Service members of the Brazilian Armed Forces took part in the first basic response course for chemical incidents. The Assistance and Protection for Portuguese-Speaking Participants course—per the training schedule of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—took place May 21st–25th in Rio de Janeiro. Service members and civilians from seven Portuguese-speaking nations, as well as members of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, the Federal Police, and the state of Rio de Janeiro Military Fire Brigade—all agencies associated with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRN)—participated.
The Biological, Chemical, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense Center of the Brazilian Navy (MB, in Portuguese) coordinated the course. Service members from MB, the Brazilian Army, and the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese), served as instructors.
“Fifteen service members attended the course, in addition to a team of instructors consisting of 33 service members from the Brazilian Armed Forces,” said FAB First Lieutenant Gustavo Messias Costa, head of the Aeromedical Subdivision of FAB’s Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IMAE, in Portuguese). IMAE focuses on education, research, development, and training in aerospace medicine, as well as pre-hospital medical care and missions such as aeromedical evacuation and aircraft and personnel decontamination involved in CBRN incidents. In total, 38 students, among Brazilian and foreign nationals attended the course.
“FAB assigned six IMAE service members and eight members of the Puma Squadron to conduct the aeromedical evacuation training for victims of CBRN agents,” said 1st Lt. Costa. Trainees conducted a drill on contaminated victims and practiced aeromedical evacuation with isolation and onboarding of the Puma Squadron’s H-36 Caracal aircraft that transported them to the hospital.
“This training is crucial for operational maintenance and integration between the many teams that will participate in response operations,” said FAB First Lieutenant Jaison Lopes Garcia, the helicopter commander. “The medical staff and crew must be well bonded, as timing for the victim’s stabilization and evacuation can make all the difference in a real life event.”
In addition to the aeromedical evacuation, the weeklong course included lectures and practical workshops on assessment and clinical management of victims of chemical attacks, decontamination, and interagency response to chemical incidents. “The course schedule was five days, totaling nine hours of daily instruction,” said 1st Lt. Costa. “The students attended the demonstration of a terrorist attack with chemical agents, including first response, rescue and screening of victims, chemical agent detection, and decontamination.”
Brazil’s CBRN experience
Brazilian troops intervened in at least two CBRN incidents. In 1987, in the city of Goiânia, state of Goiás, scrap metal scavengers broke an X-ray machine found at an abandoned clinic, exposing thousands of people to cesium 137, a radioactive material, and causing the largest radiological accident in the history of the country. Specialized teams of the Armed Forces spearheaded transport operations—FAB conducted aeromedical evacuation to hospitals—and provided medical care to victims. They also focused on processing and insulating tons of generated waste.
In 2013, in the city of Santa Maria, state of Rio Grande do Sul, an acoustic insulation foam at a nightclub accidentally burned, producing cyanide and killing hundreds of young people. The Brazilian military’s experience with chemical agents was further enhanced preparing for CBRN in major events of the last decade: the 2007 Pan American Games, 2011 Military World Games, Earth Summit 2012, World Youth Day 2013, the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup, and 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.
“These events increased situational awareness of possible terrorist attacks due to the large number of foreign nationals, and the presence of foreign officials in the country, representing potential targets,” 1st Lt. Costa said. “Another important point is that among the various national energy sources, Brazil has nuclear power plants in Angra dos Reis with a constant warning system and emergency, evacuation, and containment plans in the event of an accident due to reactor failure. The country’s road and railway systems also transport numerous industrial products, which in the event of an accident, could cause chemical catastrophes. All of this promotes constant preparation to face events with CBRN agents, and for the training of specialized troops to be made as professionally as possible.”
Brazil hosted the Regional Assistance and Protection Exercise for Member States of the Latin American and Caribbean Region in August 2017 in Rio de Janeiro, bringing together representatives of chemical emergency response agencies from the civil and security defense sectors of Brazil and 18 other countries. The event marked the inauguration of the Regional Chemical Weapons Assistance and Protection Center for Latin America and the Caribbean at the headquarters of the Ministry of Defense of Brazil, bringing together the Brazilian Armed Forces’ funds, equipment, and human resources.