The world of CBRN

The world of CBRN

What is a CBRN incident

A CBRN incident occurs when chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear devices or agents are used to cause mass disruption and possibly mass casualties. 

In the furtherance of political or social objectives, there is an unlawful use of force against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government and/or civilian population.

CBRN Incidents and Terrorism

Are often associated with acts of terrorism. CBRN agents or devices used for terrorist purposes are often described as weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The use of CBRN agents by terrorists may cause a limited number of casualties but usually terrorise people and disrupt society.

HAZMAT Incidents

The term HAZMAT has three different standard forms.

First and foremost, HAZMAT stands for “Hazardous Materials” and refers to items in any state (solid, liquid, or gas) that have the potential to cause harm to people or the environment once it is dispersed, spilt or released.

The term HAZMAT is also commonly used to refer to the protective suits worn by people whose work may put them in contact with hazardous materials. HAZMAT suits can be worn by many people or professions, e.g. fire services, emergency services, environmental services, or national security departments.

HAZMAT can be used to describe the severity of an incident.

Various classifications and groupings are applied to all the different uses of the term and are shared with all people and organisations who might encounter hazardous materials.

What is CBRN terrorism?

CBRN terrorism occurs when there is:

  • Serious violence against a person;
  • Serious damage to property;
  • A threat to a persons’ life;
  • A serious risk to the health and safety of the public;
  • Serious interference/disruption to an electronic system.

If the use or threat of action above is intended to:

  • Influence a Government, International Community;
  • Intimidate the public or a section of the public;
  • Advance a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.

CBRN terrorism​ - Facts.

The CBRN defence market was predicted to grow from $14.68 Billion in 2016 to $19.15 Billion by 2022.

Increasing research indicates that threats from the deliberate use of CBRN materials remains high and are evolving rapidly. In the future threats are likely to come from the use of chemical and biological weapons. These include nerve agents such as Sarin and Novichok. Blister agents e.g. mustard gas. Choking agents e.g. chlorine. Also a wide range of bacterial and viral pathogens such as anthrax and smallpox.

Some effects of a CBRN incident

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At the beginning of 2020, the world witnessed the outbreak of COVID-19. Agencies around the world were aware that there was a significant likelihood of a viral pandemic, long before it occurred. It soon became evident that Governments and agencies had not been able to Predict, Prepare and Respond to the pandemic.
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CBRN Challenge

Possible effects of a CBRN/HAZMAT incident 

  • Health Services become overwhelmed.
  • Death and Mass Casualty.
  • Psychological impact on society.
  • Fear spreading to the International community.
  • Civil disorder and additional pressure on the Police.
  • International tension and conflict.
  • Political uncertainty.
  • Media involvement.
  • Loss of confidence in authorities.
  • A downturn in the economy.
  • Problems with business continuity
  • Poor response and recovery from critical events. 
  • Increased post-incident training.
  • Costly post-incident investigation.
CBRN Response Evolution

Challenges – Past, Present and Future.

Possible effects of a CBRN/HAZMAT incident 

In the past, CBRN related attacks were perpetrated by and between military forces, using military hardware and weapons.

Today these attacks are also being carried out on civilian victims by civilian terrorists.

 In the future, there is likely to be an increase in hazardous incidents and accidents in the energy, industrial and medical sector, e.g. microbial mutations of viruses (COVID-19). 

What is the underlying problem?

Governments, Public Sector Agencies, and Businesses.

  • Lack of future foresight to Predict, Prevent, Plan and if necessary, Respond and Recover from threats. 
  • Unclear Strategic and Operational planning.
  • Lack of intelligence development re threat, risk and harm.
  • Insufficient information sharing with other agencies.
  • Insufficient experience with interoperability and joint training.
  • Poor business practices.
  • Poor leadership.
  • Use of unskilled workforce.
  • No or insufficient equipment and the training to use such equipment.
CBRN Challenges

Other factors to consider

  • Changing, global security picture. 
  • Increased International Travel.
  • Relaxation of borders.
  • Global Organised Crime.
  • Money laundering for Terrorism.
  • The proliferation of conventional weapons and CBRN materials.
  • Growth of fundamentalism and extremism.
  • Availability of information and expertise via the internet.
  • Information-dependent society.
  • Dependency on critical infrastructure and the potential for attack.

Current trends

CBRN Terrorism

Increase in terrorism and the use of CBRN materials by extremist groups such as DAESH.

Chemical Weapons

Use of chemical weapons by Organised Crime Groups e.g. Sarin attack Tokyo underground Japan.

Cyber Attacks

Terrorist Cyber-attacks - US Energy, Treasury and Commerce agencies 2020


  • Improve the ability to Predict, Prevent, & Manage CBRN/HAZMAT threats and events.
  • Develop effective Strategic and Operational plans.
  • Obtain and develop strategic information-sharing protocols.
  • Improve the ability or capability to share information with other agencies.
  • Build Strategic Partnerships with key stakeholders.
  • Reduce the risk of CBRN/HAZMAT incidents and events.
  • Improve leadership within organisations to help them manage CBRN/HAZMAT events. 
  • Develop Training Strategy for Organisations.
  • Strategic review of equipment provision. 
  • Joint agency tabletop exercises for senior leaders.


  • Improve and develop intelligence concerning CBRN/HAZMAT threats and incidents;
  • Improve interoperability and joint training between agencies;
  • Improve single agency training to manage CBRN/HAZMAT threats and events;
  • Effective planning to improve business continuity;
  • High-Quality training for the workforce;
  • Essential cutting edge equipment and training.
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