• Vol. 38 No. 12, 1026–1030
  • 15 December 2009

Preparedness for Terrorism: Managing Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats

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ABSTRACT

The management of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) terrorism events is critical to reducing morbidity and mortality in the next decade; however, initial patient care considerations and protective actions for staff are unfamiliar to most front-line clinicians. High explosive events (bomb and blast) remain the most common type of terrorism and are easy to detect. Conversely, some types of terrorist attacks are more likely to be unsuspected or covert. This paper explains the current threat of terrorism and describes clues for detection that an event has occurred. Specific criteria that should lead to a high suspicion for terrorism are illustrated. The manuscript outlines initial actions and clinical priorities for management and treatment of patients exposed to nuclear/radiological, biological, chemical and combined agents (for example an explosion involving a chemical agent). Examples of terrorist events include: a nuclear explosion, an aerosolised release of anthrax (biological), dissemination of sarin in a subway (chemical), and the detonation of a radiologic dispersion device or “dirty bomb” (combined explosive and radiological). Basic principles of decontamination include potential risks to healthcare providers from secondary exposure and contamination. Unique issues may hinder clinical actions. These include coordination with law enforcement for a crime scene, public health entities for surveillance and monitoring, hazardous materials teams for decontamination, and the media for risk communications. Finally, the importance of personal preparedness is discussed.


Preparedness for terrorism in the 21st century includes addressing the management of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) terrorism events. Understanding the terrorist threat and detecting clues that an attack has occurred are critical to reducing morbidity and mortality in the next decade. While high explosive events (bomb and blast) remain the most common type of terrorism and are easy to detect, a higher index of suspicion is required to identify NBC attacks. Familiarity with initial patient care considerations and protective actions for staff including decontamination techniques is essential for front-line clinicians. In addition to identifying victims of an NBC attack, personal preparedness for healthcare providers and their families is paramount.

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