRNE. Now this is where it gets interesting. When we talk about IEDs, we have categorized them as containing five major components:

1. Main Charge (Explosive)

2. Container (Steel Pipe, Pressure Cooker, etc.)

3. Switch (Anti-lift, Remote, etc.)

4. Detonator (Blasting Cap, E-Match, etc.)

5. Power Source (Battery)

If we were not to include the Main Charge in a CBRN device, then it would be classified as a improvised chemical dispersion device (ICDD). This would then more than likely require the following:

1. Chemical

2. Container

3. Switch

4. Power Source

It is worth explaining here that the switch plays a hugely significant role in the set up. When we talk about the switch in an IED then we place it within three main categories of activation: Command, Victim, and Time. These three main categories then split down further into many subcategories, such as pressure release or light sensors for victim activated switches. Command activated could be key fobs or cell phones, while time activated could be digital, chemical or mechanical. There are many more, but that gives you an idea of how the switch may function.

All the scenarios we ran through at NCT incorporated agents from Hot Zone Solutions that would indicate on detection equipment that a CBRN threat was viable within our training devices. After the teams would confirm the presence of that threat, the EOD and CBRN teams would jointly develop a plan to inspect the devices further (either visually or with an X-ray system provided by Teledyne).

While most of these teams had never worked together, either because they were from different countries or had limited protocols, these events offered the chance to cooperate and share ideas in a setting very similar to how a real threat would evolve. EOD teams provided intelligence of x-ray interpretation to determine the devices components and how they may be triggered. CBRN teams were able to share intel on how they would contain the specific threat in ways that included setting safe perimeters, ensuring the proper protective equipment was available, as well as diagnose any medical issues that may arise in case of device activation.

Each event played out differently, and the procedures for approach in some cases had been drastically different for each country and department involved. The ability to share these ideas between CBRN and EOD teams, however, highlighted the necessity to ensure realistic, joint training for both groups. Perhaps the “E” in CBRNE should be viewed as a bridge between CBRN and EOD, as the NCT event proved these departments cooperation is crucial in training and in response to real events.

About the Author

George McKerrow is a certified counter terrorism practitioner who continues to conduct training, develop equipment, organize international training events. He has been a guest speaker at numerous global counter terrorism conferences and workshops all around and has conducted training in US, Canada, UK, SE Asia, Europe & the Middle East. He enlisted into the British Army in 1984 and attended training to be a Paratrooper, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer and a High-Risk Search Advisor. He attended extensive training at the UK Defense Explosive Ordnance Disposal School (DEODS) and the UK National Search Academy. George has been deployed operationally on EOD and HRS missions in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan & Iraq.

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