CBRN – chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attack

A growing concern among Homeland Security professionals, is that terrorists will someday unleash CBRN materials, in an attack against an unsuspecting public.

“CBRN” is a term that covers four distinct groups of hazards

Chemical. Poisoning or injury caused by chemical substances, including ex-military chemical warfare agents or legitimate but harmful household or industrial chemicals.

Biological. Illnesses caused by the deliberate release of dangerous bacteria, viruses or fungi, or biological toxins (e.g. ricin, a natural toxin occurring in plants).

Radiological (radioactive). Illness caused by exposure to harmful radioactive materials contaminating the environment.

Nuclear. Death and injury caused from caused from the effects of an explosion that includes blinding light, intense heat (thermal radiation), initial nuclear radiation, blast, fires started by the heat pulse, and secondary fires caused by the destruction.

CBRN weapons have been little used so far, largely due to the difficulty of obtaining the materials and the complexity of using them effectively. Where terrorists have tried to carry out CBRN attacks, they have generally used relatively simple materials. However, Al Qaida and related groups have expressed a serious interest in using CBRN.

The impact of any terrorist CBRN attack would depend heavily on the success of the chosen method of dissemination and the weather conditions at the time of the attack.

The likelihood of a CBRN attack remains low at this time, but should be considered in your preparedness planning. As with other terrorist attacks, you may not receive prior warning of a CBRN incident. Moreover, the exact nature of an incident may not be immediately obvious. First indicators may be the sudden appearance of powders, liquids or strange smells within the building, with or without an immediate effect on people.

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