I have had a predilection toward prepping since I was a child of the Cold war under Carter and Reagan with Red Dawn fantasies and musings to keep me entertained as I daydreamed in grade school. I obviously grew up and matured, but as my life progressed, I enlisted and was stationed in some awesome prepper regions like Alaska and Idaho. As a lifelong hunter and fisherman, I am just attuned to this lifestyle though I have only recently become an active prepper.
Over a decade ago, I was in the private security world after getting out of active duty. I was consulting and training for corporate clients and security companies, as well as law enforcement agencies. After 9/11, the national paranoia was quite a phenomenal thing to witness from my point of view, especially when one considers this happening on the heels of the Y2K scares. I had numerous calls from clients about NBC protection. NBC is an acronym for nuclear, biological, and chemical that the military uses. When Homeland Security put out their laughable directive on home NBC protection, I had a helluva belly laugh.
At first I tried to assuage my clients’ fears about NBC attacks. After all, they all knew my resume as a former active duty Air Force engineer that was still an NCO in a Guard unit and was a former volunteer firefighter/EMT with Haz-Mat experience. Combined with my security training in force protection and the aforementioned experience, my client base was extensive and growing post 9/11. (BTW the USAF probably has the most extensive NBC troop training programs than any other two services combined, simply because it is the only truly static based service we have. In short, the majority of AF troops will be concentrated on hard bases with limited mobility because they are anchored to the aircraft. The other services have substantially more mobility and could conceivably maneuver the bulk of targeted forces away from hot zones with less logistics. But I digress.)
I had clients, and even local police departments, approach me concerning the NBC threat. At first I considered the threat and my response to their requests. I must admit, being in a USAF engineer unit that had the responsibility of NBC operations and training, I had never been impressed with the theoretical response and contingency plans that we trained on. They were too rosy and out of touch for my tastes. When I turned my thinking toward civilian targets, I came to the conclusion that NBC countermeasures are a joke.
Let us look at a typical multi-story business building or even an apartment complex. What are the three biggest infiltration points on these buildings? How would agents and vectors most easily enter? The answer is the doors, windows, and HVAC systems. Even IF the building managers and residents were able to secure the doors and windows, what about the HVAC systems? It takes time to shut down and isolate buildings from outside air intake through the HVAC systems, especially in larger buildings.
But before we even got to that point, what WARNING will civilians get of the presence of agents? In the Gulf War, aircraft were flying through airborne agents released by the bombing of stockpiles in Iraq and ground crews were later scrambling all over the fuselages to service these aircraft. The NBC detectors were largely useless because they did not pick up these trace agents and as such many ground crewman were contaminated in repetitive low doses and Gulf War Syndrome has one theory that hypothesizes about this being a possible origin. If the NATO detectors were not able to accurate detect trace agent presence, then what would tell Joe Six-Pack that something was amiss and that it might be NBC related before he was writhing around on the ground in agony from muscular spasms that would break his vertebrate, cause pupil pin pointing and eventual death from drowning or cardio or pulmonary function shutdown?
What would the maintenance guys know to wear if they belatedly went outdoors into a contaminated environment to harden the building? What would be the warning system to initiate such precautions? The National Alert system? Seriously, do you think the government is able to get the warning out in time, PRIOR to such an attack?
When we in the military are operating in an increased NBC threat environment, we are usually operating in reduced MOPP levels. (Mission Oriented Personal Protection) The various MOPP levels dictate how much gear is worn versus carried while operating. In say, MOPP 2, we will have the over boots and garment donned but will carry the outer gloves, glove liners, and mask. Even from MOPP 2, a full minute can be used by TRAINED troops to don, tighten, clear, fit check, and buddy check the donning of the mask and gloves. These are troops that most likely have gas chamber training with CS (tear gas) or other non-lethal choking agents. How well and how fast is Joe Six-Pack going to don his gear, assuming he even dons it all correctly?
So after considering all this, I decided to tell my clients the truth. I would not train them to operate in that environment. I told them to isolate the building as much as they could and to bunker down in the interior as much as possible. The good news is that most agents are non-persistent and that dispersal is the bane of any agent delivery system. Let the emergency responders decon evacuation routes before releasing their people. I advised against trying to use off the shelf chemical protection devices used by environmental remediation and haz-mat response crews because without the training, your purchases are stabs in the dark and may lead to more deaths if used.
Now, I realize that there is a certain amount of bravado and testosterone laden attitude in this community and that a significant number of Joe Snuffy’s out there have military surplus NBC suits and they argue the finer points of Israeli vs Finnish masks or Soviet styled suits vs NATO standard British suits in DPMS camo. But the simple and irrefutable fact is this. The VAST majority of the nation, to include this community has never had any military or first responder training. These suits, of dubious quality and origin to begin with, and masks are not inspected by trained technicians on a regular basis. People have NO IDEA HOW DEBILITATING everyday operations in these suits are. I was once in an exercise where the unit was transported within 24 hours from a winter environment to a humid southern environment and forced to operate for HOURS under the sun in MOPP 4 condition (all gear donned). Fully 20% of the unit was sent to the hospital for dehydration and heat exposure.
How will Joe Six-Pack hold up? Have you ever run in a mask? Without excellent fitness and psychological preparation, many will end up hyperventilating because of the amount of air you can intake through a mask valve. What about water? Water is the bane of NATO styled suits and it degrades the lifetime of the suit exponentially, so how much does your sweat affect the suit’s viability? Then there are cartridges for your mask. How many cartridges do you have? What are their lifespans? Are the masks compatible with other cartridges? Do you even know what your mask and suit protect against? What is your decon plan? How bad would it be to make a successful foray outside only to die because you deconned improperly or because you introduced agent into your shelter?
The answers to these questions will probably reveal a vast ignorance of counter NBC operations. So what then is the answer? How do you counter this potential threat or do you go meekly into the void and surrender yourself to a fatalistic attitude?
First, IF you are going to have a counter NBC plan, get informed. Have the supplies and ability to close up and harden your residence or shelter on hand. Keep-It-Simple-S----D. Realize that your measures may not work and that you may have to face exposure regardless. Train in your gear and train donning your gear. Learn what are the likely threats and delivery systems. Learn the difference between persistent and non-persistent agents and above all, learn the symptoms of exposure. Have a shelter that is as cut-off from the outside environment as possible and get everybody there ASAP and make sure there is a week’s supply of living essentials there. Realize that geography and climate make certain places more vulnerable than others.
Next, let us look at delivery systems and nature’s countermeasures. Delivery systems that are effective are the bane of would be NBC users. Getting a good dispersal of the agent requires skill, knowledge and not a little amount of luck. Aum Shirynko of the Japanese subway attack notoriety batched up sarin in their HOMES and deployed it against the civilian populace. What saved countless lives was that the aerosol delivery system for the HVAC systems they were designed for were inadequate to effectively disperse this deadly agent. Also, where do you live? While stationed near Fairbanks, we used to laugh at the supposed possibility of wintertime attacks with chemical agents because simply, stuff stops working in the arctic. Aerosols freeze and equipment breaks. Conversely, in Arizona where the environment is conducive to better delivery, the UV from the sun will hasten the breakdown of most agents quicker than it would in a more northern climate. Rain. Rain is a countermeasure boon from nature. It will do much of your initial level decon for you so if you live in Seattle, that can work to your advantage. Even Iraq, notorious for its use of mustard and other agents, had to resort to converting aircraft into virtual crop dusters because they could not get dependable dispersion. Additionally, the persistence of agents is important. Most agents are non-persistent and will breakdown inside of 15 days.
Now that I have spread enough doom and gloom, I will tell you what my plans are. At this point, I see little gain from investing a single penny into NBC countermeasures. After 20 years of military service, I have resigned myself to the lack of feasibility of NBC survivability. I personally see a bullet as a humane treatment to exposure to some agents. I realize that this is not acceptable to many but that is merely my conclusion. I look at the NBC threat as something akin to an asteroid strike, sure there is a possibility but I can do little to affect the outcome of either. I CAN effectively counter OTHER threats and to that end, I am investing my money and energies in those directions. Good luck in your preps!