Health & Safety

June 15, 2012

Decontaminating gases for the masses

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by Robert K. Kaschak
452 Emergency Management Technician

March Team member simulates passing through a decontamination line during Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives, or CBRNE training, Feb. 25. This type of training will enhance the members ability to conduct day-to-day operations while in a contaminated environment.

A major component to wartime preparation and training involves reacting to a chemical or biological attack and if exposed, how to decontaminate exposed personnel. Admittedly, not a pleasant thought, but a stark reality if we are to fight and survive in today’s wartime environment. Being that many of our adversaries possess chemical and biological weapons, the threat of deploying them should always be an issue of concern.

For years, the DOD has discussed asymmetrical warfare where the enemy will do whatever it takes to level the playing field to achieve the upper edge. Our response is to ensure we can have the capability to deter this type of aggression while simultaneously executing the mission requirements necessary to sustain and achieve victory.

The Contamination Control Area (CAA) is an area designed to provide individualized decontamination for exposed personnel. While contained in this area, personnel follow an orderly process to minimize the spread of contaminants to unexposed personnel. Procedures for doffing equipment are followed systematically in order to ensure a toxic-free environment remains toxic-free.

Generally, CCAs are located in a more remote location away from critical functions to reduce further exposure to contamination. According to Air Force operation instructions, two CCAs are usually set up in close proximity to each other. One station is specifically for aircrew and the other for ground crew. Both are clearly marked to preclude confusion for those who must process through.

Aircrew decontamination areas (manned by trained life support specialists) are more comprehensive than ground crews (manned by augmentees) because they have many layers of equipment to remove, which elongates their cleansing process. Both CCAs will have a shelter manager directing the flow to ensure everyone is executing their responsibilities in the proper manner.
If the need arises where you have to process through a CCA, there are three things you need to remember.

  • Pay attention to the attendants while they instruct you on your actions. Read the checklists posted so you can become familiar with the process you are undertaking.
  • Move methodically to minimize cross contamination and,
  • Be patient! It may seem like forever, but actually, the process can go as quickly as 20 minutes per person from start to finish.

Conceptually, establishing a CCA takes 60 minutes or less by six individuals with minimal training and experience. It is designed for quick set-up and breakdown actions to increase mobility and reduce its logistical footprint. A fully functioning CCA can decontaminate up to 80 people per hour. Current processing methods utilize a color-coded system that indicates levels of threat concentration starting from red (entry point-the highest) and ending with blue (mask, glove removal, and misting shower-reduced).

The advantage with the current system is the standardization and “wet decon” philosophy. This system minimizes the use of bleach, reduces the footprint required to transport it and is less expensive to operate than previous versions. This process is highly adaptable to the specialized equipment worn by fire fighters, aircrew, and explosive ordinance techs. In addition, this arrangement can be used for level A hazardous materials.

EM provides this summarized version of decontamination processing to refresh Airmen on how to effectively and efficiently assist personnel who have been exposed to life threatening agents. While research and technology have greatly improved this process, it still comes down to identifying requirements, proper planning, having and maintaining equipment, training personnel and providing contingencies for shortfalls.

So, if you are “chosen” to run through the line, before you feel victimized, take a moment to think about the significance of what you are about to do and just “suck it up” for the next 20 or so minutes. In the end, you will endure, gain invaluable experience and know that you are part of the world’s best fighting force. We can do this team March.




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