Standards Help Protect CBRN Responders

Sep 15, 2007

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA), and the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) as the lead Federal organization, in cooperation with other stakeholders, have begun to collaboratively develop the first Canadian national standard for personal protective equipment for first responders (fire, police, paramedic, and hospital first receivers) in the event of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) incident.

Photo: Win Henderson

The aim of this new national standard is to fill an existing gap for a common set of Canadian requirements to protect our nation’s first responders in addressing CBRN events by providing realistic, risk-based guidance on the appropriate level of protection required. This new standard will greatly assist first responder organizations in the selection, care and use of CBRN personal protective equipment, enabling them to do their jobs more safely with greater protection and functionality.

Development of a single recognized national standard will bring together relevant stakeholders and their expertise in protective equipment development and evaluation for CBRN agents that are world-class. This new standard will take a systems approach and identify requirements for whole-body protection. It will address requirements for both respiratory protection and protective clothing together and provide valuable guidance on key issues such as the interchangeability and interoperability of equipment, thus enhancing the capacity of first responders to work effectively across jurisdictions.

Although this standard will apply to all first responder organizations in Canada, it will also be of interest to other public and private sector organizations that would be involved (directly or indirectly) in the management of a CBRN event. Information and guidance contained in the standard will also have great value to the first responder community in preparing for and responding to non-CBRN events. The standard will address the differences between conventional Hazardous Material (HazMat) incidents and deliberate CBRN events in order to understand how equipment guidelines may differ.

Drafting of this new standard will be led by a CSA-CGSB sponsored multi-stakeholder Technical Committee, representing all relevant interests including government regulators, equipment manufacturers, first responder organizations and research and testing organizations.

Key components of this new standards development initiative include:

  • evaluation of current subject matter material including existing protective equipment standards and relevant research documents;
  • technical development of the standard using a consensus approach; and
  • an implementation strategy to promote the adoption of and compliance with the new standard.

Guidance in this new standard is intended to be applied to first responder organizations whose mandate is to respond to a suspected CBRN event that endangers public safety. It is not intended to apply to the later phases of the response, for example during scene remediation, in which response rate can be more measured and based on better-known levels of risk. Nor does it apply to members of the general public.

Guidance on the selection of appropriate personal protective equipment will be based on realistic scenarios and the roles that responders would play in a CBRN event. The scenarios will be chosen to represent a range of possible CBRN events in the Canadian environment. These scenarios will involve an intentional release of a chemical, biological, or radiological agent, either through the use of some dissemination device, or by damage to a facility, or through the intentional spread of a contagious disease via human carriers. Representative realistic worst-case scenarios and agents in each category will be considered in order to determine the potential exposure of the first responder and the level of protection that will be required.

In order to make recommendations for protective equipment, the Technical Committee will need to understand the duties that first responders may perform, and where, in a CBRN event. An objective of the standard is to identify the various roles of responders. In assessing the role of first responders, the Committee will need to consider a range of factors including the fact that Canadian first responders are fragmented, both geographically and in size and capability and response roles in a given locality may vary and be divided across multiple jurisdictions.

The Committee will also need to address the many factors that can affect the selection and use of the personal protective equipment for CBRN use. Protective equipment designed for CBRN use, like other forms of specialized equipment, requires training, maintenance, and proper storage. In addition, sizing considerations are extremely important. Consideration of routinely fitting, and fit-testing, personnel with their equipment, as well as how appropriately sized equipment will be distributed in the case of an actual event, is just as important as the actual purchase of the equipment. It does as much harm as good to purchase equipment that is not available in the correct size when the individual needs to don it, as they will either be prevented from performing the response or will be provided with a degraded level of protection while responding.

The Committee will also need to consider work rate, as this can have a significant impact on how long an individual can perform their duties and maintain sufficient protection.

Another key objective of the standard is to provide guidance on the capabilities and limitations of the equipment. This information is essential in helping first responders to manage their risks and make informed decisions about equipment purchases.

The CSA and CGSB collaboration to develop a new national standard to protect first responders is a leading model of cooperation. Through this initiative, CSA and CGSB will lever their complimentary expertise in personal protective equipment standardization and help enhance the security and effectiveness of first responders in addressing CBRN events.

Funding for the development of this new Canadian national standard is being provided by the Department of National Defence’s CBRN Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI). The standard is targeted for publication in February 2009. Readers are encouraged to monitor both CSA’s web site ( and CGSB’s web site ( to keep abreast of the latest developments.
Ron Meyers is the Project Manager, Emergency Mgmt, Protective Equipment and Systems, at the Canadian Standards Association.
© FrontLine Security 2007