CBRNe Defense and Response in Densely Populated Areas

Row of ambulances.

After the September 11 terrorist attacks, various types of terrorism or “Non-Conventional Threats (NCTs)” were defined. The preparation for NCTs requires further management mechanisms to minimize social damage. The transfer and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, such as biological, chemical, and radiological/nuclear (CBRN) weapons, has been recognized as a significant threat since the end of the Cold War. In particular, there remain strong concerns that terrorists could acquire and use CBRN weapons as a form of NCT. We learned from the Tokyo Subway Sarin Attack (1995) that a critical issue for chemical attacks in densely populated areas is the capacity of the rescue and emergency transport services and the logistics for providing life-support devices and antidotes. Therefore, the authorities need to develop plans for managing chemical terrorism, including developing the capacity for evacuating severe injuries and stockpiling and deploying antidotes in a timely manner.

If biological weapons are used in densely populated areas, the spread within society occurs at a very rapid pace, and its latent phase prevents early awareness of a biological attack. To minimize damage caused by biological weapons, constructing a communicable disease surveillance system and detecting unusual trends within this system are necessary for public health authorities. The standard strategy against biological weapons is surveillance and vaccination. However, this requires logistics to support the distribution of antibiotics, antidotes, and vaccines. The time-constrained step in the response against biological weapons used in densely populated areas is the deployment of healthcare providers to provide medical support. In preparation for CBRNe terrorism in densely populated areas, it is necessary for authorities to estimate the vulnerability and risk of all areas and minimize the areas’ risk by constructing an ICT network. For example, constructing an IoT (Internet of Things) platform allows the authorities to collect and integrate information on medical needs and then distribute limited healthcare resources efficiently and effectively. Moreover, as incorrect information will unnecessarily inflame public anxiety, early risk communication has become important to minimize public anxiety. 

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Yasuhiro Kanatani is the Director of the Department of Health Crisis Management at the National Institute of Public Health. He is also a Professor (Cooperative Graduate School Program) of the Department of Computer Science, School of Computing at Tokyo Institute of Technology. His research interests focus on health risk assessment and management. He graduated from National Defense Medical College (NDMC) in 1989 and received a PhD in medicine from NDMC in 1994. He had worked as a medical officer at the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare from 1999 to 2002 and at the Ministry of Defense from 2002 to 2004. Before moving to the NIPH in 2010, he had worked as an associate professor in the Division of Environmental Medicine at the NDMC Research Institute from 2004.