Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) security is a matter of grave concern for many nations today. CBRN security in India is still in its early stages. There is a need to look at it from a broader perspective of internal, regional, and global security challenges that manifest in the form of CBRN terrorism, among others.
While we have faced disasters like Bhopal (1984) and Vizag (2020) gas leaks and seen the effects of Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011), we need to view the security aspects of CBRN threats. Instances such as the March 2018 Novichok nerve agent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK and recurrent use of chemicals by ISIS in Syria and Iraq raise fears of large-scale CBRN threats to the general unassuming public. The current COVID-19 global pandemic has highlighted many issues. The paranoia created and panic generated shall have many repercussions and leave many lessons.
The international security paradigm changed twice in recent history. Once in 1945 with the advent and use of atomic weapons by the USA against Japan and more dramatically after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. This brought with it a new serious concern: the proliferation of WMD to non-state actors, including terrorists. These changes raised the awareness of the international community that the threat of WMD was no longer limited to the fear of actual use of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons as a means of attack on the battlefield, and that WMD represented a larger spectrum of risks. Accordingly, countries began to review the need to defend against the threat of CBRN terrorism scenarios as well as any other possible CBRN incidents, including casualties caused by accidents and natural disasters. Specifically, it has been widely acknowledged that effective responses are necessary for the environmental release of and contamination from hazardous materials (HAZMAT) or dangerous goods (DG) generally found in industrialised societies.
India has belligerent neighbours on the western and northern sides. Both are nuclear powers and have dabbled in Chemical and Biological weapons in the past. While they are both signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention, clandestine use by state-sponsored terrorists is a possibility. It is therefore necessary that India prepares to prevent, and if required respond to, a CBRN situation both during war and peacetime terror incidents.
National CBRN security is not given its due importance in India. We do have systems in place to institute CBRN Security for some critical infrastructures such as the Parliament, Govt buildings and important high-visibility events like the G20 meetings or the Commonwealth Games. Issues like poverty, illiteracy, lack of adequate healthcare, ignorance (or non-adherence) of safety measures and isolated corruption cases increase our vulnerability to looming CBRN threats. Covid-19 was a wake-up call. Our laudable efforts in keeping the curve flat and being proactively two steps ahead of the possible spike in casualties have been essentially reactive. It is seen as a health issue and not a National security one.
Policymakers and administrators lack understanding about the likelihood of CBRN incidents. Municipal officials turn a blind eye to CBRN situations and a cursory interest is shown by District and State administration. At the apex level, we focus on response measures aka disaster management. There is a gross lack of understanding of issues like CBRN intelligence, preventive measures and enforcement of legislation
India is rapidly moving towards being a net security provider. We have already shown our capabilities in Global Disaster Response. We need to give due emphasis to CBRN threats. It is time India woke up to the idea of National CBRN security and made plans for the same.
Path to National CBRN Security
The first question that is asked when we mention CBRN National security and risk mitigation is, “Are we prepared?” Listed below are the main areas that need attention towards optimal National CBRN security.
- Acceptance and Awareness. The fundamental weakness is the lack of understanding (and belief) about the likely occurrence of CBRN incidents by policymakers and administrators. Municipal officials turn a blind eye to CBRN situations and a very cursory interest is shown by District and State administration, primarily due to lack of awareness. At the apex level too, we still focus on response measures aka disaster management. There is a gross lack of understanding of issues like CBRN intelligence, preventive measures and enforcement of legislation.
- National CBRN Security Strategy and Plan. CBRN issues are either looked at as a military matter or a disaster issue and not as a national security concern. What we have currently is a CBRN Response Strategy developed by the NDMA. There is a need to have a clear and comprehensive National CBRN Security Strategy, aligned to and drawn from the National Security Strategy, to prevent, respond and mitigate CBRN threats. The CBRN Security Strategy shall spell out desired objectives to be achieved with broad timeframes. These objectives, when matched with mapped existing capabilities and capacities, shall draw out the gaps and shortcomings. Based on the same a multi-stakeholder multi-faceted National CBRN plan can be developed.
- CBRN Intelligence. Intelligence is a deliberate painstaking process and needs highly trained personnel supported by state-of-the-art technology. CBRN intelligence (like terror intelligence) needs careful and synergetic actions by domestic and external intelligence agencies. CBRN threats are of a global nature and their impact can be trans-border. While Defence Intelligence deals with warfare-level intelligence, it is civil intelligence that can have a great impact on National security. Intelligence agencies and related support entities and stakeholders need to understand CBRN hazards and develop structures within their organisations to analyse inputs pointing towards CBRN threats. Proliferation of CBRN substances, dual-use goods trade, storage and transportation security lapses, and black market sales of toxic substances, all come under such intelligence ambit. In essence, a CBRN section is a must for all Intelligence and Homeland security agencies. There are many CBRN stakeholders and this spectrum needs to be understood by the specialists. Such special intelligence agents need CBRN training to understand the nuances of CBRN threats and their likely manifestation.
- CBRN Incident Management Structure. The present mechanism is purely reactive with NDMA being the nodal agency for CBRN disaster management. However, its organisation lacks a department to deal exclusively with CBRN incidents. The Covid-19 crisis saw the Ministry of Health taking the lead with laboratories under the Ministry of Science and Technology assisting it. We are still talking of only Crisis Response and Consequence Management and not of Crisis Prevention, even for CBRN terrorism incidents. The present structure is grossly inadequate for effective CBRN prevention, preparedness and needs enhancement.
- Enforcement of Laws and Protocols. While we have some of the best laws, enforcement is weak and porous. India needs to strengthen its enforcement and mechanism by strict oversight and rooting out of Inter-agency or inter-ministerial rivalries and one-up-manship across ministries and agencies. Loopholes and inconsistencies in laws and regulations should be identified and removed for optimal enforcement.
- Proliferation Prevention and Border Control. We need to understand the role of Customs, Excise and Border security agencies in CBRN non-proliferation. These agencies must be trained in the detection and interception of hazardous shipments, toxic threats, dual-use goods and measures to respond to such threats.
- Stocks and Inventories. A National schedule of toxic substances needs to be developed and promulgated. This should be reviewed periodically to include new toxic agents. Similarly, a National stockpile of essential antidotes and prophylaxis drugs along with critical protection and life-saving equipment should be created and stocked in dispersed safe special warehouses appropriately tagged on the National Disaster Resource Network.
- Trade and Industry Oversight. Unrestricted trade in toxic materials, cost-cutting measures, callous neglect of safety and security and corrupt practices lead to easy availability of large amounts of toxic materials. Slack implementation of legislations and regulations, pilferages and irresponsible dumping/disposal of toxic waste are serious concerns.
- Response Mechanism. Delayed execution of response protocols by various response agencies – Operational understanding, equipment woes (outdated and inadequate), grossly low footprint and transportation logistics. NDRF Battalions, the only ‘skilled CBRN responders’ (apart from the Armed Forces), also do not train for CBRN regularly and lack state-of-the-art Our NDRF footprint is low vis a vis the size of our country. We need to create on-site response teams at all high-risk and critical establishments. Civil Defence, Home Guards and NCC Cadets need to be imparted basic CBRN training to enable viable response in an overwhelming CBRN situation.
- First Responder Training. There is a dire need for basic CBRN training for the local Police and on-site response teams. Local police are a citizen’s first responders for any crisis. Today the local police do not have even a basic understanding of CBRN threats and immediate mitigation measures. Often, the local fire brigade or/and police may be called in for immediate CBRN response. There is an urgent need to institute standardised and structured CBRN training for all stakeholders and equip them accordingly.
- Medical Management. Covid-19 has raised hospital preparedness for bio-disasters. However, there is a gap in mass casualty management of a Chemical and Radiological nature. The Govt should be able to designate hospitals as CBRN capable and requisition their services in a crisis. Hospitals need to be able to deploy Field Medical Aid Posts and set up mobile hospitals. Doctors and paramedics need to be trained for the same. The provision of an adequate number of ambulances and paramedics is important.
- CBRN Security Culture. The gross lack of awareness and complacency at the Government and administration levels percolates to the common citizen. There is a near-zero understanding of the basics of CBRN incident mitigation. The societal reaction to the current Covid-19 crisis is a glaring example. There is a serious need to develop a CBRN Security Culture amongst Government agencies and various stakeholder organisations. Medical Colleges do not teach CBRN casualty management. This needs a serious review. CBRN risk mitigation should be included in High School and College curricula.
- Embracing Emerging CBRN Technologies. Emerging technologies are a force multiplier in preventing and effectively responding to a CBRN incident. The lack of indigenous testing kits and PPE during the Covid-19 crisis has raised concerns. Detection and protection are the basic requirements in a CBRN scenario. Use of robotics, drones, unmanned ground vehicles and artificial intelligence need to be aptly integrated into existing prevention and response mechanisms. Agencies like FICCI and CII must encourage a Consortium of CBRN Industries to boost Make in India CBRN products.
The present mechanism is purely reactive with NDMA being the nodal agency for CBRN disaster management. We are still talking of only Crisis Response and Consequence Management and not of Crisis Prevention, even for CBRN terrorism incidents. The present structure is grossly inadequate for effective CBRN prevention, preparedness and needs enhancement
Contours of a National CBRN Security Strategy
CBRN Security requires a whole of Nation approach and calls for multi-stakeholder roles. The National CBRN Security Strategy would aim to prevent CBRN threats and improve synergized CBRN activities towards this. It would draw from and be an Appendix to the National Security Strategy. Aspects concerning warlike CBRN situations should synergize with relevant parts of the Union War Book. A realistic and comprehensive threat assessment and risk analysis is required. The Strategy must have a 360O threat and preparedness outlook, from war (including a nuclear one) to peacetime incidents and accidents. The Strategy will enunciate the current state of CBRN policies and lay down key objectives for prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. It would also give out the Nodal Agencies for C, B, R&N and the duties and responsibilities of key CBRN stakeholders and support agencies.
Fig 1: Integrated Paradigm for CBRN Security
Structure. The Strategy would cover the following areas:
- The CBRN Strategy would aim to protect India and its citizens by taking all possible measures to prevent, mitigate and respond effectively to a potential CBRN incident.
- Guiding Principles
- Security and Protection of sovereignty, citizen, National assets, and critical infrastructure is paramount
- Anticipate, seek early warning, and prepare for scenarios and consider the consequences of possible actions
- Risk avoidance, preventive measures, and actions
- All-of-Government Approach to Increase Resilience – Multi-stakeholder
- Security Risk Management Measures (SRMM) require specialized training and the acquisition of relevant equipment for all stakeholders
- Mitigation and restoration – short, medium, and long term
- Focus Areas
- Detecting and preventing intentional actions
- Early warning and preventing accidental releases or incidents
- Identifying, managing, and investigating CBRN incidents
- Building a robust and effective CBRN response capability
- Integrating proven best practices and technologies for effective and timely prevention and response to CBRN incidents.
- Further developing the risk-based approach to supervision and oversight
- Improving and enhancing the coordination of CBRN activities among all stakeholders
- Maintaining common situation awareness
- Ensuring up-to-date legislation, just prosecution and strict enforcement against CBRN activities
- Making communications part of the management of CBRN situations.
- Developing Societal CBRN Security culture among all stakeholders and society.
- CBRN Operating Environment, Threat Perception and Risk Analysis
- CBRN threats from war situations – Tactical (force targets), Strategic (value targets). Preparing the citizens and the administration to understand and cope with CBRN hostile acts.
- Terrorist CBRN incidents
- Industrial sabotage and accidents
- Logistic sabotage and accidents
- Municipal incidents – gas leaks, sewage releases, toxic fires and explosions
- Lab/research-related incidents – releases, sabotage, explosions
- Dual use or strategic goods illegal trade
- Disease spread and irregular illnesses/health hazards
- Societal hygiene, waste management and environmental pollution
- Description of Current State
- International, regional and bilateral conventions, agreements and treaties
- CBRN Governance – Structure, Legislations, Regulations and Enforcement
- Chemical Security – Trade, industry, dual-use goods, and non-proliferation
- Biological Security – Disease prevention and healthcare including veterinary and crops. Also non-proliferation
- Radiological & Nuclear Security – labs, nuclear assets, and non-proliferation
- Response Capabilities
- Inter-agency cooperation and responsibilities
- Prevention (Restraint)
- Governance Structure – Armed Forces, Nodal Agencies, support agencies
- Strict domestic laws and regulations – in line with the above
- Security of CBRN assets
- CBRN intelligence covering all threats
- Industrial and logistic safety
- Stringent enforcement, prosecution, punitive provisions, and oversight mechanisms.
- Use of technology to ensure security, safety and oversight
- Preparedness (Readiness and Remedy)
- Resource creation and management – personnel, equipment, infrastructure, and training.
- Knowledge creation and management
- Training and sustenance – Standardised and common platform, CBRN Centre of Excellence,
- SOPs and Regulations – At all High-Risk areas, Critical Infrastructure and at Municipal levels
- Response – Immediate Mitigation and Escalation Prevention.
- Review and constitution of response Teams – National, State and On-Site
- Tech Support – Technicians, Forensics, labs and logistic support.
- Training for Response and Mitigation – Standardised training modules and facilities. TTE and Mock Drills for validation of plans and procedures (SOPs)
- Recovery and Mitigation
- Mass casualty management – facilities and procedures
- Mass decontamination – facilities and procedures
- Health recovery measures – physical and mental – trauma management – CBRN casualty management
- Restoration of Essential Services – water, electricity, waste, communications
- Social rehabilitation – housing, employment, basic amenities
- Business recovery/continuity – return to normalcy and sustainability
Present Structure and Mechanism
On 23 December 2005, the Government of India enacted the Disaster Management Act 2005, which established the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), headed by the Prime Minister, and the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs) supervised by respective Chief Ministers, to spearhead and implement a holistic and integrated approach to Disaster Management in India.
The NDMA is mandated to deal with all types of disasters, natural and man-made (including CBRN disasters). While the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) oversees all major crisis issues facing the nation, the Government of India has earmarked nodal ministries for CBRN disasters and incidents as under :
- Biological Disasters – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
- Chemical Disasters – Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change
- Radiological and Nuclear Disasters – Atomic Energy Commission
There is a need to develop an integrated CBRN approach that incorporates all international and national CBRN components into a common strategy covering all aspects of Crisis Prevention, Crisis Response and Consequence Management. This entails the application of a holistic approach through which all stakeholders while operating autonomously, can establish and realise common goals synergistically
Government Initiatives for Combating CBRN Disasters
The Indian Government has given reasonable thought to disaster management aspects relating to CBRN threats and instituted several measures:
- Enunciated standard operating procedures (SOPs) to deal with terrorist attacks involving CBRN Weapons right down to District and Municipal levels.
- Earmarked sixteen Paramilitary battalions (CRPF, CISF, BSF, ITBP, SSB and AR) as the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). NDRF Battalions are nominated first responders for CBRN disaster/terrorist strikes.
- States have been asked to raise their own State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) to be the First Responders at the State level and augment/complement the NDRF when so required.
- Set up 23 Radiation Emergency Response Centres (RERCs) in different parts of the country to deal with any nuclear and radiation emergencies.
The NDMA has issued many guidelines for various types of disasters (including CBRN disasters) and their management. It is understood that a CBRN Response Strategy has also been formulated by the NDMA.
CBRN-Related Acts and Laws
India is party to the BTWC 1972 and the CWC 1993. India has also joined many protocols and agreements towards effective non-proliferation, CBRN counter-terrorism, strategic trade control of dual-use goods and hazardous waste management.
While there is no overarching CBRN law, there is a whole gamut of administrative, regulatory and legal arrangements (nearly 100 in number) obtaining in India that aid CBRN risk mitigation. These acts and laws complement the Disaster Management Act 2005, the WMD Act 2005 and the Chemical Weapons Act 2000 and contribute towards effective CBRN Incident Management. In fact, India has a very comprehensive coverage of legal instruments for all aspects of CBRN incident prevention, control, response, and mitigation.
Much work has been done in the field of Radiological and Nuclear safety and security. Even disease control is quite effective in India, given its size and population. However, India does not yet have a National Registry of Chemicals and has not completely implemented the Global Harmonised System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals. The draft under preparation and revision (the fifth iteration under consideration since 2020) for more than a decade still is titled “Draft Chemicals (Management and Safety) Rules (CMSR), 20xx”.
It is imperative to develop an integrated CBRN approach that incorporates all international and national CBRN components into a common strategy covering all aspects of Crisis Prevention, Crisis Response and Consequence Management. This entails the application of a holistic approach through which all stakeholders while operating autonomously, can establish and realise common goals synergistically. Comprehensive CBRN Security while retaining domain specialisation can be achieved by the above approach and lead to optimal synergy in operationalising National CBRN Security.
The writer is an 81 batch veteran Armoured Corps officer. He has been a Key Adviser to the Government of India (MoD and MHA) on CBRN Security. He was also a Key CBRN Expert for the EU CBRN Risk Mitigation Centres of Excellence initiative in Eastern and Central Africa. A Visiting Faculty at select Indian and overseas universities, prolific writer and a speaker in international seminars and conferences on CBRN subjects, he holds a PhD in CBRN Security and Incident Management. He has authored a pioneering book titled “Toxic Portents” on ‘CBRN Incident Management in India’. Presently he is a freelance CBRN Security and Risk Mitigation Professor and Consultant based at Pune, India. His personal website https://chebiran.com has more details