Safety Handbook for Journalists

5. Sniper Counter-Measures and Techniques

In modern warfare snipers have dominated the battlefield or area of conflict, the German army were the first to specially trained soldiers in the First World War. Snipers have been targeting journalists in many conflicts, for example in Sarajevo where the infamous sniper alley was all over the news. In asymmetric conflict zones a sniper can be anyone with a high-powered rifle and an optical scope.

Recognizing their presence

  • Try to put yourself in the position of a sniper and watch your surroundings where a potential sniper would be located.
  • Educate your team to the presence of snipers, have personnel been hit by single shot fire from 400-2000 metre distances.
  • Have personal only been exposed for seconds and hit when there is no obvious firer.
  • Have you seen one lone combatant or two people who seem to be operating on their own with high powered rifles and scopes?
  • Can you detect single shot firing coming from high ground with definitive lulls in the fire?
  • Never crawl forward to try and observe sniper fire, always move away from any directional fire.
  • Remember to watch your movement in hours of darkness as some snipers have night vision scopes so do not rely on hours of darkness as protection from sniper fire.

Methods to measure distance when being fired upon

Crack and Thumb

The noise produced by high-velocity rifle fire has two main components. These are often referred to as the ‘crack and thump’ or ‘crack and boom’. The ‘crack’ is from the supersonic shock wave which travels with the bullet and the ‘thump’ is from the muzzle blast radiating from the open end of the rifle barrel. The time that elapses between the crack and the thump reveals the distance from where the shot is coming. Roughly every second is 270 metres.

  • Listen to the crack and thump the weapon is making as it can give you an indication where the sniper fire is coming from. Bullets travel sub sonically creating a sonic boom, which causes a loud and unforgettable crack if it passes near you within seconds you hear a distant thump from the rifle muzzle.
  • Sound travels at measurable 1100 ft per second. You can approximate the distance by timing the time between the crack and the thump of the weapon.
  • You can practise this by counting as fast as you can to ten when you hear the crack start and the thump stop, i.e. count of two equals = 548 metres away, four equals 1080 metres away.
  • The sniper cannot detect a target unless they can see the target visually, they will scan the area using hasty scanning looking for opportunist targets; Deliberate scanning observing a certain area of movement or travel; Detailed scanning of the known location of target entry or exit point from a building.

Unit of measure

All the ground needs to be visible to yourself, any unit of measure can be used for example a football field is approximately 100 metres, estimate the distance by how many units of football field fit into the area you are scanning. It is not a reliable method for distances over 400 metres.

Key Ranges

Key ranges are distances that are already known to you or are maps predicted by features on the ground.

Clock ray method

The clock ray method is to establish possible positions of the firer, using an imaging nary clock face to indicate possible firing positions. For example, fire 400 metres 9 o’clock off our position.

Target indicators

    • Shine – Keep in mind that your clothing or equipment can reflect the sunlight, e.g. camera lens shine is more prominent in the early morning or late afternoon.
    • Movement – The brain process of information on movement is the easiest and fastest indicator to spot a target. Our minds process 60 images a second.
    • Sound – Sound people or equipment make, like a camera hitting a body.
    • Smell and scents – e.g. Smoking, food, cooking, etc.
    • Shape – Unusual shapes horizontal and vertical also shadow and silhouette your body is making.
    • Human signs – e.g. garbage, human waste, tracks and footprints.
  • Possible sniper locations (hides)
  • High ground – e.g. buildings, deep vegetation, ditches, trees, sandbanks, river beds, trenches, building rubble.

The deployed team should know that snipers have a range up to 2000 metres. Instruct the team not to be openly visible in areas snipers are operating.

Possible sniper locations (hides)

  • High ground, buildings, deep vegetation, ditches, trees, sandbanks, river beds, trenches and building rubble
  • Urban sniping
  • Sniper urban movement
  • Sewers
  • Subway tunnels
  • Transiting through holes on buildings
  • Kill holes (loop holes in walls and concrete structure)

Sniper Countermeasures:

  • Alert yourself to the presence of snipers like hearing single shot engagements from over 300 metres
  • Always wear your protective equipment as it can save your life. Snipers’ favoured tactic is to aim a central body mass which your body armour protects.
  • When moving in open ground, keep moving.
  • Keep exposure down to a minimum.
  • Do not skyline yourself.
  • Always be looking for protective cover when moving.
  • Do not silhouette yourself on high ground,
  • Long range shooting requires the shooter to be able to judge the wind. Avoid areas with flags, ribbons or even plastic bags tied on trees or fences, which could aid a shooter to judge wind.
  • When moving in urban environments, avoid possible kill zones with long clear views, such as unobstructed streets, where snipers can easily static or moving targets, identify where snipers have already

carried out distance measurements like isolated vehicles and prominent buildings which they use as aiming points where they have already recorded distance to get accurate shots on target

Reaction to effective sniper fire:

  • React immediately to incoming fire; get down and crawl into protective cover.
  • If you are moving on foot, move in short bursts in a zig-zag movement especially over long distances or open ground and keep your spacing if travelling in a group.
  • Never take or break cover as a group as when isolated you present yourself as a bigger target.
  • Avoid taking cover where there has been a firer or a person is firing.
  • Never film directly behind a firer and always remain in cover at an angle.
  • Remember that outgoing fire attracts incoming fire.
  • Never look over the top of cover to observe; get low and look around the cover.
  • If taking cover never get up from the same position you went down crawl back then get up at a different angle a firer may be watching you position.
  • Avoid crossing large gaps in urban and rural environments.

Active shooter incident

Over recent years we have seen active shooting incidents across Europe; it is a low-cost and effective way for terrorists to carry out an effective attack on an innocent population. Some of these attacks have directly targeted the media.

An active shooter is a lone shooter or group of armed personnel attempting to kill victims in a confined or populated area, i.e. office or shopping mall. When an active shooting occurs they generally shoot randomly depending on training and the amount of ammunition they have at hand. They will more than often go for the nearest and easiest target.

Appropriate readiness and decisions

Three immediate choices:

  1. Get away – from the situation as far as possible.
  2. Find appropriate cover – from fire and form view.
  3. Defend yourself – This should only be exercised as a last resort.

The Immediate Action drill (IA)

The three second rule!

When coming under fire you have 3 seconds to do something

  • Immediately drop to the ground under control.
  • Orient yourself to distance and direction of threat.
  • Orient yourself to the best immediate cover to give you protection from fire and view.
  • Only then should you move directly to the best cover Re-assess that you may need to move to better cover or get away If you take cover in a room
  • Lock and barricade doors with furniture, etc.
  • Turn off the lights and move away from doors and windows.
  • Put your mobile phone on silent as the noise can give you away.
  • Then phone or text for help always put emergency numbers on speed dial.

If you decide to get away to distance yourself from the shooter using windows or exits, be aware if there is a group of them they will possibly target exit routes and staircases. If exposed in open ground, keep low and move in a rapid zig-zag movement.