In recent decades a range of terrorist groups and individuals have explored, or sought to use, CBRNE materials as terrorist weapons. 

The best-known examples are the 1994 and 1995 nerve gas attacks in Japan by Aum Shinrikyo, which killed 19, and the anthrax letters in the United States in September 2001 which killed five people as well as causing enormous disruption and expense.  The most famous attack in Britain was the murder of Bulgarian émigré Georgi Markov in London with a poison-tipped umbrella in 1978. In Israel suicide bomber terrorists have been and continue to use a chemical explosive mixture known as TATP.

Al-Qaida and those aligned with it have a sustained and serious interest in the whole CBRNE range.

Methods of delivery
Chemical, biological or radiological materials may be dispersed in a variety of ways, ranging from sophisticated military systems to simple acts of contamination.  It would be very difficult for terrorists to develop military-grade weapons and they are likely to rely on simple methods of dispersal.  

The effectiveness of the device will depend on a range of factors including the nature of the material itself, the prevailing weather conditions and whether the attacker is concerned for his or her own life. 

Precautions you can take

  • Remember that the likelihood of chemical and biological attack is lower than that of conventional explosive attack. If you believe you might be subject to one, seek further police counter terrorist advice through your state homeland security office.  
  • If you are concerned about attacks via letter or parcel, consider whether you need to make special arrangements, e.g. a separate mail screening room with dedicated air-handling, or use of a specialist off-site facility.
  • Review security of your air conditioning system, e.g. access to intakes and exhausts, and restrict access to water supplies.
  • Develop and rehearse plans for the rapid shut down of any air-handling systems as well as other ventilation systems and access points.
  • Develop and rehearse plans for the rapid shut down of any air-handling systems as well as other equipment containing fans (including computers). 
  • Ensure that doors and windows can be closed and, if possible, sealed quickly.
  • As you plan, remember that you may or may not get warning prior to an attack or incident.
  • Remember that it will probably not be apparent which form of attack you are facing. Your procedures should therefore be designed to cope with any emergency.  Leave identifying the specific form of attack to the experts.
  • Review plans for protecting employees, visitors and residents in the event of a terrorist threat or attack.  Remember that evacuation may not be the best solution.  You will need to be guided by the emergency services on the day.  Identify shelter areas in case you are advised not to leave the building/facility.
  • Brief employees, visitors or residents that, in the event of an attack, any obvious victims should be told - by phone or emergency intercom system if necessary - to remain in the part of the building they are in.
  • The likelihood of an improvised nuclear or biological attack is lower than a chemical or radiological. The best defense is daily vigilance of the kind that should be exercised during any period of terrorist threat. Radiological or nuclear devices may or may not resemble conventional terrorist bombs. 
  • Exposure to radioactivity is extremely harmful if ingested and harmful is exposed for periods of time (depending energies). It is a question of the degree of exposure. In any nuclear explosion the majority of casualties will be caused by blast and heat.

Your police or fire emergency services department will take responsibility for treatment of CBRNE casualties.  You do not need to make special arrangements beyond normal first aid provision.

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