Safety Handbook for Journalists

9. Accommodation and Workplace Safety

Choosing the right location for an office or a residency can deter or stop intrusion, delay an attack and mitigate the effects of an incident in the immediate vicinity. The site selection is considered to be the first step of accommodation and office safety. For safety and security purposes, potential locations will need to meet specific criteria beyond space, aesthetics and price considerations.

Key considerations and selection:

The journalist or the team responsible in establishing an office should:

  • Consider how easy it would be to get out of the building or the immediate area in the event of fire: are there different exit routes, and can the local fire brigade get close enough to the building?
  • Check at least 1.5km radius thoroughly, to get a better understanding of the local area: What sort of neighbourhood is it?; Are most people local residents?; Do large numbers of workers come into the area daily?
  • Susceptibility to accidents or natural risks: Fires, serious flooding, landslides, dumping of dangerous materials, factories with hazardous industrial processes, etc.
  • Take into consideration external local support: What local authority and rescue services are there in the area?; Where is the nearest fire station?; Where is the nearest police station?

As no place is 100% secure, it is important to consider the potential vulnerabilities of the neighbourhood.

  • Are there military installations, police premises or government buildings?
  • Are there important socioeconomic or religious targets (e.g. the temple of a religious minority, the headquarters of a militant trade union, the office of an opposition newspaper, a radio station etc.)?
  • If foreign intervention is resented, demonstrations may target diplomatic buildings; a university area may be susceptible to student unrest, and marketplaces can be targets for terror attacks.
  • Crime levels can be high in wealthy as well as poor areas. Try not to project the appearance of wealth. In a high-crime environment, it may be advisable to choose a site close to a police station (but bear in mind that police stations may be targeted in an insurgency or during social or political unrest).

Single or multi-tenant occupancy:

  • Is it safer to have a shared building with other organisations/news agencies? There is no definite answer to this question; however, the advantage of multiple tenants is that the presence of other people offers additional awareness and protection. 
  • But there are also risks. Grouped sites tend to become gated communities separated from the wider social environment, and the concentration of possible targets means that an attack will have a much higher impact if successful. It is often advisable to rent office space or a flat on between third and sixth floor (the ground floor is more vulnerable to intruders and higher floors may be unreachable with emergency equipment and difficult to escape from, for instance in case of fire).

Parking vehicles:

  • Make sure that there are enough parking spaces when selecting the site.
  • Vehicles should be locked when not in use and operating procedures should be in place for vehicle key control, parking arrangements and emergency use.
  • As a general rule, parking and fuel arrangements should be conducive to easy departure from the compound, for instance ensuring that vehicles are fully fuelled at the end of each day and parked in an arrangement that allows for quick loading and easy exit.

The safe room

  • A safe room is a place where quick refuge can be found from intruders; it is not the same as a bomb shelter, and will not be bombshell-proof.
  • It should be easily and quickly accessible, and preferably located in the core of the building. Alternatively, an upper floor can be converted into a safe area by installing a grill on the staircase, which is locked at night.
  • Safe rooms should have a reinforced door, a telephone or other means of communication (preferably uninterruptible) in order to call for help, and a list of key contact numbers, plus a torch or candles and matches.
  • Consider storing a small quantity of water, food and sanitary items in the safe room as well. The purpose of a safe room is to protect people, not assets. Putting everything in the safe room is only likely to encourage intruders to make greater efforts to break in.