Are First Responders Prepared for CBRNE Incidents?

Sept. 30, 2010
Results of a recent nationwide survey of emergency medical technicians (EMTs) reveal that most first responders feel underprepared and inadequately equipped for a disaster involving a chemical, biological or radiological agent.

The survey from Meridian Medical Technologies Inc. indicates that 72 percent of respondents are somewhat-to-very concerned that a terrorist attack with widespread impact will happen in the next 3 years, while only 42 percent reported that their department receives recurrent training in responding to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive devices (CBRNE) and/or terrorism. Nearly half (49 percent) of all respondents think it is at least somewhat likely that a potential terrorist activity involving the release of a chemical nerve agent could happen in the next 3 years.

Despite their concerns, only 37 percent report that the amount of time spent on training and exercising for CBRNE has increased in the past 5 years, while 25 percent report that the amount of time spent on training and exercising for CBRNE has either decreased or is not offered. Just 15 percent of EMTs surveyed report that they are very confident in their department’s ability to respond to a mass casualty incident that involves CBRNE.

More than one-quarter of respondents report that their emergency vehicles are not equipped with the personal protective equipment and/or medications and antidotes needed to respond to a mass casualty incident involving CBRNE. Of those whose rigs are equipped with medications and antidotes, 86 percent say there only is enough medication and antidote to treat first responders as opposed to the public.

“The survey results demonstrate a possible lack of preparedness among our nation’s first responders in their ability to respond to chemical, biological or radiological disasters,” said Dr. Joe Nelson, state emergency medical services medical director for Florida. “Despite concerns about the potential for a CBRNE accident or terrorist attack, many EMTs don’t seem to be getting the training, equipment, medications and antidotes they need to protect themselves and treat victims.”

For example, in the event of poisoning by organophosphorous chemical nerve agents or pesticides used in agriculture, it is crucial that victims receive treatment and antidote quickly. U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved auto-injectors that contain the antidotes for these toxins are available to first responders.

“EMTs, in conjunction with local fire and police personnel, are the front line response in the event of a chemical disaster,” said Tom Handel, senior vice president of Commercial Pharmaceuticals for Meridian Medical Technologies Inc. “Every minute counts, so it is imperative they are trained and equipped with protective gear and medications to protect themselves and treat others quickly and efficiently.”

More information on preparing for chemical disasters and accessing federal grants to purchase antidotes is available at

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