OBJECTIVE: This study investigated how European first responders and hospital personnel, along with CBRN experts, approach an overwhelming surge situation after a chemical incident. Surge capacity and capability bottlenecks were discussed.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Two chemical warfare agent (CWA) scenarios were developed: in the first, a nerve agent was released indoors; in the second, there was an outdoor explosion containing a blister agent. CBRNE experts, first responders and hospital specialists from across Europe participated in a two-day table-top exercise to discuss pre-hospital and hospital CBRNE preparedness, triage, surge capacity and communication issues. This was followed by a medical response exercise at a level 2 Emergency Department in Italy.

RESULTS: Several surge capacity challenges and lessons were identified. Critical resources were rapidly exhausted and sourcing from national/international medical stockpiles was not feasible in the time critical scenarios. Secondary contamination in the blister agent scenario was considered plausible and hospitals are currently unprepared for this situation. The medical response exercise highlighted further training needs.

CONCLUSIONS: The majority of the lessons are not new and have been reported in North American studies. However, this study is the first to describe these CWA challenges from a European perspective. Medical facilities across the region should consider these lessons to evaluate and improve their surge capacity, capability and response.

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