CBRN Emergency Preparedness and Response

CBRN incidents can be caused by terrorist activities, accidents and other events such as fires, explosions and leakage of toxic chemicals and materials. They have the potential to create massive casualties through a wide range of physical effects (contamination and lethality), psychological effects, economic losses and impact on social cohesion. CBRN emergencies can be difficult to manage and require specialized preparedness including training and exercising to build capabilities, improve coordination and communication, and develop plans and procedures for response to these types of incidents.

The occurrence of such incidents can also have serious implications for public health and the environment. CBRN agents are usually harmful to living organisms and have varying degrees of persistence, which refers to how long the agents remain in the environment, as well as transmissibility, which refers to how easily they spread from one person to another. Persistent agents may be inhaled or ingested, and can result in immediate injury and/or death, or have lasting negative impacts on human health.

Hostile non-state actors continue to pursue the development and acquisition of WMD and CBRN material to use against NATO populations, territory and forces. These actors are also known to weaponize toxic industrial chemicals and other materials in an attempt to sow fear, paralyze national emergency response capabilities and challenge international non-proliferation regimes.

Despite the threat, NATO and its Allies remain well-positioned to meet these challenges. NATO’s strategic enablers – military and civilian capacity-building; capability delivery; intelligence and information sharing; partnerships and outreach; and science, technology and medical support – provide a strong foundation to achieve its core defence principles and commitments.

NATO’s CBRN defence capabilities are derived from the Alliance’s collective military and civil capability, its networks and partnerships and its technical expertise, knowledge and assets. The Alliance continues to support its Allies in the development and improvement of their own CBRN defence capabilities through training, exercises and the provision of intelligence and technical support. NATO’s military and civilian capacities are also exercised in CBRN-related situations during major strategic NATO exercises, in addition to specific exercises with Allies and Partners.

In the event of a nuclear or radiological incident, the Department of Homeland Security’s FEMA office is the lead agency and operates under its authority, direction and control. A Nuclear Incident Response Team (NIRT) is activated to respond to these types of events, and is comprised of Department of Energy nuclear and radiological response capabilities. This includes the nuclear decontamination ship – EpiShuttle, which is equipped to provide support during the initial phases of an incident by decontaminating affected individuals and equipment and providing medical support. The NIRT is supported by an operational control centre located in the Netherlands.