REVIEW Annals of Disaster Risk Sciences Vol 5, No 1-2 (2022)

Biological defence through the civil protection system analysis and suggestions from the perspective of CBRN defence doctrine

Zvonko Orehovec, University of Applied Sciences Velika Gorica, Croatia
Karlo Orehovec, University of Applied Sciences Velika Gorica, Croatia
Marina Črnko, University of Applied Sciences Velika Gorica, Croatia

Address for correspondence: Zvonko Orehovec, University of Applied Sciences Velika Gorica, Croatia, e-mail:



Natural and anthropogenic biological threats very often cause mass casualties and destruction, with long-term repercussions to the economy, welfare, security and political stability, and ultimately, to the future progress of the state and its society. For these reasons, the EU Member States have developed national and joint doctrines and strategies that provide for defence systems against the above threats, based on mass mobilization and mass response of all available capacities. The joint military response resides within NATO’s Joint CBRN Defence apparatus, while the civilian counterpart system is within the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism. At the national level, each country develops its own, yet compatible systems. In the Republic of Croatia, strategic documents and laws on the development of the Homeland Security System and the Civil Protection System have been adopted. Biological threats, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, are among such developments and require a systemic response. However, hardly anywhere in the world, not even in the EU and its Member States, have the relevant response systems worked.


biological defence, civil protection, pandemic response

1. Introduction

In the last ten years or so, the EU has launched a number of projects, adopted a number of strategies and directives, and approved significant funding for security and defence projects aimed at creating a single, compatible and efficient military and civilian security and defence, along with a competitive and compatible defence industry at the technological generation level IV and V, both in military and civilian areas. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated several shortcomings in achieving the stated goal, and three primary shortcomings stand out.

The first shortcoming relates to the understanding, or at least ranking of the risk of contemporary threats. The risk of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats is still almost exclusively linked to CBRN weapons and CBRN terrorism, with insufficient understanding and comprehension of natural and anthropogenic threats and risks and their interaction. This is evident through the analysis of the 2015 migration crisis when the potential biological threat was not adequately considered, and so migrants were entering the EU without biological (epidemiological) supervision and control, causing a potential risk of epidemics. This has been more recently demonstrated by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in which military and civilian defence and protection systems were left aside, and not activated. This response is not based on a multidisciplinary approach but almost exclusively, or at least predominantly (depending on a country), on hygienic and epidemiological measures.

The second shortcoming is the absolute absence of a safety culture among the EU citizens and their lack of preparedness for self-protection and self-defence from modern threats, which is also evident through the lack of relevant education and training of the EU citizens from the early childhood to academic levels. This despite the fact that, in early 2000, the EU concluded that the main peril from modern threats was to the financial and economic security of business, and not territorial integrity. Answers to the questions of timely identification of new and emerging threats and how to isolate them in order to reduce the risks, i.e. how to effectively respond to the threats, should be found in the analysis of the global economy's vulnerability to new threats, the impact of globalization on business risk, the analysis of the scope and scale of current threats to finance and the economy, and especially in the analysis of these threats.

However, the analyses and responses to the above kinds of threats can only be provided by individuals and a society (state, nation) with a developed culture of safety that is practiced in everyday life. To achieve that, education and training are crucial.

The third shortcoming involves the decision of the most advanced EU countries to develop the highest technological standards, while at the same time neglecting the development and production of means at lower technological levels, with lower added value. This includes the means and equipment necessary for the personal protection of citizens, workers and medical staff. This marks a violation of the fundamental security principle that calls for of self-sufficiency in major crises, wars, technological accidents and pandemics, when borders get closed and national governments declare a ban on the export of strategic products.

It is already clear, without deeper analyses, that the EU will have to reconsider the current shortcomings that have led to an effective CBRN defence system, a lack of self-sufficiency in the security and defence system in the event of major natural and technological disasters (which involves the development and production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for citizens), as well as a lack of a safety culture on the broadest basis, of individuals of all ages and all educational levels.

2. Basic principles of biological defence

In the case of biological defence, such as defence against SARS-CoV-2, the task and purpose of biological defence measures is to prevent contamination of an environment by a biological agent, and, if it still occurs, to ensure interruption or avoidance of dissemination, exposure and transmission (JP 3-41, 2013.).

Below, the general and special biological defence measures and responsibilities are described.

2.1 General biological defence measures

General measures and procedures of CBRN defence, in this case biological defence, imply general actions taken by state administration bodies at all levels of legislative and executive power, the judiciary, and by the citizens individually. Generally, they are defined as the degree (level) of safety culture.

National and local administrative bodies are responsible for the assessment of biological threats and risks, leading national biological (general and special) defence measures and the organization and implementation of general measures carried out by the civil protection CBRN defence specialists, as listed below.

Education institutions of all actors of civil (homeland) defence are responsible for disseminating critical knowledge about CBRN defence within their specialized areas (medical; police, firefighting and civil protection; social sciences and humanities (lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, economists, political scientists, journalists, etc.), and others.

General measures include:

Dissemination of the necessary knowledge listed under (a), such as publishing brochures, showing educational and promotional shows through the public media (TV, radio shows, newspapers, portals), and information, both through the media and social networks. However, this communication must be designed and prepared by a multidisciplinary team, with targeted topics, translated into a clear plan, and the media obliged to show and publish in a planned manner.

Topics and holders are:

Unlike the military, the civilian (national) CBRN defence system should include a set of measures and procedures employed by the state and its citizens in order to protect, defend and rescue citizens, material goods and the environment from CBRN threats, which ultimately represents the protection and defence of the state and its vital values and interests from CBRN threats.

2.2. Special defence measures against SARS-CoV-2

Special measures (components, areas of activity) of biological defence should be based on national security and defence policy, CBRN defence doctrine, laws governing civil (homeland) defence and civil protection, capabilities, procedures, organization and training.

At the national and local level, biological defence should be managed by national and locally organized multidisciplinary headquarters. Joint dedicated civil protection operational forces are commanded/managed by joint commands, and specialist operational units and teams are commanded/managed by specialists.

Headquarters must be multidisciplinary, composed of medical specialists - epidemiologists and infectologists, as well as other specialists such as veterinary professionals, but also experts in natural and technical sciences (microbiologists, biologists, chemists, physicists, mechanics, climatologists), experts in social sciences and humanities and experts in security (intelligence, defence and internal security). Depending on the level of biological danger, headquarters can be convened and operate in a narrower and broader composition and is headed by a person with management and command powers, by no means a representative of one specialist profession, which is the current case in most EU countries.

2.2.1 Detection, identification and monitoring of biological hazards

Detection, identification and monitoring of biological hazards implies detection and characterization of biological incidents, identification of agents and hazards, definition of areas and levels of infection, areas of potential contamination and monitoring of changes (ATP 3-11-37, 2013.).

The most professional and responsible persons for the implementation of these measures are healthcare professionals, led by epidemiologists and infectologists in healthcare institutions, and they should be assisted by all other natural science and technical professions in areas relevant to prescribing and implementing general and special measures beyond their area of expertise. It is crucial to introduce all scientifically proven methods of biological detection as early as possible and as extensively as possible and to promptly engage all available technical and professional capacities:

These tests have the potential to be the main indicator for the organization of hazard management measures, and the main activator of organizational and technical measures for the interruption of dissemination and transmission.

Serological tests - they allow identification of persons who are infected, or have been infected, and who have developed mature antibodies to the virus. These tests are crucial for defining areas and levels of infection, areas of potential contamination, and for monitoring changes.

The main goal of early detection and identification is to:

This should by no means be a unilateral action or action by just one or two scientific disciplines, because numerous scientific and professional fields are involved. Unilateral approach necessarily leads to errors in defence measures and methods, and, most importantly, to confusion and distrust of citizens in proposed and prescribed measures.

2.2.2. Information management

Information management refers to the management of all types of information related to biological defence. It includes the systematic collection, processing and analysis of data and the generation of information, the issuance of critical alert messages, the exchange of information, analysis, storage and use, and provision of assessments and advice for planning operations before, during and after incidents (AJP 3.8., 2012.). Information management includes alerting and reporting (AJP 3.8., 2012.; JP 3-11, 2013.).

It consists of:

  1. Information generated in the healthcare system for the needs of the healthcare system. Healthcare specialists are the most competent and responsible for generating this information. For the needs of the overall system of protection against biological (in the entire RCB) hazards, information is generated in cooperation with the civil protection HQs and communication experts, for the needs of public information.
  2. Information in the civil protection operational system in support of the healthcare and security and political system. Information for targeted addresses in the security and defence system and for the functioning of public administration is generated at the HQ level and is of a multidisciplinary nature; information for the purpose of informing the citizens is generated with the expertise of communication experts.

Both groups of information, along the vertical and horizontal administration and command chain, (national and regional/local headquarters) must undergo analysis and evaluation by all expert groups, and particularly by experts in the field of social sciences and humanities and in the field of security in order to extract information for individual users, including information for citizens. It is very important to understand that citizens have the right to information and to be informed and that the work of headquarters must be transparent. It is also important that information is consistent, clear and focused on raising awareness, not on creating confusion and agitation.

It is crucial that defence information, especially critical information such as security and warning information, is communicated rapidly along the administration and command chain (vertically), as well as horizontally with other institutions, units and local government.

The Network of Operational Communication and Information Systems (CIS) for crisis headquarters (national and local) is used to collect, process, store and distribute biological defence data in order to: compare information on threat and risk assessments; plan the introduction and management of detection, identification and monitoring systems; report incidents; anticipate hazards, identify and warn threatened areas; enable the generation of a unique operational image, and its update as close to the real time as possible; manage healthcare and civil protection system; command and control specialized operational institutions, units, teams, and biological defence means (of all actors: healthcare institutions, police, fire brigade, civil protection, veterinary institutions, civil sector teams, specialized teams and units, as well as armed forces commands, institutions and units - if the national government requests their engagement); manage hazards; and plan and manage physical protection, medical countermeasures and medical support.

In the civil defence system, these tasks are performed by the National Crisis Management Situation Centres, which include specialized Centres for monitoring, raising awareness and coordination of actions in the event of CBRN incidents and attacks. At the EU level, these tasks should be carried out by the Emergency Communication and Information System (CECIS) for the needs of the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) (Decision 1131/2013).

2.2.3 Physical protection

Physical protection is divided into individual protection and collective protection (COLPRO) of the population and first responders so that they can survive CBRN incidents and continue working in the CBRN environment (JP 3-11, 2013.).

Physical protection must not be dealt with by the medical profession, as is happening in the pandemic caused by the SARS-CoV-2, because they are simply neither competent enough nor is that the priority of their job. Epidemiologists and infectologists have the task of transmitting very important information to the competent experts for physical protection on the infectivity, virulence, pathogenicity and contagiousness of the pathogen, and on the knowledge of its resistance. Based on this information, physical protection experts can conduct a risk assessment and propose operational general and special physical protection measures that will aim to interrupt dissemination, transition and exposure. Experts for these tasks come from the ranks of the veterinary profession, sanitary engineers, army CBRN defence specialists, civil protection, occupational safety engineers, microbiologists, biochemists, mechanical engineers.

Physical protection must not be reduced to the recommendation or regulation of wearing personal protective equipment and protection of interior spaces. It is a set of regulations and instructions for all users of personal protective equipment (from citizens to members of security and defence systems). The main goal of regulations and instructions is to prevent dissemination, transmission and exposure, and they must cover the following topics in scope and complexity, depending on the level of protection and the type of user:

  1. Personal protective equipment
  2. Space protection
    • type, regulation and instructions for interior space protection,
    • ways to maintain internal security,
    • procedures for entering and leaving the space, staying in the space,
    • decontamination of space and disposal of contaminated elements.

    The development and prescription of instructions and regulations on physical protection should be managed by a multidisciplinary team composed of specialists that can contribute to the quality of implementation of general and special measures. It is primarily done to protect the general population since only the broadest protection measures can reduce the pressure and burden on the healthcare and any other system of specialist measures and the functioning of the socio-economic system of the state.

    Special physical protection measures involve the engagement of forces and resources in situations where general measures go beyond the measures that must be taken by individuals and groups, and these are primarily:

  3. Organization and implementation of personal physical protection by professional personnel who do not have specific knowledge and are exposed to an increased risk of contamination (hospital staff, civil protection staff, military task forces, veterinary system staff, etc.) Each institution and each commander should have a physical protection expert or seek his/her appointment by superiors, who will prescribe and control the implementation of the measures. In most cases, this should be an occupational safety engineer, and due to the need for specific knowledge and competencies, he/she may be assigned the assistance of military CBRN specialists, veterinary specialists or civil protection CBRN specialists.
  4. For the organization and implementation of the protection of structures/facilities, closed and open spaces, camps, bases, etc., each institution and the commander should appoint an expert or seek appointment by superiors.

Whether it relates to the citizens or professional staff, the wearing of protective equipment has two important limitations:

The organization and implementation of the above measures are crucial for the efficient interruption of dissemination and transmission, and reduction of exposure within the population. The effectiveness of all these measures will considerably depend on the practice of building a culture of safety, creating standards for protective equipment, building a development and production system that ensures material self-sufficiency, at least at the EU level, and building a CBRN defence system that respects (professional) multidisciplinarity and (inter-agency) interoperability.

2.2.4. Hazard management

Hazard management (JP 3-11, 2013.) is a measure aimed at limiting the effect of biological hazards. It is based on the principles of precautionary measures, hazard control through avoidance, control of the hazard spread, control and management of individual exposures, and decontamination.

As in the previous case, hazards outside the healthcare system cannot and must not be managed by the medical profession, as is the case in the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, because a) they are not competent enough in all scientific and professional measures required to manage hazards, b) it is not the priority of their work. Hazards are managed by the Civil Protection Headquarters and carried out by specialized teams and units of operational forces. Epidemiologists and infectologists, on the other hand, are tasked with communicating, in addition to the information already mentioned under the previous item, the following important information to the competent institutions and commanders in charge of the organization and implementation of hazard management:

  1. Detected sources and projection expansion of contacts based on detection and identification;
  2. Defined areas and levels of infection;
  3. Epidemic spread projection;
  4. Areas of potential contamination and data on related changes;
  5. Proposal of epidemiological measures.

These data are preconditions for initiating organizational, technical and health defence measures, but also any other defence measures, and experts from various fields of protection can perform risk assessment and propose operational general and special physical protection measures. The measures are the following (JP 3-41, 2012.):

Spread restriction includes close control of movement into, within and outside the hazardous area after a biological incident. Movement plans should balance operational priorities and consequences of a biological incident using assessments and advice by epidemiologists and operational headquarters. In case of identification of a biological hazard, it is necessary to consider movement measures in order to prevent possible cross-infections.

Hazard spread control (containment) includes measures and procedures for the physical containment of the consequences of a biological threat aimed at preventing the spread of contamination to uncontaminated areas. Physical retention of biological hazards includes isolation and quarantine, but also prevention and control of the spread of biological hazards by contaminated means and equipment.

Management of contaminated or infectious materials, including decontaminant effluents after decontamination, involves controlled disposal and labelling for subsequent permanent disposal.


If precautions and control measures are not effective, or exposure is unavoidable, biological decontamination (disinfection) planning and implementation is necessary (FM 3-11.5, 2006).

The types of decontamination are described below.

For quality control of biological hazards, it is NECESSARY to understand that it can be carried out exclusively by multidisciplinary teams and that the main task of medical professionals is to give valid and timely tasks, instructions and information to all other specialists who will carry it out in practice.

2.2.5. Medical countermeasures and support

Medical Countermeasures and Support is tasked with assisting the vulnerable population in general sense and providing essential epidemiological information and guidance to the Homeland Security System as the operational leader, and the Civil Protection System as the main operational implementer of general and special defence measures. In this regard, the epidemiological service and medical staff are responsible for advising headquarters and commanders on medical countermeasures and support.

In the military system, medical countermeasures are subordinated to the operational combat tasks of units and commands (FM 8-9, 1996).

In the system of civil CBRN defence, on the other hand, it is the opposite - all medical countermeasures (general and special) and all measure implementers are subordinated to the protection of the healthcare system functioning with the aim of reducing the burden on the health system (Editors: Bokan et al., 1998, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007). Thus, the main goal of biological defence is not health care but the maximum possible reduction of health care needs. For these reasons, and contrary to the current practice, biological defence must focus on the implementation of general and special measures to be implemented by the Homeland Security System and the Civil Protection System, with crucial data and guidelines provided by the epidemiological service.

3. Conclusion

In the current crisis, instead of the Homeland Security System working for epidemiologists, epidemiologists work instead for the System, and the System remains inactive!

To prevent similar mistakes from occurring in some other crises caused by biological threats, it is necessary to take measures at the national and EU levels to ensure that nations and their defence systems are prepared, that the whole nation is mobilized, that all citizens understand their roles and contribution to defence, and that a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to biological defence is implemented. There is a need for analysis and assessment of risks from contemporary natural and anthropogenic threats, as well as their interaction, in a broader conceptual sense. Regulatory framework for the EU system of defence against natural and anthropogenic threats, committing Member States are to build compatible national systems. To achieve that it is necessary to include citizens to be a part of the system rather than system defending citizens. Crisis response must be multidisciplinary and take advantage of multiple capacities; the type of crisis determines professional leaders, whereas all other professional services, units and teams are mobilized to fight against threats in their professional capacity. Resources, devices, tools and equipment in the armed forces and civil defence systems must be mutually compatible at the national level, whereas resources intended for mutual assistance should be compatible at the EU level too, according to the concept of solidarity while participants in the defence systems must be trained, tested and checked regularly. It is essential to build the culture of safety among EU citizens through national education systems at all levels and in all areas of education. Also, education efforts must focus upon civil servants and the employees of the executive, legislative and judicial institutions. It is necessary to develop standards for PPE for EU citizens and civil protection personnel as well as ensuring the procurement of such essential supplies and an effective means of their distribution. To guarantee self-sufficiency in future crises there is a need to build research, development and production capacities and strategic reserves of protective equipment at the EU level.

With such implemented measures, and certainly many other that can be proposed by other security and defence specialists, the Homeland Security System will work for epidemiologists and the healthcare system with the aim of having the least infected people possible and the least number of people hospitalized, to have as many people as possible continuing to work, and to have the state perceive the crisis as a flu, and not a pandemic with significant repercussions on all socio - political and economic aspects of the state.

7. References

AEP-45 (2014.). Warning and Reporting and Hazard Prediction of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Incidents (Operators Manual)

AJP 3.8 (2012.). Allied Joint Doctrine for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defence AJP-3.8(a) Edition a Aersion

ATP 3-11-37 (2013.). Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Chemical, Biological, radiological and Nuclear Reconnaissance and Surveillance

Bokan, S.; Orehovec, Z.; Price-Sanders, B. (editors) (1998, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007.).; Proceedings of Chemical and Biological Medical Treatment Symposium, CB MTS Industry II (2001), III (2003), IV (2005), V (2007), VI (2009), VII (2011), VIII (2013); World Congress on Chemical and Biological Terrorism; Dubrovnik, Croatia, ISSN:1092-7255

Decision 1131/2013. Decision (EU) No 1313/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on a Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

FM 3-11.5 (2006.). CBRN Decontamination, Multiservice Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Chemical, Biological, radiological, and Nuclear Decontamination

FM 8-9 (1996.), NATO Handbook on the Medical aspects of NBC Defensive Operations

JP 3-11 (2013.). Operations in Chemical, Biological, radiological, and Nuclear Environments

JP 3-41 (2012.). Chemical, Biological, radiological, and Nuclear Consequence Management

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