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Volume 19 Articles

Scott Safety logoBeing Prepared:
Innovation & Technology for the 21st Century

Scott Safety’s Brian Clesham discusses the growth in CBRN incidents and the development of innovative 21st Century respiratory protection solutions for generalist and specialist operators

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The General Service Respirator evolution Specialist (GSReS) offers exceptional utility for specialist operators as well as superior comfort and automatic sweat removal
The General Service Respirator evolution Specialist (GSReS) offers exceptional utility for specialist operators as well as superior comfort and automatic sweat removal

11 September 2001 was a CBRN game changer. The sarin attacks on the Tokyo underground in the mid-1990s had raised the profile of CBRN in the security domain. Both the Olympics in Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) saw CBRN preparedness, while on 9/11 itself the author attended a counter-terrorism conference in Salt Lake City on a CBRN ticket, ramping up for the February 2002 Winter Olympics. During those years, CBRN was still firmly implanted within defence as a relic of the Cold War, the Iran/Iraq War and concerns about state proliferation of WMD. It was 9/11 and its aftermath, anthrax within the US mail system and statements of Weapons of Mass Destruction intent by al-Qaeda, that provided the precursor for a major step change in CBRN security.

Military lifestyle: ISP Lifejacket
Military lifestyle: ISP Lifejacket

The turn of the century also saw the Internet give breath to the proliferation of information, adversary networks, the emergence of the dark web and an exponential rise in CBRN incidents within the security domain - from the wacky lone wolf to the increase in chemical suicides, while assassination with radiological and chemical agents and CBRN terrorism became a significant concern of governments. Without question, the information age has given rise to radicalisation, a spate of mass killings and worrying incidents of CBRN release.

More recently, the thaw that followed the Cold War has seen the return of a perceptive chill with renewed emphasis on demonstrating readiness and resilience as part of deterrence and assurance. CBRN has provided a sinister backdrop to events in Syria and Iraq where improvised chemical devices have been used against innocent and unprotected populations. The ‘red line’ was crossed, but to paraphrase TS Eliot’s The Hollow Men, it was met ‘not with a bang but with a whimper’. Nuclear sabre-rattling including threats to continental USA has increased tensions in the Korean Peninsula and Pacific Region, amidst proxy use of a chemical warfare agent in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. There is a network of radicalised non-state organisations within the Middle East, in North, East and West Africa. Undoubtedly, they have access to toxic industrial chemical, biological and radiological materials but not necessarily the technical skills to exploit them. Training their own or ‘turning’ hitherto trusted scientific expertise cannot be ruled out. It does not just apply to the land environment; witness other delivery options: the on-going hijacking of container ships and chemical tankers in the maritime domain and the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems. Each delivery system can carry its own sinister portent. We should not just consider release by deliberate terrorist or criminal act, but also release through accident, natural disaster and neglect. The spread of Ebola and other infectious and mutating diseases has caused widespread global alarm, with US, British and French troops deploying into West Africa in 2014 to the source of the Ebola outbreak, while rolling news fed increasingly concerned populations at home. There are distinct parallels between the strategy for fighting terrorism overseas and the containment of lethal and injurious disease at source; moreover, both major Western interventions of this Century, in Iraq and Afghanistan, were triggered by a Weapons of Mass Destruction backdrop.

Andy McMahon of 2622 (Highland) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force took 21 minutes off the current respirator world record for the Marathon (picture: Sergeant Jez Doak RAF 2012)
Andy McMahon of 2622 (Highland) Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force took 21 minutes off the current respirator world record for the Marathon (picture: Sergeant Jez Doak RAF 2012)

If the CBRN genie was to properly emerge from the bottle, would we be properly prepared? CBRN is often regarded as a low probability event and therefore ripe for risk taking when budgets are being formulated or adjusted, but CBRN can also have extremely dangerous, dare one say, catastrophic consequences; hence the WMD to Iraq and Afghanistan. As has been illustrated thus far, the probability of CBRN release has narrowed considerably such that CBRN Protection is increasingly seen as a growth business giving rise to institutional and capability capacity building.

The post-9/11 era has seen a major shift towards complex operations and the development of an inter-agency CBRN response in our towns and cities. First responders, traditionally police, fire and paramedics, as well as civil support teams and niche military capabilities, have increasingly found that they have had to prepare for multiple respiratory protection scenarios as the probability gap narrowed and their work became more diversified.

There can be no better example of preparation for the future than the programme to bring into service the next generation of respiratory protection for the British Armed Forces. First it was addressed at the political level which meant looking out into the future and laying down a policy that informed capability goals and then the developing of those goals into equipment requirements. The future determined that a respirator was required with an extremely high protection factor; higher by several orders of magnitude – a policy decision, based on the future threat, risk and ‘unknowns’, so building in resilience to cater for the unexpected to protect the next generation of the Armed Forces and entitled civilians. The policy also required that the respirator provided a high degree of comfort and the challenging task of providing 100% protection; that is 100% fit across the population of current and future servicemen and women, regardless of shape, size and ethnicity.

Thus the programme for the General Service Respirator (GSR) was borne. Scott Safety had already established itself as a global leader in the manufacture and supply of Life Safety Products including high quality respirators to the Military, Civil Defence and Industry. However, we did not go it alone and collaborated hand in glove with the Defence Science and Technical Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down1, one of the world’s foremost centres of CBRN scientific excellence.

As directed, an enormous emphasis was placed on achieving an extremely high ‘protection factor’. After extensive design and testing, primary dual seals for face fitting were developed along with an inner oro-nasal mask and secondary filter. Twin exhalation valves ensured a clean ‘airlock’ to provide ‘leak tight’ exhalation and easier breathing. The response to a policy of 100% fit was to produce 5 separate mask sizes and personally fitted oro-nasal masks inside the mask. As a result, we now have the highest available ‘protection factor’ on the global market for a face fitting respirator, protecting the next generation against future threat agents while demonstrating intent and confidence to survive and operate in a CBRN environment.

With regard to doing the job, as in all modes of physical protection, reducing the physiological and psychological burden was extremely important. Maintaining situational awareness in full protective equipment is essential, especially at night and in urban environments, so the single rather than split ocular visor certainly represented a major improvement. The ability to deal with the build-up of moisture and perspiration represented a step-change in respiratory protection; hitherto you either (1) swallowed your own sweat (2) broke the mask seal to empty it, risking forensic contamination (3) placed tissue paper inside to absorb the sweat, a risky solution as the internal air flow dynamics are exceedingly important, not least in keeping the visor from misting up.

The primary ‘dual seal’ greatly enhanced user comfort, supporting protection against spontaneous breaching that may arise from the percussion effect generated when firing weapons. User confidence was also supported in designing a mask to enable canisters to be removed and changed without fear of ingress of CBRN agents; a drill that hitherto carried adverse psychological effects especially under stressful life threatening conditions and at night.

While respiratory protection is there to save life and prevent injury, it must also enable you to carry on and do your job in a contaminated environment. With regard to field trials, significant emphasis was placed on live shooting. Like many new equipment solutions, the innovative design required an adaptation of previous norms. The results saw the respirator trialled with the entire range of in-service weapons and represented a huge improvement in shooting under stringent live firing conditions. Flexibility was also built into the solution, allowing the operator to rotate the tear-drop canisters rearwards where that might provide greater advantage. Throughout the programme Scott Safety had to work intimately with the End User to test and prove, in every case, that the equipment did what it was supposed to do for each individual regardless of their service, combat arm or role, under realistic operational conditions in any physical and climatic environment, anywhere in the world, by day and by night. By way of example, three extreme hot weather trials were undertaken in the Australian outback and the United States, with cold weather trials taking place in Norway. While a much lower breathing resistance proved a significant benefit, service personnel were also able to rapidly rehydrate, drinking four times as much water wearing the new respirator.

Having delivered the GSR, the company set about delivering the First Responder Respirator (FRR), CE marked primarily for civil defence as well as other military users. The FRR platform was based on the GSR, the principal difference being that the FRR was designed for fitting NATO standard DIN40 canisters rather than twin tear-drop canisters, while the material, internal mechanisms, safety and protection features found in the GSR were fully incorporated. Our investment in innovation and the future operating environment has been key in the development of our portfolio of respiratory solutions for specialist operators. Thus we developed the GSR and the FRR for specialist operators, so that it could be adapted for a wide range of specialist scenarios. The GSR evolution Specialist (GSReS), allows the operator to fit negative pressure twin tear-drop canisters (the same as GSR), or a single NATO standard DIN40 canister. Both the GSReS with DIN40 filter and FRR allow the specialist to immediately change from negative to positive air pressure in transit to or within the Hotzone; switching from the canister to Powered Air canisters or Self Contained Breathing Apparatus provided by a portable air cylinder or air-line and compressor. We also had to ensure that the respirator was compatible with multiple types of communication, sensor, ocular and protective equipment and not just other types of breathing apparatus.

As a company, we place huge emphasis on maintaining knowledge of the contemporary and future operating environments; the shift towards complex and inter-agency operations in urban and semi-urban environments, while being mindful of the chill in NATO – Russia relations. Technical weaknesses in an equipment portfolio can be exploited, narrow a commander’s options; while strength offers assurance in maintaining mission orientation, retention of mission orientation and operator confidence. At the strategic level, equipment efficacy contributes to deterrence, signalling intent to survive as well as operate in a CBRN environment.

Finally, the company is driven by innovation, while as part of our philosophy we have always ensured that we have taken the operator with us on our research and development journey. As we move forward, this ensures that our solutions remain practical and relevant when the operational situation will be complex and both physiologically and psychologically demanding.

Brian Clesham is a former Chief of UK Army CBRN, custodian of the Joint Forces deployment Instruction for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and Chair of the Land Forces CBRN Capability Integration Group. He was Chief of Staff of the Defence CBRN Centre during its post 9/11 expansion to incorporate training for the Police, Transport Police, Fire and Ambulance Services. He has supported the UK MoD and Foreign & Commonwealth Office in senior NATO and OPCW counter-proliferation forums and is a graduate of the NATO Defence College. His work has been commended by Under Secretary General United Nations Peacekeeping.

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