Planning and preparation
Journalists need to be physically and mentally equipped to face potential dangers when reporting in unsafe and unpredictable situations.
Planning and preparation is vital and this includes sourcing local information, assessing local contacts and carrying out thorough risk assessments. It doesnt matter whether you are going to a conflict zone, former conflict area or to a usually secure area somewhere close to home, your planning and preparation still needs to be done; risks still need to be assessed.
Whether you are a staffer or a freelancer you are responsible for your own safety, and if something goes wrong, only you can do something about it. Your organisation will do its best to assist, but you cant rely on them solely as they are not there.
To mitigate risk and to increase the safety of staff and individuals, organisations and individuals should provide reliable and realistic plans to ensure their safety and security in the field. Remember: hoping for the best is not a security plan.
The following documents will help with your planning:
1. A list of free information sources for background information.
2. A checklist for help with thorough planning
3. Two examples of an overseas travel outline, which you should give to somebody who can assist you if things don't go as planned, and a risk assessment which will help you to focus on how to do your job more safely.
4. A list of insurers from the Rory Peck Trust website, who will insure freelancers and their kit
Safety and security planning starts when you first have the idea for your story and need to be included in the planning from the beginning. Don't leave it until the end.
Organisations and individuals should ask themselves:
- Do you have the knowledge and endurance to cover the story in the environment you will be working in?
- Do you have the capability, capacity and competency to deliver the story safely? Are you and any team members medically, physically and psychologically compatible for the assignment?
- Do you have the training and the capability to live and exist in difficult and challenging places?
- Where will you be living and what type of security considerations will you need to factor in?
- Do you know what to do if things dont go to plan?
Some call it a risk mitigation programme. INSI likes to call it planning and preparing for the worst.
If you use the INSI generic risk assessment outline, you can ensure that your assignment outline is thorough and has everything covered. Here are some of the things you may want to consider:
- Research the local culture and know what is expected of you with regards to clothing, socialising, body language and attitude, so that you blend into environment.
- If you are a staffer, check what level of insurance you have from your organisation (medical, repatriation and life assurance). Most organisations do not insure your kit, so you may have to take this insurance out separately. Make sure you have adequate insurance to protect your family in the event of your death, injury or inability to work. Any personal insurances you have may be null and void if anything happens to you in a hostile environment or anywhere classed as a war zone, so check the small print.
- If you are a freelancer, you will have to decide what you want to insure against and then get quotes to get the best deal. You may have to shop around but there are lots of insurers out there who will cover you.
- Ensure you have the proper documentation such as wills, immunisation records, and someone has your power of attorney.
- Have you done the right training to go to the country; i.e. medical training or hostile environment training? Is it in date?
- Do you know what to do in the event of an emergency and does your management know what to do?
- Are there any additional security risks for women?
- Safety can be compromised by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even in non-hostile situations and countries. Does the organisation you are working for have travel policies or HE travel policies and do you conform to them?
- If you are a freelancer, who is your safety net back home to alert people if you need help? Do they know where you are and what your plans are? How are you communicating?
- What is your checking in plan? Will somebody be monitoring your location and will they be kept up to date with where you are in case of an emergency?
With thanks thanks to the BBC and Portsmouth University, from whose documents the two examples of travel outline and risk assessment forms have been adapted.
Photo: Journalists and hotel guests put on their gas masks as civil alert sirens ring throughout the city in a hotel in Kuwait City. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)