Security advice


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Chemical, biological and radiological (CBR)

Since the early 1990s, concern that terrorists might use chemical, biological and radioactive (CBR) materials as weapons has increased steadily.

 Al Qaida and related groups have expressed a serious interest in using CBR materials. CBR is a general term that covers three distinct groups of hazards:


Poisoning or injury caused by chemical substances, including ex-military chemical warfare agents, harmful industrial or household chemicals.


Illnesses caused by the deliberate release of dangerous bacteria or viruses or by biological toxins (e.g. ricin, found in castor oil beans).

Radiological (radioactive)

Illness caused by exposure to harmful radioactive materials.


Much of the CBR-related activity seen to date has either been criminal, or has involved hoaxes and false alarms. There have so far only been a few examples of attacks using CBR materials. The most notable were the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, which killed 12 people, and the 2001 anthrax letters in the United States, which killed five people.

The likelihood of a CBR attack remains low, largely due to the difficulty of obtaining the materials and the complexity of using them effectively. Where terrorists have tried to carry out CBR attacks, they have generally been small-scale incidents using relatively simple materials. The impact of any terrorist CBR attack would depend heavily on the success of the chosen dissemination method and the weather conditions at the time of the attack.

As with other terrorist attacks, you may not receive prior warning of a CBR incident. Moreover, the exact nature of an incident may not be immediately obvious, particularly with an attack involving radiological or biological materials. First indicators may be the sudden appearance of powders, liquids or strange smells within the building, with or without an immediate effect on people.

Good general physical and personnel security measures will contribute towards resilience against CBR incidents. Remember to apply appropriate personnel security standards to contractors and visitors, especially those with frequent access to your site.

What you can do

  • Review the design and physical security of your air-handling systems, such as access to intakes and outlets.
  • Improve air filters or upgrade your air-handling systems, as necessary.
  • Restrict access to water tanks and other key utilities.
  • Review the security of your food and drink supply chains.
  • Consider whether you need to make special arrangements for mail or parcels, e.g. a separate post room, possibly with dedicated air-handling, or even a specialist off-site facility - see also our advice on the security of mail and deliveries.

A basic awareness of CBR threat and hazards, combined with general protective security measures (e.g. screening visitors, CCTV monitoring of perimeter and entrance areas, being alert to suspicious letters and packages) should offer a good level of resilience. A range of commercial CBR detection technology is available.

If you have a designated protected space this may also be suitable as a CBR shelter, but seek specialist advice from your local police force Counter Terrorism Security Adviser or contact CPNI before you make plans to use it in this way.

Consider how to communicate necessary safety advice to staff and how to offer reassurance. Include instructions for those who want to leave, or enter the building.

CBR materials in the post

Terrorists may seek to use chemical, biological or radiological materials in letters and parcels. Because the exact nature of a postal threat may not be immediately obvious, combined advice is provided on explosives and CBR threats to mail and deliveries.   This includes possible indicators that a delivered item may be of concern (general and CBR specific), advice on action upon discovery of any suspicious delivered item, and guidance on the use of post rooms as a protective security measure. 

What to do in a CBR incident

The precise nature of the incident (chemical, biological or radiological) may not be readily apparent. Keep your response plans general and wait for expert help from the emergency services.

  • Review plans for protecting staff in the event of a terrorist threat or attack. Remember that evacuation may not be the best solution. You will need to be guided by the emergency services on the day.
  • An attack involving radiological and biological material may not be immediately apparent and may only be recognised when larger numbers of staff than expected report in with sickness.
  • Plan for the shutdown of systems that may contribute to the movement of airborne hazards (e.g. computer equipment containing fans).
  • Ensure that doors can be closed quickly if required
  • If your external windows are not permanently sealed shut, develop plans for closing them in response to a warning or incident.
  • Examine the feasibility of emergency shutdown of air-handling systems and ensure that any such plans are well rehearsed.
  • Where a hazard can be isolated by leaving the immediate area, do so as quickly as possible, closing doors and windows as you go.
  • Move those directly affected by an incident to a safe location as close as possible to the scene of the incident, so as to minimise spread of contamination.
  • Separate those directly affected by an incident from those not involved so as to minimise the risk of inadvertent cross-contamination.
  • Ask people not to wander off - though you cannot contain them against their will.
  • You do not need to make any special arrangements beyond normal first aid provision. The emergency services will take responsibility for treatment of casualties.


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