European Union CBRN Medical Countermeasure Preparedness


Following the World Trade Centre and the Anthrax terrorist attacks in 2001, both the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) adopted Counter Terrorism Strategies and took actions aimed at increasing their respective levels of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) preparedness and response capabilities. Protecting the population from CBRN terrorist threats is of high priority for both the US and the EU but this article will focus primarily on the EU’s efforts to address CBRN terrorist threats through the framework of the CBRN Action Plan.

In order to respond efficiently to CBRN incidents or terrorist attacks, CBRN medical countermeasures play a crucial role since they enable patient recovery. Indeed, following a CBRN incident or attack, CBRN medical countermeasures constitute the only means of treating victims suffering from internal contamination; thus adequate levels of preparedness have to be ensured.

Using a wide definition, medical countermeasures are understood as all drugs and biological products, medical devices and other medical equipment designed to treat victims against CBRN attacks or incidents and emerging infectious diseases, such as pandemic influenza.

This article will provide a brief overview of the EU’s CBRN security framework as well as review the CBRN action plan and its 2012 progress reports with regards to EU CBRN medical countermeasure preparedness.

European Union CBRN Security Framework

At EU level, the Health Security Committee (HSC) is the key mechanism for coordinating health security efforts. It is an informal cooperation and coordination body concentrating on health–related threats from terrorism or any deliberate release of biological or other agents, as well as raising levels of preparedness for cross-border threats, in particular for pandemic flu.

In December 2005, the EU adopted the EU Counter-Terrorism strategy to deal with the increasing threat of terrorism. Later in 2009, as part of this strategy, a special focus was put on CBRN matters through the CBRN Action Plan which is a list 124 actions that EU Member States have committed to implement.

The CBRN Action Plan focuses on reducing threat and damage from CBRN incidents or attacks to the citizens of the European Union through three main strands; namely prevention (by ensuring controlled and regulated access to CBRN materials), detection (detect CBRN materials in order to prevent or respond to CBRN incidents or attacks) and finally preparedness and response (efficiently responding to CBRN incidents or attacks and making sure casualties recover as soon as possible using medical countermeasures).

CBRN Action Plan and CBRN Medical Countermeasures Preparedness

The CBRN action plan aims at enhancing EU preparedness and response capabilities through an increase of medical countermeasure capacities under horizontal actions1 H.34 (listed as key action2), H.35 and H.363. These actions are designed to determine capability gaps by assessing EU Member States’ vulnerabilities given a pre-identified CBRN threat scenario. In other words, do Member States

have appropriate medical countermeasures given the nature of the CBRN threat and are these medical countermeasures available in sufficient quantities. Furthermore, H.36 provides for exchange of best practises amongst Member States in the field of CBRN medical response.

The 2012 CBRN Action Plan Progress Report, summaries the key achievements in the implementation of the H-Actions. According to the latter document, the main progress has been achieved in the following areas: establishment of the three EU lists high-risk substances; providing CBRN training and exchanging good practices; conducting CBRN exercises at local, regional, national, EU and international level; the establishment of the European network of specialised CBRN law enforcement units as well as the set-up of an Early Warning System (EWS) for law enforcement authorities for incidents related to high risk CBRN materials as well as explosives and firearms. Furthermore, the report highlights that much effort has been made in the field of CBRN-related security research within the FP7 framework.

Enhancing the EU’s CBRN preparedness and response capabilities through increased medical countermeasures capacities is hence not listed by the Commission has a key achievement. The key action H.34 was initiated in 2010 and is still on-going; therefore, in 2012 it may have been too early to determine whether progress had been made. However, actions H.35 and H.36 were to be implemented in 2011. Consequently, the implementation process of these actions is either in its infancy stage, considered of low priority, delayed or even non-existent; making the EU ever more vulnerable to CBRN attacks and incidents.


Although, the EU adopted the CBRN Action Plan to deal with the threat of CBRN incidents and terrorist attacks, the CBRN Action Plan is non-binding and thus cannot be legally enforced. As a result, the implementation process is lengthy or even non-existent meaning that relevant medical countermeasures are not developed and thus not stocked in sufficient quantities.

Putting aside the stagnant implementation process of medical countermeasure-related actions, it could be argued that the sheer nature of these actions does not contribute to enhancing EU CBRN preparedness. Indeed, actions H.34 H.35 and H.36 rely on threat and risks assessments as well as CBRN security research rather than on concrete measures to increase CBRN medical countermeasure capacities. In other words, whilst these actions are essential to determine which medical countermeasures have to be developed and stocked given a certain CBRN threat; they do not contribute to the EU’s overall security by developing concrete CBRN capabilities.

Finally, it is crucial that the EU focuses on CBRN medical countermeasure capability development in order to increase its preparedness levels and respond efficiently to CBRN incidents or terrorist attacks.


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