“Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best,” wrote British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1833. Today, in the hazmat and CBRNe world we must train for the worst-case scenario and hope to God, we never have to deal with a major nuclear, chemical or biological incident in our back yard. If we ever do, relationships between responding agencies is critical – we call it mutual aid.

The stage was set for an NCT Virtual Conference and Exhibition devised and sponsored by two commercial powerhouses in the industry; ADS Inc and Defense Equipment Company (DEC), hosted by CBRNe Society in cooperation with IB Consultancy, the global leaders in these industry events.

Several hundred signed up for the event; most were able to join, but others were dealing with a real crisis in the state of Texas during winter storms on event day.

Those attending had the opportunity to interact with 27 of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of Fire and Emergency, Hazmat, CBRNe and first-responder equipment. From traditional boots to helmets, gas training simulators to explosive detection, storage buildings to vehicles, full PPE or just a pair of gloves – the chance was there to not just collect the latest literature and view capability videos, but also to enjoy live chat with the knowledgeable manufacturer, ADS, and DEC representatives.

Innovation Area
There was even an Innovation Area displaying situational awareness and common operating dashboards alongside DNA sampling and ‘Smart Blended Connectivity’ for first responders. DEC is a leader in this sector and ADS manages 65-plus contract vehicles, 3,000 supplier partnerships, and over 50,000 products – so the options for procurement were unlimited.

In the current economic and social climate, it is simply unrealistic to assume that a single community has all the resources to cope with all emergencies, particularly in a major Hazmat or CBRNe incident. The COVID-19 crisis has sharpened awareness of coordination and cooperation in crisis.

Public-private partnerships and military support have been critical in the area of logistics. Mutual aid becomes more important and more complicated as the magnitude of emergency incidents increases, and the size of individual community budgets decreases.

Inform and inspire
President and CEO of Defense Equipment Company (DEC) Gary Hess opened the proceedings.
“I have been representing manufacturers and distribution of CBRNe and Fire & Emergency Services (FES) equipment for approximately 30 years. When I began my career, HazMat was a sub to the Fire Service and over the years has grown into a specialised market for CBRNe. In addition, the role of the first responder has expanded including meeting expectations of their mission along with new challenges in the field.
“Manufacturers are constantly developing new products and technology to support the first responders in both markets. Understanding the challenges and requirements first responders face allows our team to provide solutions in providing the best product along with best supporting services, including training, kitting, and product services.”

Former Deputy Secretary for Public Safety of the State of New York, The Hon Michael Balboni chaired the SMEs. Like all great moderators he was both the anchor and weaver of the thread of dialogue. ‘Inform and inspire’ was the mission. His opening remarks identified a key trait amongst the speakers: “everyone on the panel has come up through the ranks.” His previous role had given him a great appreciation for mutual aid: “we cannot miss the opportunity to prepare.”

Mutual aid
Mutual aid in the emergency services is an agreement among emergency responders to lend assistance across jurisdictional boundaries. This may occur due to a response that exceeds local resources, such as a Hazmat or CBRNe incident, natural disaster, a multiple-alarm fire or a state sponsored nerve agent attack.
In the case of CBRNe, chem-bio terrorism agents are a common choice for terrorists because they are easy and inexpensive to produce, easy to disseminate, and can cause widespread effects cheaply, for maximum media impact and mass panic. Mutual aid in such larger incidents then naturally extends beyond a local response.

33rd National Guard WMD-CST Commander Lt Col Ryan Walsh explained how the military supports civilian response. He described the recent deployment to Washington D.C. – initially for the Presidential Inauguration and then, the subsequent riot. Some 33 CBRNe teams were deployed through pre-established agreements.
Building trust
He introduced a common thread of ‘trust’ which continued throughout the successive presentations and discussions. Being able to “trust in the common operating picture during crisis” is a fundamental principle of mutual aid and co-operation in crisis. It is a fundamental character trait of every major incident commander and building that trust before the aid trigger is pulled is a critical component of the process.

Trust is arguably the single most essential element in the ability of any organisation to deliver extraordinary results in the long term. It leads to high performance because it is the first defence against dysfunction and towards achieving the mission.

Director, Plans and Programs JFHQ-NY A5 at New York Air National Guard, Lt Col Matt Woolums reinforced the importance of building strong inter-agency relationships in advance at all levels, and of figuring out the structure of command in advance.
“Mutual aid is the first aspect to crisis response:” Hazmat Special Ops for Fairfax County, Battalion Chief Dave Sellers briefed that it is critical to have strong working relationships at local and state levels. He cited his own partnerships with Fort Belvoir and Indianhead: “We need to practice like it’s game day!”

Action is key
Brigadier General (Retd) William King brought up the strategic perspective, warning against “admiring the problem.” The current pandemic was an indication of things to come: “Action is key.” The whole of government needed to harness the energy and put it into a system that is well prepared and ready to respond: “Seize the Initiative.” He called for a National Strategy: “something like the Nuclear Posture Review.”

Director of Texas Task Force 1 Jeff Saunders called mutual aid “his force multiplier” — but explained how the current crisis had changed the operational picture, impacting human resources and the ability to respond. He added that financial issues should not be overlooked and proffered a ‘radical idea’: to bring back the Civil Defense Corps. Since the end of the Cold War, the focus on nuclear war had shifted to an “all-hazards” approach of Comprehensive Emergency Management.

Natural disasters and the emergence of new threats such as terrorism had caused attention to be focused away from traditional civil defence and into new forms of civil protection such as emergency management and homeland security. “Every level of community has a role to play!”
This was a concept agreed by Deputy to the Commander at Joint Task Force-Civil Support Michael Collins, who added: “like politics, disasters start locally.” He added that his assets can be deployed throughout the NORTHCOM AOR.
Trust and commonality of mission were the cornerstone of the briefings. We heard the message that whether military, first responder or civilian, you’re a link in the chain and integral to success.

“A first-class event”
A state-sponsored or terrorist attack using chemical or biological agents still remains a low-probability in the homeland but is a high-consequence scenario. Such an attack could cause mass casualties, panic, protracted deployment and significant economic losses. Michael Balboni closed with: “We cannot rush the opportunity to prepare. This has been a first-class event.”

The impact of the Covid-19 virus has not been lost on the rogue actors in light of this. We must have robust preparations in place, be vigilant and ensure our military, first responders and private enterprise are ready to respond. Events such the NCT Virtual Conference are critical for understanding and solidifying knowledge. Combining the opportunity to be part of a discussion and also to see the latest in technology and equipment at virtual events are an important forum for exchange of ideas and showcasing equipment.

This concept will continue long after we re-open live events for business. The ability to sit at home and be part of a high-level discussion while inspecting responder equipment is extremely appealing.

Kevin Cresswell is a former law enforcement and military officer in the UK. Based in Los Angeles, he is a security and defence consultant and regular contributor to CBNW.