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What are the core requirements of wide area CBRNe training?

Written by Steven Pike, Argon Electronics

When you are required to conduct wide area emergency preparedness training – be it in the setting of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNe) school, a dedicated military center or an industrial facility – the ongoing challenge for any CBRNe instructor is to be able to create a scenario that is realistic, safe, reliable and cost effective.

Trainees need to be equipped with the practical knowledge and skills to respond with confidence to an enormous variety of potential live incidents. And each threat brings with it a unique set of practical, physical and psychological tasks that need to be ‘experienced’ in order to be understood.

So what is the recommended approach to help instructors implement a realistic but safe CBRNe training environment?

Overcoming regulatory obstacles

While the spreading of chemical simulants can still occasionally be an option, strict environmental regulations generally make it unfeasible – and the use of any form of radiological source is almost always going to be unrealistic for all but the most high specialized of training facilities.

Simulant training also brings with it the problem of being very location-dependent, which restricts the ability to create scenarios in public settings or confined spaces. And there is the added difficulty of it not being able to be readily integrate simulant training with other conventional live training methods.

Wide-area instrumented training systems

When the highest degree of realism is required, a powerful modular exercise control system such as PlumeSIM enable instructors to take their CBRNe training exercises to an entirely new level. And it especially comes into its own in the context of counter terrorism scenarios, nuclear training drills and HazMat emergency exercises.

So what benefits does the PlumeSIM training system offer?

Portability – Plume-SIM is highly portable making it quick to set up and to use in any environment. The inclusion of a planning mode also means that instructors can easily prepare exercises on a laptop or PC without the need for any form of system hardware.

Realism – Students are equipped with simulators and GPS enabled players, to enable them to take part in large area exercises that can include sequential multi-threat releases or that integrate with third-party live training systems.

Instructor control – The instructor retains complete control of the exercise including the ability to decide the type, quantity, location and nature of the source.

Environment – Specific environmental conditions can also be easily defined by the user, including temperature and changes in wind direction.

Repeatability – The Plume-SIM’s exercise parameters can be saved so the identical scenario can be repeated as many times as required.

Real-time action -The trainees’ movements, progress and instrument usage can be monitored in real time from a central control station.

After action review – The recording of student activity in real-time provides useful after action review (AAR). This can be used to encourage discussions about the effectiveness of an exercise and to facilitate further improvements.

Data capture – All recorded exercise data can also be exported and emailed to external personnel for future analysis.

Pre-exercise capability – The table-top planning mode uses standard gamepad controllers which enables trainees to undertake pre-exercise practice to take place within the classroom environment. The exercise can also be recorded and analysed prior to heading for the live field training area.

Versatility – If environmental conditions preclude the ability to obtain or maintain continuous long-range radio communication then the scenario can be pre-loaded on the player unit for timed activation.

Compatibility – The Plume-SIM system is compatible with a wide variety of simulator equipment including the M4 JCAD-SIMCAMSIMAP2C-SIMAP4C-SIMRDS200-SIMEPD-Mk2-SIMAN/PDR-77-/VDR-2 and RDS100-SIM.

Room to grow – The modular system gives instructors the flexibility to expand their range of training equipment as and when their budgets allow.

Achieving the highest level of realism in CBRNe training is paramount – and assuring personnel safety will always be key.

A flexible, modular simulator-based training solution such as the PlumeSIM system can provide trainees with the opportunity to practice and perfect their response to a wide variety of highly-realistic simulated threats in a completely safe environment.


About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators. He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

Observations from a CBRNe training consolidation exercise

by Steven Pike , Argon Electronics

While accidental or deliberate chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNe) incidents are still widely considered to be fairly low probability events, their impact on citizens, society and infrastructure can be immense.

If and when they do occur, the speed of response has been shown to be absolutely critical when it comes to taking charge of the scene, avoiding further contamination and saving lives.

Research published by the ORCHIDS (Optimisation Through Research of Chemical Incident Contamination Systems) project provides quantitative evidence of the recommended techniques for handling potential contaminants or scenarios that will require emergency mass casualty decontamination.

Amongst its findings are:

  • The importance of swift evacuation, disrobing and decontamination – ideally within 15 minutes
  • Ensuring the safety of first responders by the carrying out of ongoing hazard assessments throughout the incident
  • The importance of clear communication to casualties or bystanders throughout the response in order to foster trust and confidence in the activities
  • Effective situation reporting from the scene to enable all agencies to retain shared situational awareness

The knowledge, skills and experience of those charged with CBRNe instruction is paramount in ensuring that the best possible training is provided to those emergency response personnel tasked with responding to hazardous incidents.

But finding innovative ways to create realistic CBRNe training – in a manner that accurately depicts the reality of modern threats, and that replicates the array of sophisticated detector equipment available – can present a very real challenge for instructors.

One of the biggest obstacles is undoubtedly time. Training exercises, by necessity, often need to take place within tight timeframes. While an actual search and survey mission may take many hours to complete, an exercise may need to be truncated to a matter of minutes. 

Having had the opportunity to observe a wide variety of CBRNe scenarios and consolidation exercises over the years, a few key factors have become especially apparent when it comes to the efficacy both of the training and the training environment.

The value of hands-on experience

Classroom learning undoubtedly has its place, but providing trainees with the opportunity to handle actual detector equipment, or replica simulator detectors, in life-like scenarios is key to their understanding.

And, as we have discussed in previous blog posts on the subject, the more realistic the scenario the better the outcomes both for the trainee and the instructor.

Having confidence in your equipment

In the early stages of an incident it may sometimes be difficult for a first responder to establish that a CBRNe incident has even occurred.

In some cases there may be visual indicators, odd smells or tastes, or obvious physical symptoms which provide a clue to the presence of a threat.

But while hazardous chemical releases are often (but not always) accompanied by a more rapid onset of symptoms, radiological or biological releases may not become apparent for minutes or even hours after the initial event.

These factors mean it is all the more important that trainees have confidence in their personal protective equipment (PPE), confidence in use of their detectors and confidence in the readings that they obtain.

With that said, participants don’t always get to spend a huge amount of time handling the equipment, which means ease of use and simplicity of operation are extremely important factors.

Managing the challenges of PPE

Something that becomes immediately apparent once trainees don their PPE equipment is just how much their visual, verbal, auditory and manual capacity is affected.

The sense of psychological isolation, anxiety and/or feelings of claustrophobia are also very real issues. And it is up to the trainee to be able to manage these physical and psychological challenges, whilst staying focused on the task at hand and ensuring they deliver accurate information to those up the chain of command.

Having access to, experience of (and confidence in) their detector equipment is a critical element of effective CBRNe response.

Even when working within tight time constraints, an observance of methodical scene management will be critical to ensuring that emergency responders are able to work in a controlled environment, that risk to themselves and the public is minimised, and that any potential crime scene is protected.

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About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators. 
He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

What are the most common HazMat threats for first responders?

by Steven Pike, Argon Electronics

The unintentional release of toxic chemicals can pose a wide range of physical, health and environmental hazards. And when it comes to the storage, handling or transport of hazardous materials (HazMat), safety is paramount.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) defines HazMat as any substance that is potentially harmful to human health or the environment. 

While there are a multitude of precautions that industries will take to stay safe, in the event of accidental spillage due to a road traffic accident or as the result of an industrial incident, highly trained HazMat crews will be called on to mitigate the threat.

In this article, we explore eight of the most common hazardous materials that first responders are likely to encounter in the event of an industrial accident or road transport incident.

1) Carbon Dioxide

Refrigerated carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas used to chill or freeze food products as part of the process of transport to market.

Although non-toxic, when carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in confined spaces the carbon dioxide vapors can cause headache, nausea, dizziness or asphyxiation. And when carbon dioxide comes into contact with skin it can also cause severe burns.

When responding to incidents where C02 is stored, firefighters need to be alert to the possibility of leakages. A low oxygen meter should be used to determine that an area is safe for occupancy.

2) Chlorine

Chlorine is a key component in the production of key industrial and consumer products including the vast majority of pharmaceutical production and virtually all crop protection chemicals.

It is a highly reactive and volatile substance, particularly when in the presence of heat, and is considered to be among the most dangerous of hazardous materials.

Chlorine is classified as both a Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) and a Poison Inhalation Hazard (PIH).

3) Fireworks

Both the transport and storage of consumer fireworks pose a high fire risk. In the United Kingdom (UK), the physical movement (transfer) of explosives from one place to another (excluding those moved within a site) requires a Recipient Competent Authority (RCA) document. 

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) a license is required from an appropriate licensing authority in order to be able to store explosives, however depending on their hazard type certain quantities of explosives can be kept for a short time without the need for a license. 

In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued mandatory safety regulations for fireworks devices that are regulated under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.

4) Gasoline

Typical gasoline contains approximately 150 different chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

The highly flammable nature of gasoline, the ease with which it evaporates and its explosive potential in air, makes it a high exposure risk. Gasoline exposure can occur through the breathing of gasoline vapours, via the drinking of contaminated water or by coming into contact with contaminated soil.

Gasoline should only be stored in approved containers and must not be handled near any ignition source.

5) Argon

A refrigerated liquid, Argon is most commonly used in the production of fluorescent light bulbs and in welding.

Argon is classed as neither flammable nor toxic, however it can cause significant tissue damage if it comes into contact with skin and it can be extremely harmful if inhaled. To avoid sudden releases Argon is transported in upright cylinders.

6) Sulfuric Acid

Sulfuric acid (also known as “battery acid”, “hydrgen sulfate” and “oil of vitriol”) is one of the most important compounds in the chemical industry. The annual production of sulfuric acid worldwide has been predicted to hit 260 million tonnes by the end of 2018. 

Sulfuric acid is used widely in the production of phosphate fertilizers, metal processing, lead-based batteries, fiber production and chemical manufacturing (including paints, pigments, dyes and synthetic detergents.)

It is a highly corrosive substance which is destructive to skin, eyes, teeth and lungs. Severe exposure can be fatal.

7) Propylene

Propylene is a volatile, flammable gas used as a crucial product in the petrochemical, packaging and plastics industries.

It is often used in the place of propane in high-velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) processes. Propylene gas poses a fire hazard when it is handled in the vicinity of any equipment capable of causing ignition.

8) Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Comprising a combination of propane and butane, LPG is commonly used as both a fuel (to heat vehicles and appliances) and as a refrigerant. Its mixture of hydrocarbon gases poses a major fire risk which means it must be stored in pressured vessels.

Toxic chemicals can pose a wide range of potential health and physical hazards to those employees operating within industrial plants and to the personnel charged with handling or transporting these substances. And as such they are heavily regulated.

In the rare case of accidental release, the knowledge of HazMat crews can provide life-saving assistance in identifying the threat, containing the area and mitigating the effects of the incident. 

This article was first published on the Argon Electronics website.

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About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators.
He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

New Technology on Track to Vitalize Confined Space HazMat Training

by Steven Pike , Argon Electronics

Teams operating in confined spaces within hazardous industrial buildings or process facilities understand all too well the importance of adhering to strict health and safety regulations.

The hazards that confined spaces present can be physical or atmospheric in nature – from the risks of asphyxiation or entrapment to exposure to extremes of temperature or the release of toxic chemicals.

Confined Space Entry

According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, on average two people die in the US every day as the result of incidents that take place within confined spaces.

In many cases too, it is not just the victim who is at risk, but the rescuer or first responder who may be unaware of the hazard they are about to encounter.

Directives such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH), the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR), Atex and many others all have a pivotal role to play in ensuring safety.

But despite the emphasis on prevention, any potentially harmful chemical release, and specifically one that occurs within the context of a confined space, will require personnel who are skilled and confident to handle a variety of complex challenges.

With these challenges in mind, a new app-based multigas simulator technology, specifically designed for use in confined space settings, is scheduled for release in late summer 2018.

And the new system looks set to deliver an enhanced level of realism for industrial HazMat training scenarios.

Applying CWA Technology to Industrial HazMat Training

The use of simulation technology for chemical warfare agent (CWA) training is already well established, with intelligent, computer-based training aids such as Argon Electronics’ PlumeSIM and PlumeSIM-SMART systems currently in use by military forces around the world.

The launch of PlumeSIM in 2008 provided CWA and CBRN instructors with a simulation package that enabled them to use their laptops, in conjunction with a map or images, to plan a diverse range of field and table-top exercises.

The type of substance, whether a single or multiple source and an array of environmental conditions (such as wind direction and speed) could all be easily configured. And the innovative technology enabled whole exercises to be recorded for after action review (AAR) and future contingency planning.

In 2016 came the introduction of PlumeSIM-SMART – which offered similar capabilities to PlumeSIM but replaced the use of simulator devices in the field with the simplicity of a mobile phone.

The ability to transform a mobile phone into a look-alike gas detector was to prove especially practical (and budget-friendly) for high-hazard industrial organizations and municipal responders.

And using mobiles offered some additional and unexpected benefits in that it enabled field exercises to take place in any location.

Realistic Multigas Training

The newest addition to Argon’s simulation technology portfolio has been devised for specific use within the training environs of confined spaces and multi-level buildings.

The device will offer HazMat instructors the flexibility to simulate specific levels and concentrations of gases, whether these be in the form of a gas escape or a dangerous device (or devices) concealed within a building.

It will also be highly configurable to enable instructors to select the use of either single or multigas sensors within their training scenarios.

The hardware will be identical to that currently available for CWA training and toxic industrial response training. It has also been configured to interact with existing hand-held gas detection simulators, such as PlumeSIM-SMART, to provide an enhanced level of realism and a more focused training experience.

Simulation sources will be able to be set to emit a signal that replicates the conditions of a particular substance, a low level or oxygen or an explosive atmosphere.

And as students move around the training environment, their display readings will adjust accordingly to simulate an event such as a breached alarm.

The latest detector also promises to overcome the issues posed by communications interference within buildings where GPS technology can often be limited.

Working in confined spaces within industrial complexes can present a daunting array of hazards, both for the staff operating within the facilities and for the emergency teams charged with first response.

The continued development of simulator technology can help to address these challenges by providing realistic, hands-on training opportunities that replicate real-life conditions.

This article was originally published in the Argon Electronics website.

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About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a world leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators.

In use worldwide, Argon simulators have applications for training and preparedness within civil response, the military, EoD, unconventional terrorism / accidental release, and international treaty verification, with a growing presence in the nuclear energy generation and education markets. We have been granted a number of international patents in this field.

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