NATO learns CBRN lessons from duty at the Olympics

The Army of the Czech Republic (ACR) Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Battalion, based in Liberec, learned valuable lessons when it was deployed to Greece under a NATO mandate to provide additional security for the summer Olympic Games and subsequent Paralympics in Athens. The mission represented the first occasion on which NATO forces operated in a peaceful state, deployed as a back-up in the event of terrorists striking with CBRN weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The deployment also marked the first time that members of the ACR CBRN battalion came under civilian authority in the event of a terrorist attack. "During the course of the Olympic Games we were subordinate to Joint Forces Naples – NATO Command South," says Lieutenant Colonel Vratislav Osvald, commander of the ACR CBRN battalion and also commander of the NATO Response Force (NRF) multinational CBRN battalion of which the Czech contingent forms the backbone. "However, in the event of a crisis involving a terrorist strike using CBRN WMD, authority over our activities was to be immediately transferred to Greek civilian fire or police command.

"We had to immediately foster ties with the Greek integrated rescue service which included the ministries of defence, interior, health as well as with the fire, police, and atomic energy office authorities," Lt Col Osvald adds.

Overcoming obstacles

One challenge confronting the ACR CBRN contingent, according to Lt Col Osvald, included establishing a list of Greek authorities to whom members of the contingent could hand over samples taken in the field.

The commander of the ACR CBRN battalion notes that his unit could only accept radiological and chemical samples from local authorities since the Greeks use national rather than NATO standards for gathering, transporting, and transferring radiological and nuclear samples that are collected by fire and police personnel.

"We could not accept these samples because theoretically they could contaminate our laboratories and personnel," he says, adding: "Despite this handicap, we were still able to conduct analysis faster than the Greek national laboratory."

Another obstacle faced by the ACR CBRN contingent included transporting response teams by air. The ACR does not operate helicopters large enough to deploy an entire response team in a single aircraft. The Greek ministry of defence agreed to provide all air transport for the ACR CBRN contingent during the duration of their deployment.

The response teams consisted of 30-35 personnel, including specialists in detection and explosive ordinance disposal; sample takers; decontamination experts; and medical specialists. The teams had to practice deploying to potential crisis spots in the field aboard Hellenic Army Boeing CH-47 medium transport helicopters.

Before deploying to Greece for the Athens Olympics, Lt Col Osvald and many of his subordinates travelled to Greece in July to plan the mission. One of the key elements during the mission planning phase included holding a conference attended by personnel from Czech and Greek analysis laboratories.

At the conference both sides had to establish a list of points on how to proceed jointly during the duration of the mission. This included triage; sea force transport; decontamination; medical response; who would provide transportation; and force protection. "One key issue that needed to be resolved was where contaminated victims would be transported, since not all hospitals had the capacity and capability to treat victims contaminated by chemical, biological or other agents," says Lt Col Osvald.

"What really saved the day were the Greek military liaison officers attached to our response teams, without which the mission would have been impossible because of the language barrier," he adds.

Due to the complex nature of the mission, and given the fact that it included non-military elements of the Greek integrated rescue service, communication presented a problem. While the ACR CBRN contingent relied on the NATO Chronos secure communications system, the Greek civilian units used the Tetra system. Therefore, liaison officers attached to the response teams and to the command centre had to communicate using both systems.

During the deployment the ACR CBRN contingent mission included the twin tasks of consequence management and crisis management, which included taking samples and their subsequent identification according to NATO standards.

NATO standards of levels of detection and identification include: detection of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear WMD; identification of the type of WMD agent that has been used; confirmation; and forensic investigation.

"Everything was documented on the go and is now being finalised at Supreme Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) headquarters in Brussels," says Lt Col Osvald. "Once the report is concluded it will be sent to NATO headquarters as a guide on how to proceed during similar scenarios in the future," he adds.

The commander of the ACR CBRN battalion says that there is absolutely no doubt that scenarios such as the Athens Olympic and Paralympic Games will proliferate in the future - that NATO will increasingly have to adapt to deploy at civilian events where terrorists may strike using CBRN WMD.

"I would evaluate the mission in Greece as a good first attempt in that it was successful for a mission of its scope and complexity," says Lt Col Osvald.

He notes that, as a rehearsal to the Athens Olympics, elements of the ACR CBRN battalion with Italian CBRN specialists were deployed to the NATO summit held in Istanbul in June. A total of 23 personnel were stationed in Istanbul for the duration of the summit, including: ACR sample teams; a radiological and chemical analysis laboratory; Italian Army decontamination teams; and EADD teams .

Jiri Kominek is the Prague correspondent for Jane’s Information Group, covering the Czech Republic and Slovakia

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