CBNW: How and why you became involved in the CBRN Sector?
LK: After graduation from the Military Medical Faculty of Gulhane Military Medical Academy (GMMA). I have worked as a military doctor in Turkish Military Forces for more than 30 years. During my military medical practice, I worked as the residency student in the Biochemistry Department of GMMA and studied chemical substances and their roles and effects on living organisms. So, my interest on biochemical mechanisms and effects of these molecules or compounds has oriented my academic target towards CBRN.
I have been working as the Chief of CBRN Department at the University since 2008 and as Chairman of the CBRN Association for two years.
CBNW: How many people work in or with the Association?
LV: The Turkish Association of Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Defence Policy Development is a very new and unique non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Turkey. There is an Executive Board of six people and about a hundred registered members. Membership application is open to all concerned with CBRN activities nationally or internationally.
The academic staff working in the CBRN Department of University of Health Sciences and hundreds of certificated staff from Ministry of Health and Ministry of Defence are also supporting our Associations’s activities informally.
CBNW: What are the key advantages of your Association?
LK: The key advantages of our Association over other CBRN organisations are the staffing of experienced academics and the level of knowledge that is originated from the past.
During the Covid pandemic, the importance of CBRN awareness has increased and it has been revealed by scientists how important mass-casualty management is. Early diagnosis and outbreak management efforts for biological hazards will be accelerated after the Covid pandemic is over.
In the laboratory, chemical and biological analysis can be performed in the event of accidents or terrorist attacks that occur due to CBRN threats. However, our Association is in a disadvantageous position when compared to the number of people and budgets working in this field in countries such as the USA and in Europe.
CBNW: How many of your activities are in the military sector?
LK: After the 2016 coup attempt, all the 32 military hospitals and health centres including the GMMA were transferred from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of Health. The academic side of GMMA was also incorporated into the University of Health Sciences. Since then, the CBRN Department has been working as a civilian academic unit which serves both civilian and military organisations.
CBNW: Who provides the training you offer to customers?
LK: The main function of the Association is to give CBRN awareness training to the public and CBRN response training for first responders. Before the Covid pandemic, more than 3,000 personnel received one-week’s training with three days of theoretical lectures explaining CBRN event characteristics, effects of agents, methods of detection, protective measures, first-aid and emergency treatments, and another two days of practical applications like decontamination, donning PPE, plus detector operations and field or table-top exercises.
During Covid the Association organised online workshops, panels and training. One of the panels, ‘Coronavirus and its Global Effects,’ took part before there were any Covid patients in Turkey. On this panel, Turkish students who had been educated in Chinese universities were invited to present their observations of coronavirus cases seen during routine street life in China. This panel increased awareness of the bio-threat of coronavirus to the audiences.
An upcoming training activity is an online CBRNE course which will include a very detailed programme of 60 lectures. This certicated course will be co-organised with the Association of Forensic Scientists – another NGO in Turkey.
CBNW: Where do you see the greatest potential growth sector for your services?
LK: It is unfortunately a fact that our country has neighbouring countries and terrorist groups which possess CBRN weapons and have the potential to use them at any time. In the face of such a possible mass-casualty chemical incident, it is necessary to put forward the necessary measures and activities against such attacks throughout the country.
Because of this understanding a National CBRN Defence and Preparedness System should be established with decontamination units, CBRN first-aid and treatment units, CBRN diagnosis, and analysis laboratories. Moreover, necessary coordination and planning between the units should be standardised and systematised with a central organisation that could be established in the event of a possible CBRN attack – especially in our big cities.
CBNW: Do you offer your services to overseas customers?
LK: We offer highly specialised training in toxicology, medical treatment and management of patients suffering from exposure to chemical agents. We also provide equipment, products, and PPE and decontamination of contaminated people with the companies we are in collaboration with.
Another important project during the Covid pandemic is to establish a CBRN training and Simulation Centre, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year. It will be dedicated first-responder training in developing emergency preparedness and response plans, supporting decision makers via real drills, and table-top exercises to increase their skills. Training the staff will be carried out with the use of validated CBRN models and training mannequins for practical field exercises.