Chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear events: The humanitarian response framework of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mounting an effective international humanitarian response to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) event, especially if the response is undertaken on an ad hoc basis, would be extremely difficult and would pose many risks to the responders. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has created a competency-based capacity to respond to at least small-scale CBRN events, including a deployable capability to undertake operational activities. This involves informed assessments of CBRN risks, timely and competent decisions on how to respond, and effectively mobilizing appropriate resources to implement these decisions, through the creation of an emergency roster. In addition to the acquisition of technical expertise and material resources, the creation of such capacity requires the application of central processes, ensuring systematic management of CBRN response (including risk-based decision-making), standing operational procedures, and availability of and access to the necessary resources. Implementation of the ICRC's CBRN response framework as described in this article should be considered by any agency or other stakeholder preparing for international humanitarian assistance in CBRN events – especially if such events are related to armed conflict.

About the authors

Dr Gregor Malich
Formerly the Head of the ICRC’s CBRN Operational Response Project

Was formerly the Head of the ICRC’s CBRN Operational Response Project. In this position, he was in charge of the development and implementation of the ICRC’s CBRN response framework while managing the ICRC’s response to CBRN events. He is an engineer with a doctorate in assessment methodologies for contaminated sites and has extensive experience in the management of technical and development programmes for both the private sector and international organizations. Dr Malich is now working with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

Robin Coupland
ICRC’s Medical Adviser with respect to the impact of weapons and violence

Robin Coupland was formerly a field surgeon for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He is now the ICRC’s Medical Adviser with respect to the impact of weapons and violence.

Steve Donnelly
Technical Adviser

Currently works as the CBRN Technical Adviser for the ICRC, based in the Weapons Contamination Unit. His previous CBRN-related roles include working at a senior level for a national government CBRN establishment. His work has been focused on the development of procedures and doctrine for response to CBRN events, both at a national and international level.

Dr Johnny Nehme
Head of Weapon Contamination Unit at the ICRC

Is currently heading the CBRN sector at ICRC Headquarters within the Weapon Contamination Unit, building the operational CBRN response for the ICRC. He holds a PhD in biomedical science and worked for several years at the French Atomic Energy Commission studying the effects of ionizing radiation on blood stem cells. After this academic experience, Dr Nehme worked as an ICRC delegate in the field for five years.