The 21st-century threat posed by potential chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) incidents is forever evolving as terrorist tactics continue to change. Being able to successfully keep up with this rapidly changing environment is a continuing challenge for responders – particularly CBRN, civil defense, and emergency services personnel who realize that developing and integrating respiratory solutions must meet not only the challenges of today, but the undoubtedly even greater challenges of tomorrow as well.

One timely example: Cost-efficient solutions that effectively answer any call for CBRN personal protective equipment (PPE) would be equally and perhaps even more beneficial at major political and/or sporting events such as the 2012 London Olympics. That is especially true this year because of the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, a lengthy process that includes the major political rallies already taking place throughout the country, the numerous primaries that serve as a precursor to the nominating conventions of the two major political parties, and the November presidential and congressional elections themselves.

The principal challenge for manufacturers is to develop solutions that can efficiently cover the huge and steadily increasing number of stadiums and other sports venues that are regularly, but intermittently, in use. This challenge becomes even greater as the capacities of many stadiums throughout almost every state in the union increase almost exponentially – many football stadiums already seat in excess of 100,000 people. Crowds of that size, particularly in an enclosed area, are extremely vulnerable to potential incidents (manmade or otherwise).

Hub-Site Stockpiles & the Need for Speed 

One possible solution to meet the challenge posed by a potential CBRN incident is to have quickly available very large quantities of PPE – specifically including respirators, suits, and decontamination equipment – that could be provided on a lease basis. By having a huge supply of PPE equipment on standby at various centralized “hub” sites throughout the country, the protective gear needed could be put to use on short or no notice if and when the need arises. Of course, it would be particularly important to prepare responders, at all levels of government, by also providing them the training needed well prior to a potential CBRN event; inspection and maintenance of the PPE stockpiles also would be needed on a continuing basis.

Meeting those and other needs is perhaps the single most important reason why, when selecting CBRN protective clothing and equipment, so many military and civilian organizations look first, when faced with an evolving incident, for cost-efficient and effective solutions that offer not only complete protection but also as much flexibility as possible. By addressing several important concerns that often accompany lower-cost solutions – sealing suits to masks more effectively, for example – PPE suppliers not only help decrease the “donning times” needed but also, and of much greater importance, increase the degree of protection provided.

It is at least partly for that reason that some manufacturers now offer cost-efficient solutions by including a “thru-life” service capability with their respiratory equipment. This bonus factor means offering not only the respiratory solution needed but also the servicing, maintenance, and training, both personalized and through service centers, also required – for all parts of the mask. The advantage of having this type of service available is that users can reasonably expect to have working respirators that are primed and ready to go at all times – which in turn means that those same users can concentrate from the start on their most important priority: quickly responding to the situation at hand without having to worry about the maintenance of their equipment.

Exploring the Portable Low-Cost Option 

Unfortunately, very few stadium attendants and/or emergency services professionals are currently trained to use and/or even carry CBRN PPE clothing and equipment when attending and/or reacting to a CBRN incident. Obviously, though, there is a real need in today’s world for rapid-response capabilities that are not likely to be slowed down by the additional burdens imposed by training, maintenance, and storage requirements. There are, fortunately, solutions already available to meet this added complication as well – e.g., emergency escape hoods that have passed some rather stringent NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) tests when used to defend against a broad range of CBRN materials.

For practical as well as planning purposes, what started off as an idea “worth exploring” was now ready to be used in countering terrorist incidents and/or dealing with major threat scenarios in which the first and most immediate requirement, usually, is to clear crowds of participants, spectators, and attendees as quickly as possible from the site of an actual or possible attack.

For example, the idea behind the new Avon Protection Systems’ NH15 hood was born out of a concept originally designed for the UK police, who were looking for a compact hood for personal carry that could provide instant protection, against all CBRN materials, to officers carrying out their duties in the midst of a “live-threat” scenario. The hood, which had to be quick to don, was needed primarily to help the wearers themselves leave the scene of a potential or actual CBRN incident both quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately, the modern day terrorist threat is so great in magnitude that it is no longer only military personnel and civilian first responders who must be able not only to survive but also to deal effectively with a potential attack. It is no secret that major public events and transport systems are already earmarked by security forces as among the most likely potential targets in CBRN threat scenarios. There are now many other sectors of modern society, in fact, that are vulnerable not only to potential terrorist or CBRN attacks but also to nuclear accidents – and, therefore, need PPE “at the ready” to deal quickly and safely with any such emergency.

Unknown Dimensions, Uncertain Scenarios & Unavoidable Problems 

Today, many private-sector organizations and businesses – e.g., the oil, gas, pipeline, and chemical industries of all modern nations – as well as the banking and finance sectors, and hotels and entertainment venues, also need to be prepared. Unfortunately, the exact dimensions of the threat parameters are still not fully known and, therefore, not fully understood. From the responder’s point of view, each conflict and threat scenario creates its own unique risks, uncertainties, and problems; the protection requirements also need to change from time to time, therefore, to ensure survivability and operability in any given situation.

Prior to and during an actual CBRN incident, there is even greater vulnerability, if only because any requirement to wear or carry a traditional respirator or breathing apparatus at all times would be both impractical and costly. The servicing of such equipment at periodic intervals is also essential. For those and other reasons, the availability of an apparatus that is significantly smaller, needs little training or maintenance, and can be carried around at times of heightened security offers the wearer a much better chance to exit from the scene of an incident quickly, efficiently, and – of the greatest importance – safely.

To briefly summarize: The benefits provided by the new emergency escape hood include: (a) offering a high level of respiratory, eye, and face protection to help the user evacuate from a contaminated area; (b) protecting against airborne CBRN threats and/or liquid-agent splashes; (c) giving the user a nonthreatening appearance while at the same time providing superior visual communication and recognition capabilities; and (d) not requiring annual OSHA “fit” tests or maintenance.

Today, the potential terrorist threat continues to evolve at an ever faster pace, while budgets for defense purposes (including homeland defense) are actually being cut (because of the tightening economies). Civilian-based organizations that are sensitive to the possibility of an attack can therefore no longer justify expenses for complicated and hard-to-use equipment – with additional training requirements also mandated – that is likely to be left in the locker. It is largely for this reason that the product development processes for modern PPE are addressing the changing needs of organizations that must be always ready to meet and effectively deal with a worst-case scenario.

James Wilcox

James Wilcox is the Global MARCOM and Product Management and Marketing Director for Avon Protection. He has worked in the field of CBRN respiratory protection for nearly 10 years. Previously, he was responsible for technical development of the new Department of Defense M50 and M53 masks. Prior to joining Avon Protection, he worked at Dyson Ltd. in the United Kingdom, developing consumer products for the commercial market.

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