CBRNE (chemical biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive) might bring to mind Three Mile Island and dirty bombs. Although these environments are classified as hazardous, officers may find themselves in a myriad of other situations, such as surrounded by the toxic dust at Ground Zero, or the Anthrax spores in the American Media Inc. building in Boca Raton, Fla. Numerous arrests for possession of ricin, a deadly toxin made from castor beans, have been reported from Las Vegas to Escanaba, Mich. With the abundance of meth labs, officers often find themselves in situations immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH), where they must continue to perform regardless of the environment. "There are new chemical labs and that's becoming more frequent, creating adverse conditions that law enforcement has to deal with," says Monroe County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office SWAT Assistant Team Leader Det. Juan Llera.
Because of the detrimental consequences involved in IDLH situations, federal agencies, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration, have established standards emergency responders must adhere to. These not only apply to fire departments and hazardous materials (hazmat) teams, but also to tactical officers. OSHA 1910.120 (Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response) assists agencies by defining hazardous situations, emergency responses and qualified personnel.
When officers respond to emergencies involving hazardous materials, they are required to follow these guidelines to reduce the chance of "an uncontrolled release of the hazardous substance." OSHA furthers emergency responder requirements with 1910.134, which explains guidelines that reference the control of contaminated air. These include "harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays or vapors," and require a respirator be provided to anyone entering into a contaminated environment.
Although both entities are designated as first responders and bound by OSHA requirements, SWAT team operators have a different mission than a hazmat team when responding to potential hazards. "During a normal SWAT call-out, we have to contain the human threat," explains Lt. Darin Dowe, Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office (BCSO) SWAT operator and instructor, and tactical WMD program coordinator.
"With the suspected or actual hazmat/WMD threat we have two issues: Containing the person and containing the threat substance that person may or may not have." Dowe says. "[In reference to] hostage rescue, we can't run into a house where it is suspected there is a CBRNE threat and put the operator in harm's way. We have to determine the level of protection we need before we can take action. Our goal is to ensure that the public and all public safety personnel are safe."
As first responders, tactical operators enter volatile situations and need to function in a certain way to meet their mission. The inclusion of a hazardous material changes both the scenario and response. To meet these challenges, several Florida agencies incorporated hazardous material training into their tactical operations.
BCSO does over 200 tactical operations per year, any of which has the potential to involve an IDLH environment. In early 2000, BCSO attained grant funding to purchase tactical WMD equipment. In addition, the agency bought more than $600,000 worth of gear, including an armored vehicle containing specialized equipment.
However, there were no specific programs for law enforcement tactical responders. The agency then worked with fire and hazmat, adopted and adapted their protocols and made them work in conjunction with SWAT tactics. "We had a foundation of training, and in addition we conduct in-service training scenarios throughout the year for WMD situations in conjunction with the hazmat and bomb squad," Dowe says.