Being Prepared for Acid Attacks

Author / Paul Watts
26 Nov ‘18
Over the last 12 months or so, the world, and the UK in particular, has seen an increase in hazardous and corrosive crime attacks - so-called “acid attacks”. In response to this NaCTSO published Remove: guidance on removing hazardous substances.

The Author

Paul Watts is Head of Business Development at SP Services (UK) Limited, a global supplier of emergency medical equipment and he was instrumental in developing the Decontamination Kit in conjunction with the National CBRN Centre. He has 14 years sales and marketing experience in the emergency services sector and prior to that he worked for London Ambulance Service NHS Trust in the Emergency Operations Centre, as an Ambulance Tutor and MIMMS Instructor.


The world faces a real threat from terrorism and crowded places remain an attractive target. The UK, in particular, has seen a marked increase in attacks where crowds are gathered.

In June 2017 The National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) in the UK published its Crowded Places Guidance. The guidance has been written to help those charged with security at crowded places mitigate the threat and help make the UK less vulnerable to an attack.

Over the last 12 months or so, the UK has seen an increase in hazardous and corrosive crime attacks - so-called “acid attacks” - and in response to this NaCTSO published Remove: guidance on removing hazardous substances. They also subsequently updated the Crowded Places Guidance to reflect this.

Remove, Remove, Remove

The Remove guidance is specifically designed to be easily understood, remembered and applied. The message is simple: Remove, remove, Remove.

Also, since security personnel and other staff may be the first responders to an incident where people have been exposed to a hazardous substance, the Remove, Remove, Remove protocol is closely aligned to guidance for the Emergency Services. In fact, it now forms part of their Initial Operational Response.

Remove, Remove, Remove provides simple, consistent advice on early actions following a suspected deliberate or accidental exposure to a hazardous substance (vapour, powder, liquid) or an “acid attack”.

The guidance is as follows:

  • REMOVE THEMSELVES…from the immediate area to avoid further exposure to the substance. Fresh air is important. If the skin is itchy or painful find a water source.
  • REMOVE OUTER CLOTHING…if affected by the substance. Try to avoid pulling clothing over the head if possible. Do not smoke, eat or drink. Do not pull off clothing stuck to skin.
  • REMOVE THE SUBSTANCE…from skin using a dry absorbent material to either soak it up or brush it off. RINSE continuously with Water if the skin is itchy or painful.

The advice can be implemented without specialist protective equipment and is relevant for any potential hazardous substance incident, enabling any responder to provide an effective initial response until the emergency services arrive and beyond.

That said there is a potential risk to the first responder to become contaminated themselves whilst treating victims of such attacks, and there maybe instances where a water source is not is not immediately available.

The importance of water

To ensure water is immediately available, Police Forces are now routinely carrying bottled water in their vehicles and to mitigate the risk against first responder contamination basic personal protective equipment is also being carried.

However, this can be problematic due to the limited space in vehicles, the weight of the water (some Forces carry 5-Litre bottles) and, more often than not, this equipment may be scattered in various places throughout the vehicle.

The issue with water

The other issue with bottled water is that when it is poured it is often difficult to control or direct the flow. Often, much of the water is wasted and there is a risk of contaminating other areas of the victim.

Being ready

A range of suppliers now sell kits to be deployed in these instances. Our own kit includes a selection of PPE, some bottled water and a “showerhead” attachment that fits into the bottle of water and provides a directed flow, thus increasing the volume and allowing for more directional decontamination.

The bottom line

Those in charge of safety and security anywhere crowds gather should consider having kits like these on-hand. Stadia, airports, shopping malls, the night-time economy and more would do well to be prepared for these types of attacks and accidental exposures.