by Brigadier General Engineer
Hussein Ahmed al Harthi, Head of the GCC Regional Secretariat, EU CBRN CoE, Abu Dhabi
The EU CBRN Centres of Excellence (EU CBRN CoE) initia-
tive in the Gulf region was initiated in 2014 in the spirit of international unity and cooperation to strengthen regional and international readiness towards CBRN threats and risks. The EU represented a success story for unity between states that went beyond economic cooperation and trade, to serve as a model for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region itself to further strengthen both safety and security. In the beginning, the Unit- ed Arab Emirates (UAE) offered to host the Regional Secretariat in Abu Dhabi and included both Saudi Arabia and Qatar as part- ner countries. Today, we are happy to also include our brothers and sisters in Kuwait and Bahrein, also hoping that Oman will join us in our unity very soon to complete the circle.
From radiological and nuclear readiness …
During the many meetings with our regional partners, we have had many discussions on where to put our efforts on strength- ening readiness for crises emerging from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, whether natural or caused by man. The lowest hanging fruit initially was to focus on radio- logical and nuclear readiness, as the UAE is taking the lead in the region on civilian nuclear power. Large efforts have been made to plan for and train our first responders for any events that may emerge from this. In 2016, we started with a regional tabletop exercise with over 200 participants named “Exercise
Falcon”. It was a great success in examining the management of radiological terrorism and prohibition of nuclear materials with the support of the European Union, UNICRI, the US State Department and our partner countries in the Gulf.
… to chemical and biological preparedness
However, we recognised the need to look more at our weaker areas; chemical and biological readiness. More resources have been invested in the radiological and nuclear areas
in the previous years, in partnership with important organ- isations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). We also established our Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR). During a regional round-table meeting in Kuwait in October 2018, we decided to focus on biological preparedness and response. In further discussions with our regional partners and our European colleagues, we became interested in Project 54 (P54) which focused on establishing sustainable training systems for CBRN medical response in Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. The project aimed at establishing well-equipped centers for the purpose of providing training to first (paramedic) and second (doctors and nurses) line responders to manage mass casualty events. This includes the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) to avoid contamination, use of decontamination infrastructure and systems for triage while also enhancing the knowledge on CBRN medicine among the medical professionals. As a result, Project 82 (P82) was developed, building on P54 but tailored to the region and through the pooling of resources from the GCC with the support of experts from the EU.
Launch of Project 82
The regional training project for CBRN medical emergencies (P82) was officially launched in Brussels in June 2019 with a road map detailing the first phase of implementation for 12 months that would include a review of existing structures and training in all GCC partner countries by international experts, and end with a regional two-week train-the-trainers conference in April 2020.
Regional training facilities
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrein designated training facilities in November 2019. A national training coor- dinator for each country was responsible for establishing the national training framework with the support of the EU, UNICRI and their experts. On 4th November we held a final planning and coordination meeting in Kuwait City, hosted by the GCC Emergency Management Centre. This was followed up by a three-day pre-training course for 60 medical professionals as a primer on CBRN Emergency Medicine, which was very well received by both our experts and our attendees.
Adapted for interregional cooperation
Our next regional activities were to visit our partner coun- tries with our experts. We met the stakeholders and viewed the training facilities to gain a better understanding of what is already in place and what the individual priorities are. The GCC countries are very well equipped and staffed for managing CBRN medical emergencies. Additionally, the infrastructure
to easily integrate a national training framework and curricula
for CBRN medical response and interventions already exists, as more training is always needed. Harmonising the training will also enhance regional cooperation and make assistance effective if the need arises during a future crisis, even beyond the region. Also, this project marks cooperation on an interre- gional level as we welcome the support and assistance of our colleagues in Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon to provide the training to our future trainers together with our European experts.
Covid-19 – lessons to learn
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 outbreak in China and the subse- quent global spread of the disease in January lead to the post- ponement of the training as travel restrictions were put in place in all countries. However, it serves as a heavy reminder that the prioritisation of biological threats was correct. Currently, all countries dealing with the crisis are taking their own unique ap- proach based on their existing structures and available resourc- es. We were all taken by surprise at the velocity of the global spread of this novel coronavirus. There will be many lessons learned following this pandemic and opportunities to share ex- periences will help us prepare for future outbreaks which are a certainty. Hopefully by then, a more unified approach will be in place and I believe the EU CBRN CoE initiative will be important to help us all achieve this.