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Members of the Victoria Country Fire Authority with Police and Ambulance personnel at a CBRNe training session.

Multi-agency (Integrated) CBR capability

The importance of multi-agency collaboration during major events cannot be under estimated in this world of terrorism and hazardous substances emergency agencies need to train to the same standards and continually exercise their skills. It is not just the formal interaction that is important the informal knowing of individuals across agencies ensures a safer community. This is what the Victorian emergency services are doing in Australia.

Victoria, Australia

Located at the south east corner of the Australian coast is the state of Victoria. Being Australia’s second-smallest state, Victoria covers 227,600 square kilometres and has a population of nearly six million people. In comparison, Victoria is roughly the size of the British Isles or slightly larger than the US state of Utah.

State CBRNe arrangements

Although small in area, Victoria has the second largest population. As such, Victoria has the largest number of persons per square kilometre. To this end, Victoria has been proactive in its approach towards combatting:

  • Hazardous material (HazMat) incidents and consequences and also
  • Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and pre-cursor explosive chemical (CBRNe) incidents and consequences.

In being proactive Victoria has established:

  • A CBRNe sub-committee that is responsible to government for providing appropriate arrangements to reduce the impact of CBRNe incidents by leading:
  1. Agencies
  2. Communities and
  3. Individuals.
  • A formal strategic plan and also
  • The authority for an agency to have total control of the incident. Primarily this authority is provided to either, or both of its combatting agencies, being the:
  1. Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) and
  2. Country Fire Authority (CFA).

Furthermore, Victoria is also able to draw on its:

  • Police Service (Victoria Police Force – CBR Unit)
  • Department of Health – (Radiological Incidents & Health consequence)
  • Ambulance Service (Ambulance Victoria [AV]) and
  • Federal agencies and departments.

In addition and if required, the State Emergency Service – Victoria (SESV) is also able to assist any of the above agencies through providing additional rescue equipment for use in a Hot Zone (HZ) and also trained ancillary personnel in the Cold Zone (CZ).

In appreciation of the above arrangements, a further requirement of the CBRNe Sub-committee is to ensure that all agencies will:

  • Work together;
  • Use resources efficiently and effectively; and
  • Ensure a seamless approach to all aspects of CBRNe incident management.
Members of the Fire (MFB) and Police service returning from the Hot Zone, processing evidence at the ‘Evidence Table’.

Members of the Fire (MFB) and Police service returning from the Hot Zone, processing evidence at the ‘Evidence Table’.

Operational planning

Although the command, control and coordination of multiple agencies at a single incident may appear confusing and complex, the use of Victoria’s emergency management arrangements provides clarity, efficiency and effectiveness.

To ensure the success of a multi-agency attendance at a CBRNe incident, combined annual training is undertaken by CBRNe Specialists from the aforementioned agencies. This combined annual training is appropriately funded through a separate government training budget and the training drills are designed and facilitated by the state CBRNe Training Working Group.

Although these skills enhancement and training drills address casualty management, a strong emphasis is placed on the:

  • Pre and post medical monitoring of all CBRNe Specialists who enter and leave the HZ and warm zones (WZ);
  • Injury management of CBRNe Specialists within the HZ and WZ whereby the operator (notionally):
  1. Is unconscious
  2. Is suffering a severe fracture
  3. Has a safety breach of PPE
  4. Is conscious and able to self-treat and manage the situation
  5. Any combination of the above.
  • Familiarity and refresher training with:
  1. Radio communications (Single channel – multi agency system)
  2. Nomenclature and abbreviations
  3. Other agencies:
  4. Breathing apparatus (BA)
  5. Detection and monitoring equipment
  6. Rescue equipment (Sked™ and   Ferno™ etc)
  • Decontamination of:
  1. Emergency personnel
  2. Mass decontamination
  3. Tools and
  4. Evidence.
  • Opportunity for scientific advisors to convene and provide united advice to the Incident Controller and CBRNe Specialists.

Continual improvement

To further assist in the continual evolution of Victoria’s CBR capability, CBRNe Specialists from the aforementioned agencies are provided the opportunity to:

  • Complete a state accredited CBR Incident Controllers’ course
  • Complete a nationally accredited CBR Operators course
  • Train with CBRNe Specialists from the:
  • USA
  • UK and
  • Canada
  • Receive a research scholarship through the Emergency Services Foundation (ESF).

Exercising Victoria’s CBRNe capability and capacity within the Counter Terrorism environment

During May 2012, Exercise Hades 12 was conducted in order to test National and jurisdictional interoperability, capability and capacity to execute mass fatality arrangements within a CBRN environment. The primary scenario of this exercise involved the (notional) release of a chemical agent on board an inbound flight thereby causing the (notional) death of 12 passengers and medically affecting a further 18. On arrival at Melbourne Airport the flight was received by all of the above mentioned agencies and also Airport Firefighters from Air Services Australia. Throughout the 12 hour exercise:

The passengers were:

  • De-planed and scrutinised
  • Decontaminated
  • Triaged.
  • As the lead agency, Victoria Police was able to remain within the HZ to test its:
  1. Forensic (Crime Scene) processes within a contaminated environment
  2. Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) processing of contaminated cadavers
  3. Prioritise the evidence and intelligence that was to be extracted from the contaminated environment.
  • Both the MFB and CFA were able to test their capability and capacity in relation to:
  1. Providing BA support to the Victoria Police
  2. Providing mass decontamination to
  3. Passengers
  4. Tools
  5. Evidence / intelligence
  • Provide scientific advice in relation to the
  1. Management of the CBRNe agent.
  • Ambulance Victoria (AV) was able to test its capability to
  1. Assess / triage patients within a HZ
  2. Treat patients within a HZ and
  3. Process the patient through decontamination (WZ). As a result of Exercise Hades 12,
  • Victoria had identified its capability and capacity to manage a CBRNe incident (within the aviation environment) that involved the processing of mass casualties
  • A total of 11 key recommendations were provided to the national counter terrorism committee.
Members of the Victoria Police performing rescue drills for an ‘Operator Down’ under the instruction of an MFB firefighter.

Members of the Victoria Police performing rescue drills for an ‘Operator Down’ under the instruction of an MFB firefighter.

Multi-Agency operational deployment

Annually and under the guidance of qualified chemists, the Victoria Police CBR Unit will attend numerous illegal (methamphetamine) chemical laboratories. The purpose for the police attendance is to:

  • Prevent the (illegal) manufacture of methamphetamine
  • Safely decommission the laboratories
  • Rehabilitate the environment back to a level of safety
  • Gather evidence / intelligence
  • Prosecute those offending.

Due to the dangers associated with illegal methamphetamine laboratories, the CFA and or MFB often assist the Police in providing:

  • A firefighting capability
  • Rescue capability and / or
  • Monitoring and detection capability.

On Sunday the 10th February 2014 the roles were reversed whereby the CFA called on the assistance of the MFB, Victoria Police and AV in order to convene a multi-agency Rapid Intervention Team (RIT) within a contaminated environment. The circumstances for the deployment of an RIT involved an out of control, complex fire within an open-cut brown coal mine at Hazelwood, Victoria.

Initially ignited from a series of smaller fires, the Hazelwood fire burned for a total of 45 days. During this 45 day period at least 20 to 30 members of the CFA and MFB were continuously rotated into the mine to fight and control the fire.

Due to the constant presence of carbon monoxide (CO)*, firefighters were required to monitor levels of the toxin, and to operate in self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) at pre-determined trigger points.

Fire fighting crews were supported by MFB and CFA hazmat technicians with advanced monitoring equipment, and RITs in the event of serious injury or illness.

Although the RIT was not deployed in an operational capacity, it did come together, practice and was ready to conduct rescue operations within the open-cut mine.

Conclusion

Due to having a strategic plan that is adhered to, coupled with an adequate training budget and annual combined training, Victoria, (Australia) has a CBRNe capability that has the capacity to perform over an extended period.

For more information, go to www.emv.vic.gov.au

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Peter Lucas has been a firefighter ​with the Country Fire Authority since 1976 and has been awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal. In this time Peter has been specialising in multi-agency relationship building.