Dynamics of Terrorism

This is the third in a series of periodic articles dealing with the constantly changing field of response to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) incidents. New technology, procedures, protective equipment and other innovations occur on a frequent basis. Response personnel need to be constantly monitoring these changes and make adjustments to their own standard operating procedures (SOPs), personal protective equipment (PPE) and related equipment.

Mention of products here is in no way an endorsement of those products. These products are presented for consideration and evaluation by emergency responders for them to determine whether they would find them useful for their operations.

Decontamination Technology

Binary Ionization Technology (BIT) is reported by the manufacturer to be "the most advanced sanitizing system available for on-scene decontamination of equipment and hazmat personnel." Utilizing a "spray gun," this portable system produces a water-based mist that contains "transient hydroxyl radicals." OH is a radical consisting of one hydrogen atom and one oxygen atom, which does not normally exist in a stable form.

Hydroxyl radicals are among the most reactive chemical species known to science. As the spray mist contacts a microbe, cell walls are broken down, leading to the death of the organism. This process occurs within seconds of contact. Cleanup is not necessary because the remaining hydroxyl radicals bond with each other, forming oxygen and water. According to the manufacturer, the system "is not harmful to the building, its contents or occupants." This product has not been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and has not been tested for effectiveness against all biological materials that may be found at an incident scene.

A listing of biological materials tested for the use of this technology can be found on the manufacturer's website.

Hand-Held Raman Spectroscopy System

Recently at the University of Maryland, I had to opportunity to participate in a demonstration of a newly developed WMD monitoring device. I was impressed with the unit's ease of operation, rugged construction, and the fact that it has applications in both WMD and hazardous materials incidents. The ability to program additional chemicals into the unit is also a plus. The "First Defender" model Raman spectroscopy system is designed for the identification of solids, liquids and mixtures on the incident scene.

Spectroscopy is an analytical technique arising from the interaction of a substance with electromagnetic radiation. The electromagnetic radiation absorbed, emitted or scattered by the molecule is analyzed by the device. Typically, a beam of radiation from a source such as a laser is passed through a sample, and the radiation exiting the sample is measured. First Defender has the capability of identifying substances in air and through bags, bottles and other containers without the user or the spectrometer being exposing to the substance.

Sampling is non-destructive does not require contact with the substance and requires no sample preparation. However, responders still need to wear proper protective clothing for the hazard present when using the First Defender and all monitoring instruments. Start-up time for the monitor is less than one minute. The First Defender was developed with the input and assistance of first responders and is designed for use by fire, EMS, hazardous materials teams, law enforcement and homeland security personnel in the field.

First Defender has an extensive library of substances including WMD, chemical weapons, explosives, toxic chemicals, white powders and other common hazardous materials. Users can add to the library by using the monitor on known substances and programming them into the database. The manufacturer contends that the device is highly accurate and not subject to false positives or false negatives. For further information, refer to the manufacturer's website at www.ahuracorp.com. Frost & Sullivan was awarded the 2005 Product Innovation Award for Homeland Security Technologies in recognition of the company's development of the instrument.

National Incident Management System

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) provides uniform incident management procedures that all responders - federal, state, tribal and local - can use to effectively respond to WMD incidents. Listed below are the highlights of NIMS from the FEMA website. For further information, see www.fema.gov.

  • Incident command system (ICS). NIMS establishes ICS as a standard incident management organization with five functional areas - command, operations, planning, logistics and finance/administration - for management of all major incidents. To ensure further coordination, and during incidents involving multiple jurisdictions or agencies, the principle of unified command has been universally incorporated into NIMS. This unified command not only coordinates the efforts of many jurisdictions, but provides for and assures joint decisions on objectives, strategies, plans, priorities and public communications.

The NIC will develop and facilitate national standards for NIMS education and training, first responder communications and equipment, typing of resources, qualification and credentialing of incident management and responder personnel, and standardization of equipment maintenance and resources. The NIC will continue to use the collaborative process of federal, state, tribal, local, multi-discipline and private authorities to assess prospective changes and assure continuity and accuracy.

IAFF Concerns Over 3/30 Rule

In 1998 and 1999, the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM) studied the safety of firefighter turnout gear in an atmosphere of chemical warfare agents. Results of the testing were released in a document titled Guidelines for Incident Commanders Use of Firefighters Ensemble (FFPE) with Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) for Rescue Incidents During a Terrorist Chemical Incident, which became widely known as the 3/30 Rule. The context of the 3/30 rule is outlined in the following paragraphs.

Standard turnout gear with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) provides a first responder with sufficient protection from nerve agent vapor hazards inside interior or downwind areas of the hot zone to allow 30 minutes of rescue time for known live victims.

Self-taped turnout gear with SCBA provides sufficient protection in an unknown nerve agent environment for a three-minute reconnaissance to search for living victims (or a two-minute reconnaissance if HD - distilled sulfur mustard agent - is suspected.

Following the release of the test results and the 3/30 rule, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) expressed concern over the use of turnout gear in a chemical agent atmosphere. The IAFF said that it was its position that the "3/30 Rule and its modifications were inappropriate and unacceptable as the basis of a protective strategy for use by firefighters and other first responders."

Following the concerns expressed by the IAFF, SBCCOM withdrew the 3/30 Rule in the spring of 2003. During June of 2003 SBCCOM released another document titled The Risk Assessment of Using Firefighter Protective Ensemble with Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus for Rescue Operations During a Terrorist Chemical Agent Incident. According to the IAFF, the "new" report was still based upon the same limited testing data of the 3/30 Rule. The IAFF objections to the SBCCOM test reports are summarized below.

  • Chemical agent exposures used in the testing process were based on military battlefield conditions, not the urban settings that would be encountered by first responders. Higher concentrations would be expected inside buildings and in the confinement of urban settings verses the openness of the battlefield.

Peroxide Bombs

At first, it was believed that the materials used in the bombings of buses and trains in London in July 2005 were military explosives that were smuggled into the country; however, it was determined that was not the case. These bombings were carried out using peroxide bombs composed of the homemade explosive acetone peroxide. This material has become a favorite of terrorists because it is easy to make and difficult to detect by current detection equipment and bomb-sniffing dogs. Richard Reid, the British shoe bomber, tried unsuccessfully to bring down an American Airlines flight by setting off acetone peroxide explosive hidden in the heel of his shoe. It was believed to have contained a stabilizing agent allowing him to walk on a volatile substance.

Acetone peroxide, which is also referred to as TATP (triacetone triperoxide), can be made with liquids that are commonly available from pharmacies and hardware stores. Primary ingredients include hydrogen peroxide (hair bleach), sulfuric acid and acetone. After mixing, the liquid mixture is evaporated, which leave crystals. Acetone peroxide can be used as an explosive in its own right, or as a booster to set off a larger charge. It is extremely sensitive and is stored under refrigeration to help maintain stability.

Acetone peroxide is also known as "Mother of Satan" because is highly unstable and liable to detonate with the slightest shock or rise in temperature. Al Qaeda terrorist camps have provided training to terrorists on the manufacture of acetone peroxide. Response personnel should be very cautious if any of the precursor chemicals or empty containers are found in or around an occupancy.

Peroxide Detector

An Israeli inventor has developed a device to detect the kind of improvised explosives increasingly used by terror groups. Named the Peroxide Explosive Tester (PET), the detector looks like a three-color ball-point pen. The device releases three chemical mixtures that change color upon interaction with suspected explosive materials.

TATP is but one of a group of explosives based on the unstable peroxide group of compounds. As noted, one of the most alarming attributes of TATP is that it cannot be detected by bomb-sniffing dogs, making it easier to smuggle into airports and onto airplanes. It is also easy to synthesize in clandestine labs, using readily available chemicals.

Acetone peroxide is remarkably different from other explosives because it does not release heat during an explosion. This rare phenomenon, scientifically known as "Entropic Explosion," is reminiscent of the rapid reaction that produces gas in the safety air-bags of cars during accidents.

FEMA Web-Based ICS Courses

Emergency responders can now take two new incident command system (ICS) courses online through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Virtual Campus. The two new courses were jointly developed by the USFA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). The courses are:

  • Q-462 Introduction to All-Hazards NIMS ICS for Operational First Responders
  • Q-463 Basic All-Hazards NIMS ICS for Operational First Responders

Further information can be found at http://training.fema.gov/.

HazMat Smart Strip

The HazMat Smart-Strip is an example of a product developed by an emergency responder looking for a better way. The Smart-Strip is based on a strip of vinyl and paper a little larger than a business card. When exposed to liquid or aerosol hazardous materials, such as chlorine, fluoride, arsenic, cyanide, oxidizers or sulfides, and WMD agents such as nerve agent, it changes color, similar to the military M-8 papers and pH paper.

The idea for the HazMat Smart-Strip came from Mike Reimer, a firefighter who saw that rescue workers who arrive at the scene of an emergency first could use an inexpensive device to check for hazardous materials. "There's expensive equipment out there that can detect the presence of hazardous materials, but not everyone can afford expensive chemical detectors," Reimer told the Miami Herald in 2004.

The HazMat Smart-Strip is currently in use by the U.S. Coast Guard and fire departments, including Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Miami-Dade and New York City. Additional information is available by accessing www.smart-strip.com.

Robert Burke, a Firehouse= contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland. He is a Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFSP), Fire Inspector II, Fire Inspector III, Fire Investigator and Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazardous materials response teams. Burke is a veteran of 26 years in fire and emergency services, with experience in career and volunteer departments. He has attained the rank of lieutenant, assistant chief and deputy state fire marshal. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy and the Community College of Baltimore, Catonsville Campus, and the author of the textbooks Hazardous Materials Chemistry for Emergency Responders and Counter-Terrorism for Emergency Responders. He can be reached in the Internet at robert.burke@att.net.