Prominent world events, such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Ebola outbreak and the use of chemical weapons in countries such as Syria and Iraq, highlight the vital importance for the US military and first response units worldwide to be prepared for the most demanding of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive (CBRNe) challenges.
Irrespective of how a release happens, and whether it be accidental or deliberate in nature, it is essential that response teams have the requisite skills to be able to identify, secure and work within any potentially hostile environment.
To this end, the creation of realistic, immersive and compelling scenarios, that accurately portray the challenges that teams will face in the field, is pivotal to effective training.
Research has shown that experiential learning is an incredibly powerful training tool, but when you are working with high-risk substances such as toxic chemicals or radiation, how can CBRNe instructors ensure the most realistic student experience whilst also maintaining the highest levels of safety?
In this blog post we discuss the significance of safety within the context of CBRNe training scenarios and explore the options currently available to provide safe and realistic hands-on training experiences.
The role of Live Agent Training (LAT)
One traditional approach to CBRNe training focuses on the use of Live Agent Training (LAT) which utilises quantities of actual chemical warfare agents to create authentic training scenarios. As such, LAT is a highly respected and invaluable tool in developing trainees’ “combat readiness,” to ensure they are prepared for all the realities of the field.
But while LAT is often described as the peak of chemical warfare agent (CWA) training, its intensive nature, the demands it places on staff and time and the ongoing cost commitment, can make it an untenable long-term repetitive training solution.
LAT training also relies on trainees having already reached a high level of competence before they undertake such training. As UK CBRNe specialist David Butler describes in the ebook, Chemical Warfare Agent Training Using Simulators, “The training is not taken lightly and is only allowed after the trainee has attained a thorough understanding of the hazards and their effects and consequences.”
Due to the highly toxic nature of the substances, LAT is also subject to stringent regulations, meaning that every element of the training must be strictly managed. Training can only take place in designated areas for example, and always in close collaboration with the military and environmental agencies.
If an LAT training centre is located in a populated area, then training can only take place inside. And any training that takes place outdoors is always carefully controlled, down to the time of day it occurs, the suitability of the weather conditions and the type and quantity of agent that is released.
Safety considerations in Simulant Agent Training (SAT)
A step down from LAT is simulant agent training (SAT) which follows many of the same principles of LAT but which utilises simulant agents that mimic the properties of actual CWAs.
While SAT significantly reduces the lethality of the substances used, there is still a risk of overexposure to the simulants which can present a hazard both to the trainees and their instructors. And while SAT offers a realistic training experience, it runs the risk of building false confidence which can compromise students’ understanding.
Simulants can also be difficult to dispense and control which can limit an instructor’s ability to replicate a specific scenario. Crucially too, the repeated use of simulants over time can result in chemical build-up which, aside from saturating the ground and compromising future exercises, can present a hazard to human health and the immediate environment as well as causing wear and tear to expensive detector equipment.
What viable alternatives are there to LAT or SAT training?
An alternative to both the LAT and SAT training methods is simulation training, which utilises the latest intelligent, computer-based simulation tools to offer a compelling, immersive and safe CBRNe training experience.
Simulator detectors require no actual chemical agents, responding instead to electronic simulation that mimics the exact qualities of real life hazards, which means it can be undertaken in any location, including buildings and civilian areas, and with zero risk of harm to the public, training personnel or the environment.
Aside from the normal instructions to safely handle and dispose of the commercial alkaline batteries used to power the devices, there are no significant health and safety or environmental implications in using simulator detectors.
The development of regular training to test responsibilities, capabilities and protocols is an essential component of CBRNe training for the military and first response teams. And at the heart of any training methodology should be an adherence to the highest levels of safety for personnel, civilians and the environment.
The creation of realistic training scenarios, utilising simulator detectors, offers a safe and viable alternative to other existing CBRNe training methods.