American bombing releases a cloud of nerve gas
over Baghdad, and the Iraqi Information Ministry
wants to take a bunch of foreign correspondents
to witness the smoking ruins, what you need is
NBC IPE (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical
Individual Protection Equipment).
This is great. Green rubberised trousers
with natty braces, green rubberised smock, black
rubber lace-up overboots, two layers of gloves,
and a black rubber respirator with screw-on
filter and built-in drinking straw. Price £340
including overnight delivery and packet of
chemical detector paper. Not bad.
The only problem is you have to
get the respirator on in nine seconds. That's how
long you've got from the first sign of nerve gas.
Ideally, you should already be wearing all the
rest of the kit because a few drops of vapour on
your skin could kill you. You should also have
started taking NAPS (Nerve Agent Pre-treatment
Set) tablets every eight hours.
This is fine if you're in an
army. You can walk around all day in an NBC suit
and get paid for it. Your army is also likely to
have an early-warning system of some kind -
sirens, whistles, lights - so you might even get
more than nine seconds' notice. And of course, if
your army is the one launching the nerve gas
attack, you'll probably get even more time to
The next problem is that the
really neat anti-nerve gas stuff is not for sale.
When you feel the first symptoms, you're supposed
to inject yourself in the thigh with a
"Combopen" - a mixture of a muscle
relaxant, a substance to stop you drooling, and
Atropine, which boosts your immune system. But if
you want a Combopen, you'll have to join the
army. There's no legal way to buy it.
This is probably just as well,
because the Atropine is nearly as dangerous as
the nerve gas. "The shock it does to the
system may just kill you," a defence
equipment supplier told me.
So forget the Atropine. In
practice, if you're out in the open and you think
there's nerve gas around, get your respirator on
and get under cover - inside a car or a building,
anything that the nerve gas vapour will take time
to penetrate. That will buy you some time to
wrestle your way into your NBC suit. Assuming
you're carrying it around with you.