First Responders and CBRNE

Dec 15, 2013

First Responders strive to keep the public safe during emergencies. Such careers often put their own safety at risk, and yet we regularly hear ­stories of courage in the face of those ­perils.

The work of Canadian fire fighters, police, and paramedics is much more than responding to emergencies and criminal action. Their skill and knowledge about the risk context in which Canadian emergencies occur places them at the core of emergency management in this country. Not only are they active responders to emergencies, they are planners, managers, financiers and advisors who are charged with the mammoth task of accurately predicting the emergency potential of their community and then ­planning, preparing, resourcing and building the capacity to respond to what they have anticipated – and they must do all that in the face of competing priorities and constant budget constraints.

Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) in an All-Hazards Context. In the capable hands of Emergency Management (EM) personnel from all levels of society, EM protocols are becoming more standardized. With a focus on the full range of hazards that threaten the public, an all-hazards approach to EM has become the standard requirement.

In recent years, there has been an increasing acknowledgement of the necessity of unique but standardized approaches to CBRNE response, and this brings a number of questions to the fore. How do we encourage greater standardization and interoperability in CBRNE-related operations to achieve risk reduction in that arena? How do we accomplish that in a way that builds on the maturing science of EM? How do we ensure that CBRNE finds a place in the full range of acknowledged hazards against which we continue to build response capability?

Why a Recommended Equipment List (REL)?
The April 2005 Auditor General’s Report on National Security in Canada assessed ­government-supported, post 9-11, anti-­terrorism initiatives that had been funded to build a response capability in the event of terrorist attacks on this county. One of the clearest criticisms in that Report was directed at the process used by government to allocate the funds, and at the resultant “diluting [of] the response capacity.”

Since 2005, CBRNE efforts in Canada have informed our understanding of the many challenges faced by those charged with the allocation of that funding. Faced with strict timelines, they were forced to move quickly in the absence of CBRNE risk information and with cripplingly ­limited first responder knowledge of related equipment. However, that 2005 evaluation was thorough and unearthed key information about how CBRNE response capacity was evolving in Canada. It identified critical issues and made recommendations that have since guided efforts to improve the response readiness should such an event occur. The genesis of the REL Project can be found in that 2005 Report.

What is the REL?
The REL is a CBRNE-focused resource aimed at assisting Canada’s tri-service responder organizations to increase response capability where needed and reduce the related risk. It guides the analysis of equipment needed to respond to CBRNE terrorism and lists related equipment.

The REL supports analysis and interpretation of CBRNE-related needs and data, with the critically important risk assessment process. Too often in the past, the required risk assessment was completed, data assembled, and then filed (never again to see the light of day). Now, the REL performs a meaningful interpretation of risk assessment results and helps users understand exactly what the risk assessment has uncovered.

How does the REL approach that interpretation? Underpinning the most effective use of the REL is the capability-based planning (CBP) process (a form of all-hazards planning that recognizes growing uncertainty in the threat environment). The REL recognizes that approaches to risk assessment vary across first responder organizations, but offers clear and thorough guidance on developing a risk assessment tool in an all-hazards context.

A key working assumption, and one that is fundamental to the working beliefs of REL, is that the CBRNE threat would be part of the data revealed by many all-hazards-based risk assessments carried out across the country. REL offers assistance in analysing the CBRNE threat by looking at potential targets, along with local geographic realities and their related history, through a set of questions.

What CBRNE equipment should be available to deal with CBRNE terrorism?
The REL aims to help answer the question: Do we have the right mix of planning, people, training and equipment to carry out a response to any potential CBRNE threats?

Working with the risk assessment data, the CBP approach uses Canadian resource-type criteria established by first responders to identify what capabilities an organization should have to respond to a wide range of emergencies – the REL applies that information only to a CBRNE event. Target levels of capability are established which can be broken into component pieces including technology, equipment, training and applicable standards. These become the “targeted” capabilities that can enable emergency organizations to prevent, respond to and recover from potential threats, including terrorist attacks.

A first time breakthrough offered by the REL is a data-based reflection on the CBRNE threat, which seeds a hypothesis that full “capability” might not be a requirement for many Canadian first responder organizations. But that should not prevent first responders from preparing for real and present CBRNE threats.

How should an organization begin planning and preparation in an environment where some threat exists but does not sit first in an all-hazards based list? The REL introduces the concept of building the level of capability that is warranted and is fiscally sensitive. It defines a subset of capabilities that are reflective of the Canadian environment – these are called Levels of Service.

It is intended that informed use of the REL will enable communities to allocate resources more effectively as they address primary risk priorities, most particularly, those related to CBRNE. The principle of sharing limited resources across regions and across partner organization also frames REL messaging.

Training and standards related to the equipment are cross-referenced in the REL in order to facilitate building appropriate and comprehensive capabilities. Increased compliance with standards, and related training will promote interoperability and responder safety, and improve strategic planning by response organizations.

A Prototype for Interoperability
Interoperability has been a fundamental principle that has supported the work of the REL project but, even more importantly, it has been a critically important driver of REL efforts and the single biggest factor in its successful completion.

With the objective of developing an instrument that would enable Canadian response organizations and their communities to plan, with improved fiscal efficiency, to reduce CBRNE risk and achieve greater interoperability, the REL project brought together a committee of experts to develop a CBRNE “Recommended Equipment” list. The REL Project Technical Committee includes designates from the Chiefs and Membership Associations of Canadian Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services, along with representatives from Standards and Training institutions, and expertise relative to public safety, security, science and technology. The REL would not have been possible without the leadership and funding support of the CBRNE Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI) and project delivery support by the Canadian Police Research Centre (CPRC), two former federally-funded programs led by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS).

The CSS was created in 2006 through a partnership between Public Safety Canada and the Department of National Defence to provide science and technology support and services to address Canada’s public safety and national security priorities. In June 2012, the Government of Canada announced the new Canadian Safety and Security Program, which harmonizes the mandates of three predecessors – the CRTI, the CPRC, and the Public Security Technical Program. This new program will continue to support projects and activities that bring together experts from science and technology, policy, operations and intelligence communities.

International Interoperability at Work
The support and mentorship of the United States’ InterAgency Board (IAB) has been critical to the development of the REL. The REL Project Technical Committee recognized the potential value in “Canadianizing” the American IAB Standard Equipment List (SEL) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Authorized Equipment List (AEL). The IAB’s assistance allowed their existing material to be used as raw material for the REL. The level of support provided by the IAB, as well as several other participating American organizations, has been well beyond what anyone on the Committee could have anticipated. As a result, the REL is currently much more than it originally set out to be. The original project goal was to produce a paper document printed for distribution in Canada. Instead, with the generous contribution of our U.S. colleagues, the REL, with appropriate hyperlinks, is available online at It is synchronized with the SEL and AEL and available as a downloadable electronic document. Hyperlinks connect the REL to the U.S. Responder Knowledge Base (RKB), with extensive supplementary information specific to the technology itemized in the lists. This raising of the bar improves access to the REL and increases its ultimate value to communities and emergency agencies.

The Business Case
Decisions about where to spend limited resources in a risk reduction context must be made with care. The REL advises that all spending decisions be supported by data gleaned from the risk assessment process that have been analysed and placed in the context of a community’s risk reduction ­priorities. Rigour is then ensured that will support the resulting business case.

One of the key objectives that motivated the REL project was to provide guidelines to help improve fiscal efficiency. The reality is that resources are limited, and that many identified hazards sit higher in priority than CBRNE-related risks. In that ­context, the REL stresses the importance of a strong business case when funds are requested. The business case should be supported by rationale that points out that a rigorous and systematic approach was used to find and analyse the supporting data. Using such an approach ensures that funding agencies understand that the resources being requested are not random and are essential to respond to community needs.

If the case is built based on the foundation that CBRNE risk reduction is appropriate when such spending is considered in the context of all-hazards risk assessment data, it frames a solid business case which allows your “ask” to be put in the right order of priority within the complete hazard picture.

There is also a possibility that the risk assessment may have led stakeholders to decide not to spend on CBRNE preparedness. Related considerations that can optimize fiscal spending and perhaps allow reconsideration of the CBRNE request could be that resources purchased with limited funds can do more than one job and that resources can be shared across jurisdictions. We do not all have to buy the same piece of equipment.

The sustainability of such a commitment is another factor to be considered. By looking at the costs of sustainability, including all lifecycle management implications (consumables, storage costs, shelf life, training and retraining, care and maintenance, wear and tear, damages…) the real impact of the purchase can be assessed.

Many communities have learned the hard way that if the resources required for sustainability are not factored into the ­business case, this becomes a problematic burden in future years. Historically, procurement programs have fallen short of addressing the full costs of sustainability, and this can result in capabilities dropping off over time.

It is reasonable to expect that funding requests which have addressed not only procurement issues, but importantly, have factored in sustainability strategies and related costs will meet with increased acceptance across the whole of Government.

The REL has delivered on a resource that has long been on the wish lists of many first responder groups. Its key contributors are the first responders who understand the needs of our communities and will be the most consistent users of this resource.

The definitive CBRNE scope of the REL was necessitated by the fiscal limitations of this project. However, the REL, having successfully established proof of concept, has spawned encouraging interest in enlarging the next iteration of the REL so that it encompasses all-hazards and is more broadly useful across the full Emergency Management spectrum.

Pierre Poirier, Chief, Security and Emergency Management at the City of Ottawa, Chairs the REL Project Technical Committee.
© FrontLine Security 2013