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Argon Electronics CBRNe / HazMat Training News

The new face of CBRN response training

Written by Argon Electronics on 12 Sep 2013

Governments, armed forces and civil authorities are increasingly devoting time and budgets to obtaining equipment and training personnel to respond to CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) / HazMat (Hazardous Materials) dangers both accidental and deliberate.  

While terrorist threats have raised the risk, our need to establish greater sustainability in energy production has strengthened the cause of nuclear power, another source of potential danger that fire fighters and military CBRN response forces must be prepared for.  Even incidents such as Fukushima have done little to quell the appetite for nuclear power.  

A survey conducted in the wake of Fukushima revealed a perhaps surprisingly relaxed attitude to the on-going presence of nuclear power stations.  The results gathered from customers of metals and manufacturing company Luvata established that almost half of the respondents felt nuclear fission was safe and that it is public education on the technology, not decommissioning of power plants, that is required to allay fears about the nuclear industry.  Either way, nuclear power and its risks are here for some time to come.

The challenge

The immediate and long-term dangers of the CBRN /HazMat threat have been expressed in a 1999 paper from the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) in Geneva, entitled Examining Long-term Severe Health Consequences of CBW Use Against Civilian Populations.  

“Exposure to chemical, biological or nuclear agents, either from military use or accidents, results in profound damage to people and the environment.  Toxic residues from such weapons contaminate food and water supplies, cause sterility in people and animals, and can cause genetic damage spanning generations. Secondary consequences may spread across international boundaries, endanger millions, have effects on children yet unborn and on the fertility and health of future generations.”  

The paper was released shortly after the sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system demonstrated the potency of such weapons, the difficulties in preventing their use and the inadequacy of the response system.  It was also deeply concerned about the fact that the long-term implications of a chemical, biological or nuclear incident differ dramatically from those posed by conventional weapons and defy responses planned for conflicts, terrorist attacks and accidents:

“Unlike conventional arms, chemical and biological weapons attacks have deadly and disabling effects on emergency services personnel and persist in the environment. Such agents cannot be counteracted through conventional infrastructure and emergency responses. Governments around the world now acknowledge the real threat of such weapons and the nightmare prospect of war and terrorism that destroy people and not buildings.  Increasingly frequent industrial mishaps, train derailments, air crashes and other accidents have also resulted in exposures to a variety of highly toxic substances, and local jurisdictions have found themselves ill-prepared to respond. Emergency exercises in major cities and at defence establishments have demonstrated the inadequacy of current responses to the emerging threats.”

New solutions

Since the UNIDIR released this paper, which understandably, expressed great concern over our capability to cope with CBRN / HazMat dangers, a whole industry has developed to meet the challenge.  To maximise safety and make adequate preparations for dealing with an accident there has been an on-going technological advance and expansion in the array of field detection systems that can be deployed.  This in turn has generated an ever growing and increasingly critical need for comprehensive training, which is best achieved by supplying personnel with simulation instruments, such as those produced by British simulation experts Argon Electronics.  

Argon produce state-of-the-art CBRN / HazMat simulation instruments and software that can be used to create a virtual emergency scenario and these tools are significantly increasing the capability of responders to deal with emergencies.

In preparing for HazMat and CBRN reaction and remediation, training exercises need to be not only regular, but also challenging. Training should stretch participants, and not permit them to just go through the motions.  If trainees are not challenged, they are not alert; and if they are not alert, they are not learning – or, at least, not learning to a level that will assure optimum performance in the face of the most severe of circumstances.  Hazmat and CBRN training must encourage the trainee to behave as if the exercise were a real event.

The challenge of creating the most realistic exercises for fire fighters to learn how to deal with call outs involving toxic chemicals and/or radiological materials, without actually releasing such substances into the environment, has been a perennial problem.  Increasingly, the solution has been to use electronic simulation equipment, such as that provided by Argon Electronics, which elevates the training terms ‘realistic’ and ‘challenging’ to a new level.

Realistic exercises 

Highly challenging simulation exercises using this simulation equipment are now taking place in the UK and elsewhere in the world.  Fire fighters can safely simulate the release of chemical and radiological hazards, and, equipped with Argon simulators in place of the real detectors, participants are able to realistically carry out their roles without risk of harm or damage to personnel, their equipment, or the environment.

For example, in what was understood to be the first UK event of its kind on such a scale, Argon Electronics recently provided the Lancashire Fire Service with the capability to safely simulate the release of a radiological hazard.  The scenario involved the simulated crash of an aircraft following a terrorist hijack, and the release of a radioactive material at the site.  

Fire fighters were greeted by the tail section of an aircraft which had crushed a car with passengers inside.  Billowing black smoke led on to the main body of the aircraft, realistically manned by ‘injured’ volunteers who had previously been ‘contaminated’ with safe simulant materials. Other simulation sources were strategically located in the wreckage.  

Equipped with Argon simulators in place of the real detectors, personnel were able to realistically carry out their roles without risk of harm or damage to themselves, other participants, their equipment or the environment.

Effective preparation and training is key to maximising safety in the event of a nuclear incident and after more than 20 years of providing solutions, we have seen a rise in the frequency and quality of training, supported by our own innovations.  By combining strong relationships with leading detector manufacturers with the development of versatile new training platforms, companies such as Argon are enabling safe and cost effective preparation for emergencies and an awareness of this is essential when considering the risks presented by nuclear energy.

Simulators offer great flexibility in planning exercises.  Instructors can prepare a scenario where the trainees do not know what they will encounter, which is extremely useful because in a real life situation the fire fighters who are responding to an alert do not always know exactly what they are looking for.

PlumeSIM®

Instructors can now manage the detection instrument training of multiple personnel, selecting the parameters for the activation of simulation instruments using PlumeSIM®, a CBRN / HazMat response training simulator that provides enhanced flexibility and ease-of-use in field exercises and table top training for counter terrorism, HazMat or nuclear incidents.

PlumeSIM® is designed on a Windows® platform and allows multiple trainees to be managed and monitored from a computer at a central location.  ThePlumeSIM® software enables users to plan exercises on a PC or laptop without system hardware, offering a portable simulation system with easy-to-use menus that can be swiftly set up and used to create diverse variety virtual emergency scenarios.

PlumeSIM® enables an instructor to plan a scenario that involves either single or multiple releases of hazardous materials and offers the potential to define a series of release characteristics, such as duration, persistence and deposition, for an extensive choice of substances.  The instructor setting the training exercise can even define the environmental conditions that would affect the movement and/or state of the virtual plume during the timespan of the operation.

Trainees can interact with PlumeSIM® in three modes: Table Top Mode, Field Exercise Mode and post-event Exercise Review Mode.  Table Top Mode offers the opportunity for trainees to navigate a projected on-screen scenario using a standard gamepad controller, offering a level of familiarisation with the simulators that enables them to gain more from the subsequent field training exercises.  

Field Exercise mode enables students to physically investigate a training area, wherePlumeSIM® triggers readings and alarms on the simulation tools they carry by locally re-broadcasting the threat scenarios from deployed personal Player Units which track their progress using GPS data.  All data is recorded and can be analysed after the field exercise using the after-action Exercise Review Mode; all player movement and simulator activity can be reviewed by instructors and trainees at debriefing, providing individual trainees with detailed feedback on their performance, maximising the potential for the students to learn from their experiences.

During both the Planning and Review Modes, PlumeSIM® can also be run in accelerated and paused time to firstly evaluate the validity of the scenario design, and then optimise the replayed exercise appraisal within a compressed time period. A pause can sometimes be extremely valuable in allowing instructors to evaluate, test or validate a student’s progress and perhaps recommend changes in approach to ensure all participants get the very best out of the exercise.

Argon has recently enhanced its support for CBRN response in Asia and around the world with a series of visits to conferences and exhibitions. For example, following its recent order to supply the Indian military with training simulators, Argon presented a paper on international best practice in CBRN detection training at the CBRNe India conference and exhibition, which took place in New Delhi, India in April 2013. ;Argon’s presence at CBRNe India demonstrates its on-going commitment in assisting its customers across territories in the implementation and procurement of CBRN response training equipment.

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