Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Incidents & Hazards

Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Incidents & Hazards

Andrew’s Note:  For today’s lesson in preparedness we return to our U.S. military manuals, notably the MULTI-SERVICE DOCTRINE FOR CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, RADIOLOGICAL, AND NUCLEAR OPERATIONS , FM 3-11, MCWP 3-37.1, NWP 3-11, AFTTP 3-2.42 dated July 2011, Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.  Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear is abbreviated as CBRN.  Today we introduce the types of incidents and the introduce the hazards.  Check back later this week as we go into more detail on those hazards.


1-19. A CBRN incident is any occurrence involving the emergence of CBRN hazards resulting from the use of CBRN weapons or devices, the emergence of secondary hazards arising from counterforce targeting,  or the release of toxic industrial material into the environment. A CBRN incident is characterized on the basis of the intent, opportunity, and capability of the occurrence. There are three basic reasons why a CBRN incident happens, regardless of the type and nature:

  • Intentional. An intentional CBRN incident may include:
    • Criminal acts such as the deliberate dumping or release of hazmat to avoid regulatory requirements.
    • Malicious acts such as the poisoning of one or more individuals.
    • Terrorist acts that involve serious violence to persons or property for a political, religious, or ideological purpose and/or that are a matter of national interest.
  • Accidental. An accidental CBRN incident is an event caused by human error or natural or technological reasons.  Accidental incidents are usually referred to as hazmat accidents and may include:
    • Spills.
    • Releases.
    • Leakages.
  • Natural. A natural CBRN incident is a second- or third-order effect from a natural disaster.  Examples include:
    • Toxic chemical release.
    • Biological waste.

1-20. Intent is the distinguishing difference between the three reasons that CBRN incidents happen. To ensure proper assessment when filtering through the information pertaining to an incident, it is important to know the intent category.

Note. A CBRN weapon is a fully engineered assembly that is designed for employment to cause the release of a chemical or biological agent or radiological material onto a chosen target or to generate a nuclear detonation.


1-21. CBRN elements that could cause an adverse effect through accidental or deliberate release, dissemination, or impacts are called CBRN hazards. CBRN hazards are often present in conjunction with the incident effects of a WMD device.

1-22. CBRN hazards include those created from accidental or intentional releases of toxic industrial materials, biological pathogens, and radioactive matter. Toxic industrial material is a generic term for toxic or radioactive substances in solid, liquid, aerosolized, or gaseous form that may be used or stored for industrial, commercial, medical, military, or domestic purposes. Toxic industrial material may be chemical, biological, or radiological and are described as toxic industrial chemicals, toxic industrial biologicals, or toxic industrial radiologicals. Figure 1-2 shows the sources of CBRN hazards.

CBRN Threats and Hazards

Figure 1-2 CBRN Threats and Hazards


1-23. CBRN hazards may result from WMD employment. The key distinction between WMD and CBRN hazards is that WMD refers to the actual weapon, while CBRN refers to the contamination or effects resulting from the employment of WMD and from the dispersal of CBRN materials. When DOD capabilities are called upon to conduct WMD consequence management activities, they will essentially be responding to CBRN hazards or contamination, such as:

  • The deposit, absorption, or adsorption of radioactive material or a biological or chemical agent on or near a structure, area, person, or object.
  • Food and/or water that is unfit for consumption by humans or animals due to the presence of environmental chemicals, radioactive elements, bacteria or organisms, the byproduct of the growth of bacteria or organisms, decomposing material (includes the food substance itself), or waste in the food or water.

Check back later this week as we delve deeper into CBRN Hazards…

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