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David Mackie

Chemical and biological threats - by David Mackie, Intake editor, BBC Newsgathering

The Chemical, Biological and Radiological (CBR) protection training is a two-day classroom and practical course.

It's run by contractors Bruhn Newtech from within the Defence Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Centre in Wiltshire, United Kingdom.

Preparing for threats

You're taught the theory of the different threats from chemical, biological or radiological material and you're given the equipment to defend yourself.

Don't assume the course is for people who are heading off to a war zone. You may need this training if you're deploying to a road accident within the UK - if one of the vehicles turns out to be a chemical tanker.

And with the novel threat of a range of "home grown" chemical and biological weapons from radical groups, it's becoming less surprising to see authorities arrive at crime scenes wearing respirators and protective suits.

If you pay close attention you should leave the course with a good understanding of the risks - the time you have to react to a threat and the likely effect if you don't. If you're wearing a mask, you'll learn how to drink with it on and change the filter canister without choking.

CS gas test

The final part of the course is a fully suited CS gas test in one of the centre's sealed rooms. With the right sized mask, suit, boots and gloves you may enter the room with confidence.

I found myself retreating as the CS billowed up from a tiny tablet in the middle of the room.

After a few seconds, the gas vanished like steam from a kettle. The group changed canisters, had a drink from a water bottle and, to prove the gas was there, performed a sniff test.

You lift a gap between the mask and cheek, close your eyes and sniff. With CS the next thing you feel is a sharp rasp at the back of your throat.

By that stage, I'd retreated back behind my respirator for a quiet choke but certainly felt better prepared for dealing with a CBR incident - however unlikely.

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