New risks are forcing Europe to modernize its civil defences, but are nations rebuilding or reinventing?
Up-to-date civil defense can make a difference in saving lives in what could be a more likely CBRNe incident, such as a terrorist bomb, incident, missile sent by a rogue state, or intelligence use of chemical weapons from a foreign country.
In any CBRNe incident, first responders are at high risk. In many cases, emergency services are likely to be the first in contact with an exposure, providing care before a threat is identified. Ordinary equipment such as rubber gloves provide poor protection against nerve agents, and any rescue attempt can result in serious injury.
Contrary to the Chemical Weapons Convention and international law, in recent years we have witnessed the use of chemical weapons both in the Syrian war and in civil society.
Rockets containing sarin, a chemical warfare agent, hit the town of Goutha, killing hundreds of people, including civilians. In addition, people exposed to a non-lethal dose, who did not receive immediate medical treatment, suffer permanent neurological damage. Chemical warfare agents are designed specifically not to be detected by our senses. We can’t see them, we can’t smell them, so you don’t run away. Their toxicity is high enough to have adverse effects on your health before you even start to feel it, explained Ellen Cathrine Andersen, CEO of EpiGuard.
Nerve agents and blister agents are considered the most likely to be used in any terrorist action. In addition, the use of nerve agents in assassinations also poses considerable risk.
Yet that is not what nations do in civil defense inventories. The basis risk of a nuclear scenario has increased and, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned, “the prospect of nuclear war is now back within the realm of possibility”.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat of CBRN weapons in a conflict has led to a control of fallout shelters and a rush for anti-radiation potassium iodide pills. The fear of a nuclear disaster in European countries is pushing governments to reinvent civil protection, and not without reason. Reports of burning nuclear power plants are reminiscent of Ukraine’s Chernobyl disaster in 1986. European leaders, who are sitting close to the battlefield, are balancing warning and alarmism.
A new era of civil protection
When rebuilding stockpiles and emptying old bomb shelters, modern civil defense and preparedness differ from the duck and cover of Bert the Turtle. We see changes along the main axis of the tree which is technology, inclusion and cooperation.
Along with the COVID pandemic, protective gear technology has taken a major leap forward. Technologies such as modern isolation units ensure the safety of first responders when treating and transporting patients. New filter technology, for example in the EpiShuttle, protects caregivers against CBRN exposure.
The standard A2P3 filter will filter, in addition to particles, organic gases and vapors with a boiling point above 65°C. This covers most warfare agents. If a CBRN filter is selected, inorganic gases, ammonia and organic amines, and mercury compounds are also covered. Today, there are a variety of different filters that can be selected for specific filtering, says Ellen Cathrine Andersen, CEO of EpiGuard.
In addition, information technology has always been at the center of any civil protection. Whether by shortwave radio or satellite. Elon Musk’s SpaceX just sent thousands of Starlink satellite internet antennas to Ukraine. Company chairman Gwynne Shotwell told reporters that most of the funding for Starlink kits came from private sources. Which brings us to the second development, inclusion. Inclusion is more of a global development.
Along with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, questions about a sustainable future have shifted from a matter of primarily state to include businesses, organizations and society as a whole. The Norse defense approach known as Total Preparedness is gaining momentum. The modernized total defense concept encompasses mutual support and cooperation between armed forces and civil society in contingency planning, crisis management and consequence management across the entire crisis spectrum. .
Cooperation is perhaps the most important development of civil protection. The recent pandemic has proven rapid for knowledge sharing and the relatively rapid establishment of intergovernmental systems. Systems such as vaccine certificates are the result of increased cooperation.
Today, the EU plays a key role in coordinating disaster response in Europe and beyond. The rescEU reserve includes firefighting planes and helicopters, medical evacuation planes with EpiShuttles, as well as a stockpile of medical equipment. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism is currently delivering more than 100 million essential items for assistance to Ukraine. Cooperation within the EU guarantees a faster and more comprehensive response.
In the future, Europe is reinventing civil protection by using new technologies, by being more inclusive of society and by cooperating between nations.