Looking back at NCT Virtual Hub

Novichoks and Pharmaceutical Based Agents

NCT Virtual Hub - May “Novichoks and Pharmaceutical Based Agents (PBAs)” took place on Tuesday, 4 May 2021. Our very first virtual mini event, highlighting the importance of addressing the challenges posed by Fourth Generation Agents (FGA), Novichoks and PBAs, was attended by over 300 participants from 29 countries around the globe. The virtual conference kicked off with the remarks of Ms. Anna Paternnosto, CBRNe society Vice-President, and BG (Ret.) William King, former Commander of US Army 20th CBRNE Command.

The panels were composed of experts in the field of FGAs and PBAs. Namely, Dr. Christina Baxter, CEO of Emergency Response TIPS. Mr. Corey Collings, Training, Research, and Development Specialist at representing First Line Technology, Dr. Bradley K. Norwood, Chief, Advanced and Emerging Threats from the Joint Science and Technology Office JSTO, and Mr. David DiGregorio, who is currently serving as Director for the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Division. The speakers discussed topics such as the main threats stemming from PBAs and FGAs as well as their gravity, the challenges they bring to first responders on the ground, and their implications for treaties such as the CWC and BWC considering their recent usage by states such as Russia and China.

The first panel discussion addressed the threat posed by PBAs and FGAs. As highlighted by the panelists, the main threat stemming from these agents relates to their availability and accessibility to the public in markets such as the dark web. According to the experts, FGAs are not as easily accessible and available as PBAs despite the perception of FGAs as threat material, alluding to the fact that they are not currently considered as an alleviated threat. The panelists were also asked to share their knowledge and expertise regarding first responders’ preparedness against FGAs and PBAs scenarios. As Mr. DiGregorio stated, the ability to detect and identify PBAs in the field is made possible thanks to the availability of several technological tools. In the area of FGAs, pursuing multi-agency collaboration and training of first responders enhances their preparedness and ability to deal with some of these agents. Furthermore, the experts focused on tackling the level of government investment regarding the diagnostic and detection equipment, its influence and repercussion on the preparedness of first responders. In addition, the discussion further addressed the relationship between the use of FGAs and PBAs and the existing CWC and BWC treaties. In that area, the experts expressed their concerns regarding the legal status of PBAs under such treaties due to their dual-use potential. Such dual-use nature, as the experts stressed, calls for better monitoring and upgraded guidelines to be reflected in the treaties.

At the end of the first session, participants were invited to join a live demonstration. First Line Technology presented a two-stage process for the identification and decontamination of fentanyl by using their newly developed Personnel Decon Kit. Following the live demonstration, the second panel welcomed an additional speaker, Honorable Andrew Weber, Senior Fellow at the Council of Strategic Risks.

The experts gave their insight on the challenges of detecting PBAs and FGAs, medical countermeasures, and lessons learned from past events. Mr. Weber stressed the importance of training first responders in such ways that they can rapidly detect symptoms while possessing medical countermeasures (CMs) available in large quantities. The above measures could not only save lives at a potential attack in mass gatherings but also deter it in advance. In addition, Mr. Collings commented on the unique nature and toxicity levels of FGAs, stressing the need for more sensitive air monitoring tools to achieve their detection. Dr. Baxter stressed the importance of having enough CMs available to respond, along with adequate investments in aerosol detection. Giving the example of the 2002 Russian use of fentanyl in the Moscow theater, she insisted on the correct setup of proper ventilation support and the necessity of predictive analysis rather than a reactive one. Mr. DiGregorio added that using patients as an indicator is crucial for all detection efforts! A physician must be able to quickly identify symptoms in the field and, thus, the proper medication and equipment must always be available in the front line. The final topic addressed the pressuring issue of the advanced role of technology, including the enhanced delivering capabilities of agents and innovative pharmaceutical mixtures. Dr. Weber acknowledged the extraordinary leaps of technology in the field, allowing for advanced capabilities in defense and medical CMs capabilities. Nonetheless, he also highlighted the potential disadvantages, such as the probability of its misusage and the growing ability of an average person to acquire WMDs on the dark web. Dr. Baxter echoed the statement, underlying the dangers of malicious actors obtaining such information as well as the difficulties of tracking them down. Mr. DiGregorio, alongside Mr. Collings, confirmed that this technology already exists, providing new methods in manufacturing and that the information is also publicly available and open to everyone. To wrap up the event, our honorable guests stressed the importance of training, awareness, preparedness, and interagency cooperation! NCT Virtual Hub lasted 3-hours, bringing together members of the CBRNe and EOD community from all around the world. Providing the opportunity of networking, product demonstrations, and panel discussions on an innovative platform.

We would like to sincerely thank all our delegates and speakers as well as our sponsors: First Line Technology, Bruker, 908 Devices, SERB Technologies, Eurosatory

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