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Chemical weapons: Then and now

Tue, 02/04/2014 - 1:47pm
Steven Pike, Managing Director of Argon Electronics

Sadly, human history offers all too many examples of how chemical weapons can be used to devastating effect. The employment of chemical warfare agents (CWAs) dates back to at least as far as 1000 BC, when the Chinese used arsenical smokes as weapons. Noxious smoke and flame were later used by the Spartans, the Chinese and a whole host of forces right up to the 19th century. That, of course, wasn’t the end of chemical weapons but it was the beginning of a new chapter. Up to this point, attacks were launched without the perpetrators knowing the exact mechanism of poisoning.  From this point on, scientific knowledge developed such that the effect on the body was better understood and this resulted in more deadly CWAs.

The first great attack with CWAs in modern warfare was at Ypres in Belgium during World War I, when German forces attacked with chlorine gas, which damages lung membranes and prevents air from entering, causing suffocation. The abuse of scientific knowledge reached a new low in the 20th century, prompting many attempts to ban chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear warfare agents (CBRN agents). However, the potential for hostile forces to wreak havoc through the deployment of chemical and biological weapons is so strong that CBRN terrorism will remain a serious threat.

Today the prospect of a deliberate or unintentional hazardous material release or CBRN / HazMat attack is now increasingly recognised as an acute global challenge. It is essential that military service organisations develop their resources to respond to, and mitigate the consequences, of such threats to life, infrastructure and the environment.

Early detection and response is critical, as is the quality, accuracy and availability of information. It is equally important to ensure that personnel understand how to operate, interpret and report readings from Detection, Identification and Monitoring (DIM) equipment if military service organisations are to maintain their capability to respond to a CBRN / HazMat release.

Today, advanced simulation technology is used to enhance training for a CBRN attack, where a combination of industry standard instrumentation and software based tools can be used to replicate the effects of a range of threats and to recreate scenarios under different environmental conditions. 

There are several advantages to using electronic simulators. Because simulant detectors can be used in isolation or as simulation probes for use with real detection equipment they offer time and cost savings over traditional simulants or even the real detectors by avoiding expensive damage to detectors and the use of costly consumables. Electronic simulants are easier to control and are not capable of misuse in the same way as liquid simulants. Traditional simulants can saturate the training area and cause false positives during subsequent exercises and also lead to unexpected remediation costs should the land ever need to be disposed of, whereas electronic simulants have no environmental impact and can be used in public places.  They can also be placed in a wider variety of locations, such as within vehicles or properties. 

Argon Electronics’ CBRN / HazMat detection simulators, combined with its cutting edge PlumeSIM simulation software, have enabled NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation Organisation) to host a highly realistic CBRN / HazMat response exercise in Umea, Sweden.  The exercise was part of RECCEX 12, a major CBRN / HazMat event where military and civilian units from Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden were trained in state-of-the-art CBRN / HazMat detection, analysis and decontamination techniques. 

During six intensive days in August 2012, participants trained within all areas of CBRN / HazMat; from detection, testing and sanitizing to analysing dangerous substances. As is common practice for exercises, the participants were presented with various scenarios that reflected real events. These dealt with everything from poisoning of water, manufacturing of ricin and teargas in illegal laboratories, and distribution of substances from a model aircraft. Each of the participating countries uses different equipment so Argon provided a range of simulators including the CamSIM, LCD3.2e-SIM, AP2CSIM and ChemPro100SIM devices.  Approximately 50 sets of Argon chemical and radiological simulation and detection equipment were used throughout the exercise to enhance realism, test personal CBRN / HazMat skills and record information for post exercise analysis and learning.  The simulators, some of which Argon originally supplied in 2007, were upgraded in preparation for the exercise, while Argon also provided trainees with a demonstration of the PlumeSIM, the exercise and table training system that was at the heart of the exercise.  

PlumeSIM is a Windows based CBRN / HazMat simulation software tool that allows an operator to simulate the release of a chemical or radiological agent from a fixed point and then map how the plume would spread based on various factors, such as how the agent has been released and local weather conditions.

The software then remotely connects with other Argon chemical and radiological detection equipment being carried by troops on the ground and provides them with simulated readings related to the chemical concentration or radiological activity at their locations, which they can respond to depending on their individual tasking.  The readings are provided electronically, so PlumeSIM negates the need to deploy chemical stimulants; saving time and money, and protecting both the trainees and the environment.

The use of such powerful yet easy to use training tools that can be set up so quickly has changed the face of CBRN / HazMat response training.  These tools offer the ability to design multiple scenario options including the type of threat, the point of release or delivery mechanism from single or multiple sources, and a full range of constant or changing environmental conditions.  As a result, they truly meet the challenges faced by today’s CBRN / HazMat response instructors, who must provide the best possible training for an increasing number of potential threats.

As chemical weapons and the means to deploy them continues to develop, modern training using simulation detection equipment will continue to change and meet the challenge, providing the opportunity to train and prepare for any type of incident that can be imagined.

http://www.argonelectronics.com

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