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The Logistics of a Tactical WMD Response

On Sept. 11, 2001 the attack on the World Trade Center and the Anthrax attacks highlighted law enforcement’s limited capability to respond to and mitigate CBRNE incidents. This was due to lack of training, equipment, funding and a unified response plan at all levels. If there was an Anthrax attack today the most prudent course of action to apprehend a suspect, serve a search warrant, or clear a premise of a human threat would be the use of a Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) capable SWAT team—a resource most jurisdictions large and small alike did not have.

With the looming threat of domestic and international terrorism, HazMat / WMDs (CBRNE-chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive), governments funded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for first responders. SWAT, patrol, fire, etc. were equipped with defensive-PPE ensembles.

A CBRNE response capability was even more complex for offensive tactical operations. We didn’t have a playbook, so we had to adapt tactics and PPE for the tactical arena.

Law enforcement was not ready to provide the required training, nor were they properly equipped. The logistical support / infrastructure was unavailable to sustain such a capability. We played catch up.

Should we do that again, or sustain and evolve from where we are now? Many say it’s been 10 years, Osama Bin Laden has been killed, and we have not been attacked with a WMD on U.S. soil, therefore the threat has diminished. We weren’t prepared then, we have to be now.

SWAT and clandestine lab teams routinely utilize PPE for planned lab investigations where the HazMat and human threat are usually known and limited intelligence is available. Our role expanded when CBRN / HazMat were used offensively as a terrorist weapon. Our PPE assessment and response will be tailored based on our capabilities and what the suspected or actual WMD threat is at an incident.

Post 9-11 Incidents Requiring PPE

February 2011, West Palm Beach, FL – A state Road Ranger encountered a truck parked on Interstate 95. He approached the vehicle to assist and observed a 10-year-old boy doused in chemicals, convulsing. The father used chemicals as a weapon, pouring them on the boy. The boy’s twin sister was found dead in the bed of the truck. First responders, not wearing PPE, became sick while attempting to render first aid, triggering a HazMat response. The father subsequently stated he doused himself in gasoline and intended to commit suicide.

If he had not been secured immediately, a roadside barricade could have developed, requiring a SWAT response. If it was known or suspected that a HazMat existed and negotiations or other options failed, we would eventually have to approach the vehicle to resolve the incident. We can only approach and resolve this type of situation if we are trained and equipped.

February 2010, Salt Lake City – Police and Fire responded to a report of a subject in a vehicle who had committed suicide. Their investigation revealed a 50-page anti-government manifesto, outlining his plans to rob banks and kill cops. This manifesto included plans to build a chemical dispersal device (weapon) using hydrogen sulfide.

February 2008, Las Vegas – Police responded to evict a hotel occupant. The investigation revealed he had been hospitalized in critical condition because of Ricin exposure. Investigating officers discovered syringes, beakers, the “Anarchist Cookbook,” silenced handguns, literature about dangerous poisons, raw castor beans and finished Ricin—biological toxin (WMD). A search warrant of his Salt Lake City storage revealed: castor beans, chemicals used to process the beans, APRs (gas masks) and related paraphernalia. With this WMD, just 500 micrograms (a “pinhead” amount), can kill a human.

In 2009, an officer dismantling a hydroponics marijuana grow operation was infected with Aspergillums fungus and a Diptheroid bacteria, which attacked his spine. His exposure was a result of the high-humidity hydroponic environment he was investigating, which promoted their growth. Additionally, black and green mold was discovered in the drywall of the grow operation.

Since evidence destruction is less likely in this type of scenario, baring an exigency, a dynamic entry would not be required. A “breach and hold” could be effective in securing the occupants during search warrant service. The structure could then be secured by a team element wearing appropriate PPE.

The newest fad is chemical / detergent suicide. SWAT teams routinely respond to armed barricaded suicidal persons. We try to avoid “suicide by cop,” but whether or not he surrenders, we must consider the existence of his backup, a volatile mixture of dangerous suicide chemicals he was going to use that could injure us.

These are just a few of the many of incidents. WMD threats will vary from: 1) domestic terrorist cultivating Ricin; 2) international terrorist attempting to obtain radiation sources for a dirty bomb; or 3) a lone suicidal individual using chemical suicide. We must understand and be prepared.

Standards, Policies and Protocols

When an agency places law enforcement officers in PPE, whether it be an Air Purifying Respirator (APR, gas mask) or a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), the OSHA 29CFR1910.120 applies. This is commonly known as “HAZWOPER” Hazardous Waste Operations & Emergency Response. This regulation includes, but is not limited to yearly respirator fit testing (29CFR1910.134), medical evaluation / surveillance, training, etc. (OSHA 29CFR1910).

Whether or not you are in an OSHA Plan state, the EPA can exert its authority as a result of accidents, injuries or incidents, using a similar regulation (40CFR part 311). These must be read and understood to ensure compliance and most importantly to ensure operators are protected.

As a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), all tactical WMD operations must take place in direct coordination with and supported by the Fire Department HazMat team (HazMat). HazMat must be part of WMD / PPE training, and exploited for their subject matter expertise. They should assist with training, be involved in full scale scenarios, and conduct medical monitoring / surveillance during training.

During actual operations, HazMat must work in conjunction with tactical commanders in the unified command post. Both SWAT and HazMat command must assess each situation to ensure that the response, appropriate PPE and monitoring equipment are utilized to ensure the safety of the personnel entering into a suspected or actual CBRNE threat environment, each having Go and No-Go authority.

If intelligence indicates that a WMD-Explosive threat may be present, a WMD-capable bomb squad should be utilized if the plan is to go downrange into the hot zone with SWAT while wearing appropriate PPE and bomb equipment (SR-5 search suit). In this case, an HDS certified bomb squad commander should be part of the unified command, also having Go and No-Go authority.

PPE Equipment & Maintenance

The basic components of PPE are the protective suit / dermal barrier and respiratory protection: 1) SCBA; 2) PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirator); and 3) APR. The APR is sometimes used in a dual role as a tactical CS / OC respirator for tactical operation, but must be NIOSH-CBRNE certified for tactical WMD / HazMat operations. The SCBA provides “clean” bottled air, which is limited. The PAPR and APR provide filtered ambient air.

Each piece of equipment has its capabilities and limitations and is deployed based on the environment, intelligence and detectable threat. If the threat is unknown, the highest level of respiratory protection is utilized, the SCBA. The SCBA is the most maintenance intensive piece of equipment. Therefore, once the commitment is made for a standup program, all pieces of the puzzle must be acquired to be fully effective and most importantly safe.

OSHA Level A, B, C and D / NIJ-LERL

Tactical operators require different levels of PPE based on the mission and threat. These ensembles provide respiratory and dermal protection commonly known as OSHA Level A, B, C and D. Since there was a specific mission based need (law enforcement), the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) established new classification definitions: Law Enforcement Response Levels (LERL) 1, 2, 3 and 4. These provide a variety of respiratory and dermal protection. The NIJ-CBRN Protective Ensemble Standard for Law Enforcement-0116.00 is a mission specific standard for law enforcement patrol and tactical operations. Testing was conducted while personnel wore PPE in conjunction with patrol equipment (defensive PPE operations–perimeter) and tactical equipment (offensive PPE operations–SWAT). Personnel were evaluated with and without PPE during practical scenarios establishing baselines for measurement.

The standard establishes what law enforcement requires. For example, abrasion resistance suits (knees / elbows) since kneeling to shoot is a necessity and the fire department does not kneel in PPE; improved manual dexterity for shooting weapon; and overall flexibility / mobility while wearing PPE, etc.

Tactical WMD Response Vehicle

Tactical teams are specialized equipment intensive, which is inclusive of our vehicles. A dedicated vehicle is needed for this specific mission and requires a: 1) generator and shore power feed for lighting, battery charging, HVAC and other equipment; 2) inside storage to minimize heat and equipment degradation; 3) exterior work lighting, affixed to trailer and / or free standing (12v / 110VAC); 4) HVAC; 5) awning; 6) free standing tents for donning and doffing of equipment that shields operators from the environment; 7) fans to cool operators; 8) chairs for dressing, undressing and rehabilitation; 9) computer; 10) WMD / PPE reference materials (suit permeation data); 11) personnel and equipment accountability board (NFPA 471 4-1.2.1); 12) water for pre and post hydration; and 13) plastic containers to secure loose equipment.

Team Equipment

The response vehicle must contain equipment required for and to sustain the mission. Respiratory protective equipment includes SCBA, air bottles, and other respiratory protective equipment, CBRN protective suits, and gas and radiation detection / monitoring equipment. The bulk of this equipment will not fit in an assigned patrol vehicle even if divided among team members, nor could a response to an event be sustained unless additional equipment were available on a designated response vehicle.

When the tactical team responds, support personnel who are trained in staging, deploying equipment for SWAT operators, and assisting them with dressing should be part of the response. This is done as HazMat readies the decontamination area and both HazMat and SWAT command staff concur on a deployment plan. Either discipline must designate a safety officer. HazMat may go downrange with the tactical element or remotely monitor the area of operations providing input, affecting completion of the tactical objective.


Operators must conduct live fire and force on force shooting drills while wearing all levels of PPE, specifically equipment they will use. To conduct these drills; realistic shoothouse facilities, MOUT sites and / or abandoned buildings to conduct tactical movement drills while wearing PPE, must be available. To make the training realistic, the operators must wear training suits (reusable or disposable). Operators must show proficiency utilizing their handgun and submachine gun / rifle, while wearing all PPE.

Program Redundancy

It is important to understand that after an initial response, much of your equipment may be contaminated. Having inexpensive (disposable) backup suits such as a DuPont Tychem LV, with the required over-boots and gloves should be on hand if needed for additional entries if your primary suit (Lion MT-94 / Saratoga Hammer) is contaminated and a follow-up entry or response is required. An actual response can be expensive. If the event has a suspected or actual WMD / HazMat, most equipment cannot be decontaminated, and therefore will be disposed. Your tactical equipment and WMD equipment will need to be replaced.

An entry into an actual or suspected WMD / CBRNE environment cannot occur without proper and documented training, appropriate equipment and coordination with your local HazMat Team. Once your agency has made the commitment to create a Tactical WMD Program, everyone must understand the commitment to its success—funding, continuous training, maintenance beyond the initial implementation, and regulatory compliance.

Lt. Darin D. Dowe is a 24-year veteran of a large southeast Florida sheriff’s office, a veteran SWAT operator, tactical WMD program coordinator, SWAT instructor in multiple disciplines and a former sniper. Dowe also has a background in Homeland Security, investigations and patrol and is a frequent contributor to

Tactical Response and

LAW and ORDER. He can be reached via e-mail at

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2011

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