Break out groups—June 20, 2013
Four breakout groups were held during the afternoon of June 20, 2013. Each group was asked to address three primary questions:
- What capabilities are needed for effective CBRN response in a partner nation?
- What are the gaps in capabilities?
- What is needed to improve U.S. government efforts for coordinated response to CBRN events in partner nations?
Groups consisted of approximately 20-25 participants composed of the workshop attendees, panelists, and steering committee members. Workshop steering committee members moderated the discussion and NRC staff members acted as rapporteurs to document the key points and questions. At the conclusion of the individual break out groups, all of the participants returned to a plenary session. Moderators from each group reported back, highlighting the major take-aways that emerged during the discussion.
Dr. Greg Parnell, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, highlighted a quote from a participant of his group, “CBRN does not respect country boundaries.” In addressing the capabilities needed for effective response, his group suggested that the U.S. government should work to establish agreements and coordinate efforts with various organizations and networks rather than rely solely on bilateral capacities, as that will not work in all regions. Participants in Group One agreed that U.S. agencies and other organizations should work to improve their understanding of cultural factors in partner nations. In addition, it is important to understand how other countries view the CBRN threat and help them make investments to build capabilities that are relevant to the country’s needs. Parnell stated that Group One participants emphasized the importance of practices and exercises to build both proficiency and trust; one participant
suggested the establishment of a joint CBRN response coordination center that can assess a CBRN event and help affected countries collect data and information.
Some of the gaps identified by Group One participants included the need for better communication and to overcome “language” barriers when both translating technical information between countries, and in understanding different cultural values. It was suggested that regular channels of communication among the government and NGO or private sector stakeholders is lacking, and that common international standards and understanding of how to assess and measure CBRN response capabilities are needed. To improve U.S. government coordination, Group One participants suggested the need to focus on increased interoperability between U.S. agencies and other U.S. entities, and between the U.S. government and foreign countries and other international entities; a participant pointed out that combatant commands have security assistance programs that could provide a useful foundation to build upon. Strategic rather than opportunistic partnerships were emphasized, as was more advanced planning with partners where CBRN threats are recognized and relationships permit.
A large part of Group Two’s discussion focused on standards, reported John Carrano, Carrano Consulting, adding that a useful contribution to this work would be to improve ways to understand how to communicate technical information for CBRN, and how to format data and present it to decision makers. Carrano suggested that the World Health Organization’s global harmonization task forces could provide a useful model to organize CBRN communities. In addressing the capabilities necessary to improve the U.S. government response to international events, participants from Group Two raised issues such as the need for better information management and situational awareness; assessing and characterizing problems in advance; and harnessing disaster relief capabilities outside the CBRN spectrum. This group also suggested that more practice on how to respond to international emergencies was required, as was consideration of who will pay for international response before a disaster happens. Group Two participants echoed the need to address gaps in standards, particularly in reference to communicating technical information with other countries. Carrano also noted that problems could develop with implementing experimental technology during a CBRN incident. Carrano summarized the discussion by citing the importance of advance training and best practices workshops and exchanges; science and technology solutions; and finding common understanding of standards.
Dr. Randall Murch, Virginia Tech, stated that a dominant theme that emerged from their discussion was U.S planning and preparation in advance of an event, both internally and externally. Murch offered that sometimes establishing an 80 percent solution may be sufficient for the response, citing the statement that “perfect is enemy of the good.” Murch said that Group Three participants echoed many of the key capabilities and gaps in response identified by other groups, citing the importance of working toward a common language to increase communication and understanding the culture of different countries. He also acknowledged that there is a great diversity of capabilities in different countries. The U.S. government should work to better
understand countries capabilities, as well as manage the expectations of what the United States can provide during an international response. Murch emphasized the importance of building trust and credibility to work in international areas. Participants in Group Three identified the potential for supporting trust between nations through partnerships between academia; for example, through the National Academies and their scientific counterparts in another country or region.
Murch said that his group identified gaps in current capabilities as the need to define a metric to help understand the desired end state of U.S. government participation in an international response, the need to leverage ally’s capabilities in an impacted region, and to assess countries capabilities for CBRN response in advance. They added that multi-lateral regional agreements could foster coordination, as would development and sharing of international standards. Murch pointed out that CBRN events bridge disaster response and national security, which poses a need for all sides to coordinate and understand their roles in advance of an incident. It is important that command and control of the response is clear before an event occurs.
Ann Lesperance, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, noted that many of the issues identified by other groups were raised in her session. Participants from Group Four felt that a key point was the need to conduct assessments of different country’s CBRN capabilities. Participants suggested that transparency and truthfulness was paramount to any response effort. Some people proposed development of a “plug and play” system, a template that the U.S. government could use with partner nations following an event. Lesperence said that this led to a group discussion about how CBRN subject matter experts could support response efforts led by Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART) within USAID whose primary mission is humanitarian assistance, considering the complications that arise with CBRN events. Group Four participants felt that there were multiple issues with communication. Not only must U.S. response teams communicate to stakeholders in the country but also address how to provide appropriate outreach to U.S. citizens in the region. Participants emphasized the need to address questions around locating and communicating with U.S. citizens in an affected region, including appropriate technologies to convey messages. Group Four also highlighted issues around managing expectations, as well as the question of whether a foreign government actually wants U.S. assistance. They echoed the importance of training, and one participant suggested that NNSA training programs could be beneficial as a model for CBRN training programs. Other participants pointed to the difficulty with addressing the breadth of CBRN events and asked if a “catalog” of training opportunities could be developed. Lastly, Lesperance said Group Four identified issues around when response ends and recovery begins, and whether U.S. authorities are in place to address these issues.
Working Groups—June 21, 2013
A subset of participants from the June 20, 2013 workshop was invited to participate in small working groups on the morning of June 21, 2013. During a plenary session, participants prioritized issues identified over the course of the previous day into three dominant themes:
- Frameworks to Integrate CBRN and All Hazards Response Capabilities
- Data and Information Sharing
- Standards for International CBRN Response
Groups consisted of approximately 5-10 participants; workshop steering committee members acted as moderators and NRC staff served as rapporteurs. Major themes and issues were documented to help inform future NRC activities aimed at improving U.S. response to international CBRN events.
Working Group One – Frameworks for Integrating CBRN and All Hazard Response Capabilities
Participants addressed questions of how to facilitate the integration of response efforts for all hazards with the specific needs of CBRN events. Questions considered included: Are there existing frameworks or scenarios that can provide appropriate models for improving CBRN response, and what are the gaps and unique attributes that need to be considered for each C-BRN event type? Participants emphasized that the trigger for the United States to assist in an international response effort should include an acknowledgement by the affected country that they have experienced a disaster, followed by a request for assistance from that country. Some of the key issues that emerged from the discussion included: consideration of the differences between an all hazards response and the unique requirements of a CBRN event; a need to examine existing overseas response frameworks to ensure that development of a new framework would not duplicate current efforts, the need to identify where gaps exist in existing frameworks, and the need for a better understanding of who will be responsible on the U.S. side for assessing requests for assistance from a foreign country, i.e., are appropriate people making decisions about what resources to mobilize in a C-B-RN situation.
Participants suggested that one useful mechanism for coordinating response could be to plug into existing incident command structures that already include standards for response. Building from this, other participants emphasized the need for standards that could help facilitate interoperability between different agencies and international response entities. One participant stated the need for a framework that supports development of transnational CBRN response capabilities. A last suggestion was to include a business model in existing DART team protocols that would support their capabilities to act quickly to minimize damage following an incident.
Working Group Two – Data and Information Sharing
The second working group focused on ways to improve the facilitation of information and data sharing between the U.S. government and decision makers in other countries, including government, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). Participants identified the need to inventory capabilities in advance, both within the United States and in foreign countries, as key to supporting response efforts following a CBRN event. It was acknowledged that the work being done by Major General Julie Bentz is vastly improving how interagency groups coordinate the U.S. government’s capabilities. However, participants also
said that more efforts are needed to identify sources of data for U.S. agencies, and to build linkages and structures that promote coordination of effort. Participants suggested the development of a database that could be plugged into by NGO’s, the private sector, and international entities, in addition to the federal government, pointing out that currently there is no central place for the U.S. government to share information or lessons learned from past response efforts to CBRN or other major hazards.
Several participants brought up the need for more outreach to NGO’s by federal agencies, as they are often the first ones at the scene and could potentially provide the quickest response in a given situation. Participants also raised questions around how to create systems that increase our ability to build situational awareness and promote exchange of cross-sectoral information between the government, private sector, NGO’s, and faith-based organizations; what are the best practices to improve sharing of information? Having this type of information, they suggested, would increase response entities ability to leverage efforts and resources. One participant pointed to the Department of Defense’s All Partners Access Network (APAN) as a potentially useful platform for this type of exchange.
Participants raised key questions that need to be addressed in advance of an incident to facilitate a successful international response to a CBRN event. What information should the host nation provide? What information does the responding nation need to provide? What are the mechanisms to share that information? Who needs to have access to that information to support timely and appropriate decision making? One participant cautioned that collecting data in a foreign country could pose an issue, particularly if there are adverse political or social conditions in the country where the incident occurs. Another participant pointed out that requests that originate from different sources may require different responses depending on who is asking for that assistance.
Working Group Three – Standards for International CBRN Response
The third working group focused on opportunities for developing a body of international guidelines, standard operating procedures, and other standards for response to catastrophic events, such as a CBRN event. Participants suggested that standards and common guidelines could enhance the effectiveness of response efforts by the United States and its partner nations, both domestically and internationally. This group defined a standard as “what a set group of people agree to abide by” and noted that to succeed, a standard needs to be relevant, validated, tested, and accepted by the community. Participants noted that a complete body of standards does not currently exist to support the U.S. government and partner nations’ ability to better coordinate a response to an international CBRN event, adding that current standards were not developed by the people who need to use them. They proposed that joint development of standards will help to establish an agreed upon lexicon and mode of operation, and build personal and institutional partnerships that increase the likelihood of successful implementation. Participants suggested that standards need to adaptively but effectively address preparedness, detection, identification, characterization, response, and resolution to accommodate different societal values, approaches to decision making, investment and capacity building, and available resources. Measuring a country’s capabilities against standards should inform effective response by the international community, and fit into the larger mission of addressing the end-to-end range of countering CBRN events.
The working group considered the primary classes of standards that need to be developed for response to catastrophic events such as CBRN. They identified terminology and nomenclature; command, control, communication, and information sharing and access; threat detection, identification, characterization, and reporting; technical standards (e.g., metric vs. imperial, reference materials, type, and quality of information); capacity and capability; and standards of practice and training. Participants also determined existing examples of guidelines or standards could serve as useful models for successful CBRN response. These included:
- Current standards for humanitarian assistance.
- International Health Regulations (IHRs),10 which are in the process of establishing a common baseline against which countries can compare and assess their own systems.
- The process of creation and adoption of human forensic DNA standards.
- ISO standards that are related to these topics.
Participants thought that this type of effort would take approximately 3-5 years. They also suggested that involvement from National Science Academies (and similar institutions) in various countries could provide a successful venue for convening work on developing standards; providing a neutral environment committed to scientific rigor and developing conclusions and recommendations based on research and evidence. Science academies and associated institutions could also build broad constituencies that include the senior, in-country experts who are often well connected to their respective governments, and simultaneously tap pools of young in-country scientists that would carry these efforts forward into the future.
10 International Health Regulations, World Health Organization http://www.who.int/topics/international_health_regulations/en/