CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) is an acronym used to describe dangerous materials, threats or events. CBRN incidents are highly dangerous for society and require specialized preparedness in terms of heightened awareness, specialized equipment including detectors and decontamination aid, specialized medical support and other specialised assistance measures.
Several different categories of CBRN agents exist, each with their own characteristics, such as persistence and transmissibility. Persistence refers to the ability of an agent to remain harmful for a prolonged period of time in the environment and is dependent on a few factors, like physical and chemical stability and environmental conditions. Transmissibility refers to the ability of an agent to be transferred from one person to another, which can be achieved via direct contact or cross-contamination.
There is no definitive list of CBRN weapons but some examples of their use include the use of chemical agents by terrorists, for example in the recent attacks in the UK, or by military forces in Syria. There have also been instances of the intentional dispersal of radiological and nuclear material by criminals.
In both cases, the consequences of an incident involving CBRN are catastrophic. They can cause severe damage to the environment, public health, property and infrastructure as well as a range of psychological and social problems for those affected. These effects can have lasting repercussions and have the potential to lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and survivor guilt syndrome.
The risk of a CBRN event can be mitigated by good management, effective response plans and adequate training and preparedness. These should cover the different aspects of the threat: detection, characterization and identification, response, decontamination, personal and collective protection and medical countermeasures.
There are a number of organisations that specialise in responding to CBRN incidents and some have specific CBRN capabilities, such as the armed forces, police services, fire services and the ambulance service. For example, in the UK, all fire services are required to have a dedicated CBRN unit and all personnel take part in basic CBRN training each year.
As a global defence alliance, NATO supports the development and enhancement of national CBRN defence capability by providing a range of strategic enablers. These capabilities are essential to achieving the Alliance’s two core CBRN defence principles and commitments: shared awareness and the prevention of WMD proliferation. They are accomplished through capacity-building for military and civilian personnel; intelligence-sharing; partnerships and outreach; and scientific and technical collaboration. The Alliance’s efforts in these areas ensure that Allies are prepared to defend against the full range of potential CBRN threats and proactively address emerging risks. Moreover, they underpin the Alliance’s ability to fulfil its mission of contributing to the security and defence of the Allies and their shared interests and values in an increasingly complex and uncertain world. In order to meet these challenges, all Allies will continue to build on the strong foundations of our common values, defence principles and mutual respect. They will do so by strengthening the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, supporting the rearmament-free zone in the Middle East and working together to strengthen international oversight and verification of the non-proliferation of WMD.