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ORCHIDS project – quick and effective mass decontamination

If a hazardous substance is deliberately released in public, large numbers of people would need to be decontaminated, quickly and effectively, halting the spread of contamination and reducing the potential of disease. Emergency responders and hospital facilities also need to be protected from contamination.

Decontamination is a difficult and uncomfortable process. The ORCHIDS project objectives were to change and improve this – anything that can be done ultimately benefits the public.

ORCHIDS procedures – setting a standard across the EU

A decontamination process according to ORCHIDS procedures takes less time and performs as well or better than national standards. It is hoped it will be used as a benchmark both nationally and internationally.

The ORCHIDS procedure has been developed:

• through field tests

• evaluating the capacity of emergency services to react to incidents

• following up recommendations

• setting up protocols and standard procedures on how decontamination can be done on a mass scale and in less time

This project not only looked at incidents involving mass casualties but also at smaller incidents that happen on a fairly tiny scale across Europe every day. For example, in the United Kingdom there are about 30–40 small scale incidents per year.

It strengthened the preparedness of EU countries to react to incidents involving the deliberate release of potentially hazardous substances. Response capabilities can also be enhanced by identifying ways of optimising decontamination processes for emergencies involving large numbers of casualties.

Vulnerable groups

ORCHIDS paid particular attention to vulnerable populations with respect to decontamination, taking into account that the decontamination process involves the public disrobing, showering and rerobing, in accordance to strict instructions.

For example, recommendations were formulated on how to approach:

• pregnant women

• children

• minority or religious groups

In doing this work, the project ensured that mass decontamination can be done quickly and effectively in a way that caters for the mass population, also taking into account cultural differences. It is important that the public see that the process is effective and that it is humane and sensitive.

The EU component was an essential ingredient in the success of this project. It gathered specialists from across Europe, working in the same field but with different cultural backgrounds and new ideas.

Through the project and field-based trials the project gathered experience, exchanged best practices on a very practical level and has now disseminated the guidelines across Europe.

More information:

ORCHIDS project

Health–EU–Chemical Risks

Health–EU–Bio terrorism

European Commission – Public Health – Preparedness and response

EU Health Programme