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Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF)



  • Indian Head, MD

Official Homepage

The Chemical and Biological Incident Response Force [CBIRF] was activated on April 4, 1996, at its home base in Camp Lejeune, NC. In response to Presidential Decision Directive 39, the Marine Corps created CBIRF to counter chemical/biological terrorist threat. The force is completely self-contained and self-sufficient, capable of deploying anywhere in the world on short notice. The force is a complete unit and contains about 350 Marines and Sailors, with the potential of increasing the strength of the security element by 200 additional Marines.

The CBIRF element of the MEB is capable of rapid response to chemical or biological threats. Should an incident occur, CBIRF would immediately deploy to the affected site and provide a number of significant capabilities to include coordinating initial relief efforts, security, detection, identification, expert medical advice, and limited decontamination of personnel and equipment.

This response force will respond to chemical or biological incidents affecting Department of the Navy (DoN) installations and assets, Department of State (DoS) legations worldwide and, when directed by the National Command Authority, to assist local civilian and military agencies in order to assist the on-scene commander in providing initial post incident consequence management. The CBIRF consists of specially trained personnel and specialized equipment suited for operations in a wide range of contingencies. Through detection, decontamination and emergency medical services, the CBIRF capabilities are intended to minimize the effects of a chemical or biological incident.

One of the first tasks from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab was to establish a unit that could deal with the threat of chemical and biological terrorism. The Chemical and Biological Incident Response Force was formed to deal with such threats of terrorism. The unit was initially assigned to the 2nd Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Intelligence Group (2nd SRIG), and then to the Warfighting Development Integration Division, II MEF.

CBIRF was created to respond on short notice to chemical biological incidents worldwide. They were also created to provide consequence management, minimize effects of a chemical or biological terrorist devices and reduce potential threats of chemical biological terrorists. CBIRF is a consequence management force dealing with chemical, biological, nuclear threats and incidents.

The first CBIRF team to arrive on any scene is the recon and rapid intervention team. It's their job to go in and see what type of chemical agents are present. They also determine what level of clothing CBIRF need to wear to have maximum protection. "There are three possible levels that we can go in at," said Mannon. Level "C" is a full MOPP suit (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) and M40 gas mask, Level "B" is biological suits with airtanks and Level "A" is a completely sealed environment, similar to a dome.

The next team to enter is the casualty search team that locates casualties and assesses them. Finally the casualty extract team enters to remove the casualties and take them to a decontamination tent. The decontamination tent can hold 10 ambulatory victims or 30 "walking wounded" and works like an assembly line. The victim is placed directly on rollers that allow him to be moved to each station in the tent. If the person has a back injury he will be placed in a basket and rolled to each station.

All of the victim's clothes are removed at the first station is where. Two Marines in full decontamination suits work together to slowly remove all clothing. The clothes are cut off and placed in proper trash cans. If the victim has received prior medical attention and has a bandage on, the bandage is left on to protect the wound. The victim is completely doused in an appropriate decon solution with sponges. Once his entire body is doused, he is sprayed off with water and sent to the last station.

A corpsman is located at the final station to completely look over of the victim. The corpsman tags the victim for whatever medical attention he needs and the whole cycle begins again for the next victim. CBIRF is unique in that it is a self contained and self-sufficient, task-organized unit that can assist the on-scene commander in a variety of roles. They have the ability to detect hazardous materials, perform decontamination, offer medical treatment and security.

Since CBIRF was formed, it has trained in a variety of environments across the country. The unit performed an exercise in Atlanta following the 1996 Olympics where a pipe bomb exploded in the Olympic Village. During the 1996 Summer Olympics, training paid off. CBIRF was on standby about one mile away when the pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Park. In less than 10 minutes the unit was ready. The exercise allowed CBIRF to work along side local fire and hazardous materials as they would in a real world situation. The Warfighting Lab also conducted an experiment at the Citadel, in Charleston, SC, where CBIRF played an extensive role in controlling chemical agents from a mock chemical weapons plant. During the exercise, Marines from CBIRF arrived on the scene wearing white biological suits and air tanks, looking like something straight out of a classic science-fiction movie.

The CBIRF can provide expert advice to the on-scene commander via the Electronic Reachback Advisory Group. The Advisory Group which includes eight nationally and internationally recognized civilian experts in science and medicine, is also chartered to assist with the development, training and operations of the CBIRF. The CBIRF deploys to incident locations by the most expeditious means possible, where they will coordinate initial relief efforts, provide security and area isolation at the affected site; detection, identification and decontamination; expert medical advice and assistance to local medical authorities; and service support assistance as required. Though the force does not have a direct counter-terrorist role, its personnel are highly trained in dealing with the consequences of a terrorist chemical/biological attack.

The CBIRF is comprised of five elements: reconnaissance, decontamination, medical, security and service support. The Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) reconnaissance element is responsible for detecting the location of an incident site. The decontamination element decontaminates personnel and equipment exposed to any chemical or biological agents. The medical element is capable of providing triage support to casualties during and after decontamination. The security element provides security for the contaminated site as well as assets operating within the area. The service support element provides shelter, food and water so the CBIRF can operate in a contaminated site.

While other services have the capability to assist in certain aspects of a chemical or biological incident, such as agent identification, the CBIRF is unique in that it is a self contained and self sufficient task-organized unit that can assist the on-scene commander in numerous functions, i.e. detection of hazardous materials, decontamination, medical treatment and security.

The CBIRF initially used "off-the-shelf" equipment to include the Saratoga Chemical Protective Overgarment (a.k.a. Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suits) and M40 gas masks. The unit has the German-made XM-93 Fox --- a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) reconnaissance vehicle capable of detecting both vapor and liquid contamination. The unit also has Chemical Agent Monitors (CAM), M256 Detection Kits for vapor and M8 and M9 Paper for liquid agent detection, and the M21 Remote Sensing Chemical Agent Automatic Alarm (RSCAAL) for long-range chemical detection. For decontamination purposes, the CBIRF uses the M258 Decontamination Kit. Additionally, the CBIRF is a "test bed" for chemical and biological related equipment, techniques, procedures and doctrine in the Marine Corps.

When fully equipped, expected costs in terms of equipment are $5 million. Annual operating costs are projected to be $2 million.

The CBIRF is a highly trained, self sufficient force prepared to respond on short notice to chemical or biological incidents worldwide, to assist the on-scene commander in providing initial post-incident consequence management. The unit also trains DoN personnel worldwide in how to deal with chemical and biological threats. The CBIRF has been training to deal with "G-series" nerve agents, like sarin gas; "H-series" blister agents, like mustard gas and other chemical-burn causing materials; and some 25 biological threats, like anthrax and typhoid.

The CBIRF's reconnaissance element is comprised of 20 Marines, 10 corpsmen, and a medical officer. Each Marine has the Military Occupational Specialty of 5711 --- NBC Defense Specialist --- for which they attend a nine-week school in Fort McClellan, Alabama. Additionally, more than 25 percent of the reconnaissance element gained experience in NBC readiness during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The element's medical officer and corpsmen are qualified in Medical Management of Chemical Casualties, a course given by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense. The element is capable of detecting, classifying and identifying all known chemical and biological agents. If the element is unable to identify an agent with their equipment, members are able to collect samples for available agencies who can identify the agent. The element has two Geman-made XM-93 Fox vehicles, which are NBC reconnaissance vehicles capable of detecting both vapor and liquid contamination. The unit also has Chemical Agent Monitors (CAM), M256 Detection Kits for vapor and M8 and M9 Paper for liquid detection, and the M21 Remote Sensing Chemical Agent Automatic Alarm (RSCAAL) for long-range chemical detection. In addition to detecting, collecting and identifying chemical and biological agents, the reconnaissance element is also task organized to provide emergency casualty evacuation teams of two Marines and a corpsman capable of stabilizing and extracting casualties from the affected area. Being the first members of the CBIRF to enter an affected area, each element member may carry as much as 70 pounds of gear while wearing full protective garments and gas masks. To build the stamina needed to perform in such adverse conditions, the element performs daily tasks in full MOPP gear, and each member ensures fellow members receive proper hydration and nutrition. The element also trains in a variety of chemical and biological incident scenarios, in which they are evaluated on their ability to perform their role. The evaluations test not only their proficiency with equipment and procedures, but also their small unit leadership and reaction to any number of scenarios.

The CBIRFs decontamination element consists of 27 enlisted Marines and Sailors. The element is responsible for the decontamination of personnel and casualties, which in turn stabilizes causalities for further treatment. The decontamination element establishes itself at the edge of a contaminated area near the medical element's triage station. There, personnel and casualties, whether ambulatory or non-ambulatory, are processed through a series of stations derived from Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) decontamination standards. As contaminated individuals enter the area, their personal effects and equipment are collected, and clothing items are removed. The individuals are then sprayed and sponged with a .5 percent bleach solution, and led through a shower system to rinse off the decontaminating liquid. Personal effects and equipment are also processed through the cycle. Individuals are then monitored with a hand-held Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM), to determine whether the contamination is still present. If so, the individual will again be processed through the decontamination cycle. Once casualties are decontaminated, element members will change bandages and dressings if needed, then transport the individual to waiting medical personnel. While the decontamination element contains Marines from a variety of occupational specialties, more than half are NBC Defense Specialists, who have attended a nine-week course at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

The CBIRF's security element is a standing unit of approximately 120 Marines mostly infantrymen. With an infantry company as a security element, the CBIRF has a force trained in a variety of roles including security patrols, Military Operations in Urban Terrain, riot control and vehicle and personnel search. The element's roles are equally as varied in CBIRF operations. Members can be tasked with providing security patrols for the reconnaissance element, quelling civil unrest, detaining hostile forces, assisting with the evacuation of casualties, securing the contaminated area a providing security to the CBIRF site. The unit carries the M870 shotguns, M16-A2 service rifles, M-203 40mm grenade launchers M-249 Squad Automatic Weapons and M-204G medium machine guns. If necessary, they can implement further weaponry such as the 81mm mortar and Shoulder launched, Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW), known as the "bunker buster." While all infantrymen continuously receive intense training in numerous areas, including Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) identification and defense, the CBIRF's security element has also received heightened training in operating in a chemically and biologically contaminated environments.

The CBIRF's medical element consists of six officers (three physicians, one Environmental Health Officer, one Physician's Assistant and one nurse) and 17 corpsmen. The element is tasked with treating any chemical or biological casualties, including those suffering from nerve, blister or blood agents. The staff is capable of administering antibiotics and antidotes, as well as treating chemical burns and conventional injuries. Members of the medical element will go into an affected area to provide on-scene life-saving medical attention. There, they will stabilize and evacuate casualties to a predetermined decontamination area. At that point, the element will either evacuate the casualties to available local medical facilities or to their Shock/Trauma Platoon, which can provide 72-hour stabilization for the patients. The officers and corpsmen who comprise the medical element have been trained in the Medical Management of Chemical Casualties by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense. Additionally, the officers have attended Contaminated Casualty Decontamination courses and have become Nuclear, Biological and Chemical-qualified by the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic, NBC School. The element uses a variety of medical equipment to counter the affects of chemical and biological agents. Also in their inventory are two 997 High Mobility, Multi-pupose Wheeled Vehicles (an ambulance with an over-pressure system) to allow the protection of individuals in a contaminated area and have the equipment needed to provide advanced life support.

The CBIRF's service support element consists of 70 enlisted marines an five officers from throughout the 2nd Marine Division and 2nd Force Service Support Group. Its members are assigned to one of five sections within the element: headquarters, motor transportation, engineers, embarkation and supply sections, respectively. The headquarters section provides all command functions and acts as a coordinating agency for the element. The motor transportation section provides all ground transportation in support of training and at the affected site, using both light and medium lift. it utilizes 5-ton trucks, Logistic Vehicle Systems (LVSs) and High Mobility, Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles (Humvees). The unit is also capable of recovering and performing most mechanical repairs in-house for their vehicles. The engineer section provides water, utilities and heavy equipment support at the incident site. Its inventory includes reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPUs), a variety of generators and forklifts. The embarkation section provides embark/debark support to all elements from its permanent location to the incident site. Since the CBIRF deploys to a site in the most expeditious means available, the embarkation section has to be capable of arranging airlift, railway or ground transportation for the unit. The supply section provides supply and warehousing support to the CBIRF, ammunition support to the security element, and assists in fiscal/contractor support services within the affected area. In supply section includes a contracting specialist, who has the capability to procure logistical support from the local community near the affected site. With these respective sections, the service support element is able to provide houskeeping support for the CBIRF as well as limited support to the affected site. In a deployed status, the service support element can self-sustain the CBIRF for 10 - 14 days, and arrange further logistical support to sustain operations.

The command and control element is the CBIRF's central nervous system, though which all evolutions are coordinated. It consists of various sections including operations, intelligence, administration and communications.