With the popularity of shows like Doomsday Preppers, and of course, the impending apocalypse, we thought it would be a good idea to give our readers some basic information on CBRN survival. In case you were wondering what CBRN is, it stands for Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear. People in the industry use it to refer to situations in which any of these four hazards have presented themselves. I spent seven years as a CBRN specialist in the military, and part of my job was to train military personnel how to not die in a CBRN environment. I will also be the first to say, that merely owning the right equipment is only a start, you have to practice with it. If you’ve never tried doing simple tasks while wearing a gas mask, give it a go, it is harder than it looks.
So why should we concern ourselves with CBRN? The fact of the matter is that a terrorist attack on the United States is most likely a matter of when, not if. There is a good chance that in the event of an attack, the bad guys would attempt to deploy some form of CBRN weapon. These types of non-conventional agents would be an effective way to cause mayhem over a wide area, causing panic or death to a large portion of the population. What are some of these potential threats?
Terrorist use of chemical weapons has happened in recent history. Remember the subway attacks in Japan? The terrorist group released Sarin in an attempt to kill thousands of people who were in close proximity and in a poorly ventilated environment. Other chemical agents that would be effective are Cyanide, Mustard, Ricin, and of course VX, the most potent nerve agent known to man.
Bioterrorism is particularly frightening. Both Japan and the United States have suffered biological attacks on multiple occasions. Typically, terrorists use Anthrax or Salmonella as their bio weapon of choice. Anthrax is comparably easy to obtain, and since it doesn’t spread from person to person, there is little risk of infecting those outside of the target population. Thankfully, terrorists haven’t had the opportunity to use smallpox. This is a particularly deadly and contagious virus. The mortality rate with smallpox ranges from about 20-40%. Smallpox occurs only in humans, and has no external hosts or carriers. A smallpox outbreak would potentially wipe out a very large portion of the world’s population. We would see governments and other organizations using extreme measures to contain the effected portions of the population.
Realize that a radiological attack isn’t the same as a nuclear bomb. A radiological attack would most likely be nothing more than radioactive material being deployed alongside a conventional explosive. This “dirty bomb” would do little physical damage, but the spread of radioactive material would potentially be devastating. There is a good chance that a population would not even be aware that an attack took place until the victims began showing symptoms. This could take hours or even days. The victims would spread the contaminated material everywhere, including their homes, and could contaminate their loved ones.
A terrorist use of a nuclear bomb is less likely due to the cost and expertise required in creating an improvised nuclear device. However, rogue states are quickly becoming nuclear capable and the risk of a strike on western countries is increasing daily.
What You Can Do
One of the best ways to defend yourself in a CBRN situation is to own a serviceable gas mask. The best masks are capable of filtering out nasty particles in the air that can make you sick, or kill you. When you breathe in while wearing a gas mask, air comes in through the filter where activated charcoal absorbs dangerous particles. Clean air then comes inside the mask, where you can breathe it in. When exhaling, air typically escapes through an outlet valve, and back out into the environment.
A mask that has a 40mm NATO attachment for the canister will do fine and they are widely available on the surplus market. The canisters themselves do have an expiration date, so use expired canisters at your own risk. It is also important to note that depending on the agent used, your filter won’t protect you indefinitely. A gas mask will help you get out of the area, not protect you forever. If you have to use your mask, change out the filter after each use. Remember that the used canister is now contaminated hazardous material, so don’t go throwing it back into your go-bag.
In a situation such as a chemical attack, where the contaminants can be absorbed through your skin, specialized protective clothing will help you survive much longer. If you don’t have a military-grade charcoal impregnated suit lying around, however, try to stay indoors and seal up cracks and potential leaks in whatever shelter you are in. Decontamination kits are available in both the surplus and medical markets; they can be useful in an emergency for decontaminating people and equipment.
An important decision to make during a CBRN attack is whether or not to shelter-in-place. If you are in an easily defendable, well-supplied location, it may be a better idea to stay there. Venturing out into the open would only increase your exposure time and endanger your health. If you choose to shelter-in-place, remember to close and lock all doors and windows, and shut off the air conditioner. You do not want contaminants blowing into your vents.
Always be prepared for the unexpected. The most successful terrorist attacks happen when the target population is unprepared. Having the proper supplies and training will help ensure that whatever the bad guys have in store, you can be one of the survivors.