Safety Handbook for Journalists

4. Ballistic Threat and Protective Measures

This chapter focuses on the ballistic threats, categories, and the risk they present to journalists operating in domestic and conflict zones. You will be introduced to the different methods and knowledge required in the field to possibly avoid ballistic threats. In this section, the journalist will learn how to identify the risks and determine the best practices to protect themselves from ballistic threats.

Small arms

Small arms are weapons designed for individual combat use. They include: revolvers, pistols, and assault rifles. They are classified according to the velocity of the ammunition used in the weapon, small arms are mainly categorised into two classes:

Low velocity:

A low velocity firearm is the class of weapons at which the bullet travels at a speed of 950 feet per second or less.


  • Semi-Automatic Pistols
  • Double Action pistols
  • Revolvers

High velocity:

A high velocity firearm bullet travels at a velocity higher than 1250 feet per second. Examples:

  • AK – 47 Assault Rifle
  • M4 Assault Rifle
  • G4 Assault Rifle

These weapons come in two main categories:

Semi-automatic is a weapon that will fire when the trigger is applied—assuming that the magazine still has cartridges. Typically, this includes extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case from the weapon’s firing chamber, re-cocking the firing mechanism, and loading a new cartridge into the firing chamber. In semi-automatic firearms the next bullet is not fired automatically, there is a need to release the trigger and re-apply.

Automatic firearm is a firearm that loads and fires rounds mechanically after the first round has been fired. Fully automatic firearms will continue to load and fire ammunition until the trigger (or other activating device) is released, or the ammunition is exhausted.


A pistol is a handgun with a chamber that is integral with the barrel, as opposed to a revolver, wherein the chamber is separate from the barrel as a revolving cylinder. Typically, pistols have an accurate effective range of about 35 metres. The effective range varies depending on weapon handling skills and training, for example, non-trained personnel the effective range is between 10 and 15 metres for trained personnel, the effective range is up to 50 metres.

Submachine gun (SMG)

SMG can be an automatic or a semi-automatic carbine, designed to fire low velocity cartridges. It combines the fire mechanism of a machine gun with the cartridge of a pistol.


  • UZI / Micro UZI /
  • Mini UZI HK MP5

The effective range of a SMG is between 70 and 100 metres. However, using a longer barrel will extend the range.


A shotgun is a firearm that is usually designed to be fired at shoulder position, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug. Shotguns come in a wide variety of sizes, ranging from 5.5 mm (.22 inch) bore up to 5 cm (2 inch) bore, and in a range of firearm operating mechanisms, including breech loading, single-barrelled, double or combination gun, pump-action, bolt-, and lever-action, semi-automatic, and even fully automatic variants. Its effective range is up to 50 metres.

Assault rifle

An assault rifle is a selective firearm, selectable between semi-auto and fully automatic, which uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. Assault rifles are the standard infantry weapons in most militaries around the world. Effective range for an individual is 300 metres or 600 metres as a group firing at a target area, as there are more rounds going in the same direction.

Examples of assault rifles:

  • Kalashnikov AK-47
  • M16/M4
  • SA80
  • G36
  • FN F2000

Light machine gun

A machine gun is a fully automatic mounted or portable firearm, usually designed to fire rounds in quick succession from an ammunition belt or large-capacity magazine, typically at a rate of several hundred rounds per minute. It is used as an area weapon. Effective range is up to 800 metres.


  • M60
  • Kalashnikov RPK-74
  • Kalashnikov PK / PKM
  • GPMG

Heavy Machine Gun

Heavy machine guns are utilised widely on the modern battlefield, and will disable unarmoured vehicles. It has the firepower to penetrate lightly armoured vehicles. Armour-piercing .50 calibre ammunition will penetrate around 25 mm of armour. Normal full metal jacket .50-calibre ammunition will only dimple tank armour, causing no damage. Effective range up to 1500 metres.

Sniper rifle

Sniper rifle is a precision-rifle used to ensure more accurate placement of bullets at longer ranges than other small arms. A typical sniper rifle is built for optimal levels of accuracy, fitted with a telescopic sight and chambered for a military centre fire cartridge.

The main purpose of the sniper rifle is to engage targets at extended ranges with aimed fire. The range for sniper fire may vary from 100 metres or even less in police/counter-terror scenarios, or up to 1.8 kilometres with the new high powered military rifles like the Barratt.

You should consider both protection methods against small arms fire listed below:

Personal Protection

  • Body Armour to include ballistic plates, side and neck protection
  • Ballistic Helmets
  • Ballistic glasse

The (IA) Immediate action on a ballistic attack

The 3 second rule: Small Arms

  • Drop to the ground
  • Try to crawl into protective cover

The 3 second rule: Grenade attack

  • If a grenade lands nearby, directly drop to the ground feet facing grenade and legs closed cover your head, keep your elbows in to protect your armpits, open your mouth to absorb the overpressure and do not hold your breath

The 3 second rule: Heavy weapons attack

  • If there is a heavy weapons attack, directly drop to the ground feet facing the direction of the attack. Keep your legs together, cover your head, keep your elbows in to protect your armpits open your mouth to absorb the overpressure and do not hold your breath

Static cover that can be used

  • Sand bags and Earth Banks
  • Shell Scrapes and trenches
  • Double Layer Thick Brick Walls
  • Large boulders or rocky areas
  • Vehicles (only use Engine Block on Soft Skin Vehicles for protective cover)
  • Trees more than 1.5 metres in circumference.

Body Armour and ballistic protection

Body armour has had a long history of development to prevent human injury in combat and other dangerous situations. One of the first recorded instances of soft armour use was by the medieval Japanese samurai, who used armour manufactured from silk.

How does body armour work?

The bullet hits a net of very strong fibres. The nets of fibres capture the energy of the bullet and dissipates it to the vest. This captures the deformation of the bullet and the energy is transmitted to the successive layers of the body armour until the kinetic energy of the bullet is null.

The body armour works at two levels; the fibres that constitute the vest and the materials inside the vest.

However, the body armour cannot protect the human body from the effect of the impact of the bullet, it stops the penetration of the bullet but the energy resulting from the impact still travels through the vest to hit the internal organs and creates what it called “Blunt Trauma”.

Today’s generation of body armour can provide varying levels of protection to defeat most common low- and medium-energy handgun rounds. Body armour designed to defeat rifle fire is of either semi rigid or rigid construction, typically incorporating hard materials such as ceramics and metals.

Selecting the Appropriate Level of Protection

When selecting body armour, it is important it fits correctly and you have the correct level of ballistic protection. The weight and bulk of body armour are generally proportional to the level of ballistic protection it provides.

Armour Classifications for Ballistic-Resistant Armour

Concealable body Armour

The most common type of body armour is the protective undergarment, which means the body armour that is worn under clothing. These garments are comfortable, lightweight, do not restrict movements, and are available in a variety of designs.

Typical male and female undergarment body armour garments are designed to provide full front, side, and rear protection. Some protective undergarments come with special pouches that allow additional ballistic protection by inserting armour panels, commonly known as “trauma packs,” in the front and, in some cases, the rear.

Semi-rigid body armour

Body armour that provides protection against higher threat levels (III and IV) are semi-rigid armour as they have material such as steel, ceramic, or plastic, reinforced with some type of woven ballistic material.

Rigid-body armour

Rigid body armour is composed of moulded ballistic material, designed to cover certain portions of the body. Rigid body armour is perhaps the most restrictive of body movement and is also difficult to conceal.

One must routinely inspect and check the health of the body armour to make sure it is not damaged or has cuts in it.

The body armour must be checked even at the interior level to make sure that the inside pallets did not cause internal cuts of the fibres.

When caring for hard armour, it is important to remember that hard body armour, particularly ceramic material, must be handled carefully because it is fragile. Ceramic materials—such as boron carbide, aluminium oxide, or silicon carbide—are extremely brittle. Such armour should not be dropped on hard surfaces and, when used, the ceramic must serve as the striking (exterior) surface. It should also be inspected before each use to ensure that no surface cracks are present that would degrade ballistic performance.

Female journalists have noted problems with the standard-issue body armour. Mainly too-long plates, too-wide shoulders and too-square configurations of the vests lead to uncomfortable pressure points and potentially dangerous gaps.

Taking and breaking cover in open ground:

  • The first thing you should do is go to ground and crawl into static cover. Do not kneel in cover, get as close to the ground as you can, make sure you can feel your chest coming into contact with the ground and cover your head with your hands.
  • Avoid taking cover where there has recently been a firer or fire position.
  • Remember outgoing fire attracts incoming fire.
  • If you need to observe what is going on, never look over the top of the cover, but around the side of the cover.
  • Never break cover in a group, do it individually and break cover sharply from a prone position and not a standing position.
  • Never photograph directly behind a firer but always at an adjacent angle, preferably in cover.

Grenade Attack

  • If a grenade lands near directly drop to the ground feet facing the grenade, and cover your head keeping your elbows in to protect your armpits open your mouth to absorb the overpressure do not hold your breath.
  • Do not pick it up and throw it.
  • Do not try and kick the grenade away.
  • Do not attempt to run.
  • After 30 seconds if no explosion, crawl to a safe area and notify the appropriate authorities.
  • Lethal range 15 metres.
  • Do not go back to the area, and prevent others from doing so.

Man, portable missile/rocket systems

This type of weapon system is small enough to be carried by a single person, and fired whilst held on one’s shoulder or rested on the ground. The word missile in this context is used in its original broad sense, which encompasses the guided missile system (Dragon) and unguided rockets (RPG).

If near a person using shoulder launched weapons they should be very careful that they are not within 360 degree’s (100m) of the firing position or the rear danger zone area of the weapon especially being aware of Back Blast.

Heavy Weapons

Mortars – Light, Medium & Heavy

A mortar is an indirect fire weapon, which can fire projectiles at short and long-range targets.

A mortar is relatively simple and easy to operate. A modern mortar consists of a tube into which an operator drops a shell, which is usually referred to as a bomb or round. The tube is generally set between 45 and 85 degrees angle to the ground, with the higher angle giving shorter firing distances.

The shell contains a quantity of propellant. When it reaches the base of the tube it hits a firing pin, which detonates the propellant and fires the shell. Some larger calibre mortars have a string-operated firing pin instead of a fixed one.

Types of Mortars:

Light mortars move faster and are more responsive than medium or heavy mortars. Effective range

750 metres.

Medium and heavy mortars ammunition is heavy, but they are more destructive. Effective range 5650 metres

Heavy mortars usually need vehicles to move on the battlefield. Effective range 6800 metres.

Mortars are fired at targets in the open and in cover:

  • Persons on open ground
  • Persons in buildings
  • Stationary vehicles
  • Any heavy weapons platform (mortars, artillery that is static)


Types and Tactics

An artillery shell can be discharged from battle tanks and rocket launchers systems, or from smaller portable mortars or even battleship armaments. The most common mortars have a range of about 6 km, whereas other types of artillery can have a range of up to 50 km. In terms of tactics basic distinctions can be made between ‘unpredicted or saturation fire’, ‘predicted fire’ and ‘forward observed controlled fire’.

Unpredicted or salvo fire

This is inaccurate fire and which ‘saturates’ an area with shells or ‘cluster bombs’ which scatter hundreds of smaller ‘Or it can be the result of a deliberate tactic, such as an ‘artillery barrage’ or so- called ‘carpet bombing’.

Predicted fire

This means that the artillery crew is aiming on the basis of calculations from a map, with no capacity to adjust to a specific target.

‘Observed’ artillery fire/air attack

‘Observed’ fire means that there are one or more observers who watch where shells/rockets/bombs land, and relay directions for more accurate targeting to the firing crew. There are two commonly used techniques to adjust artillery fire on to the target: ‘walking towards you’ and ‘bracketing’.

In both cases the observer first directs the artillery crew to a ‘firing line’ – an imaginary line between the observer and the target – and then closes in on the target. In ‘walking towards you’ the shells get successively closer to the target. In ‘bracketing’, the shells are fired alternately before and beyond the target with the ‘bracket’ getting smaller and smaller.

If you are the target, or very close to it, and alert, you will realise it as the shells start coming closer to you. You may not be the target but in the firing line, in which case the shelling may shift its focus elsewhere. But while the crew is adjusting you may still be hit. With ‘observed fire’ there is a shorter or longer time interval in which you may be able to get yourself out of the firing line.

Risk Reduction

  • Try not to locate yourself near likely military targets such as airfields, military barracks, fuel depots, official buildings, or strategic crossroads, rail heads, power stations, radio and TV buildings, etc.
  • If you are in a town of strategic military value that is likely to come under fire, move location.
  • When on high ground or mountainous areas avoid satellite yourself on high ground where you will be exposing yourself to observers.
  • Do not locate yourself with opposition forces even if you think you have not been observed. Forward observers on the ground might have seen a fire on the roof or detected the use of electronic equipment and the electric magnetic bloom coming from the building, from which they can triangulate your potion and fire munitions accurately onto your location.

Reaction to artillery and mortar fire

    • Take immediate cover: If in the open, immediately drop to the ground and crawl into protective cover. If in a building again drop the floor, move away from windows and seek structural and good overhead protection and corners of room or under staircases.
    • Exposure to blast can damage your eardrums: Remember to cover your ears with your hands and keep your mouth slightly open.
  • Always wait until firing has stopped before moving out of protective cover.
  • If there is a present threat, wear your protective gear: It will possibly save your life!
  • While driving: Either try to accelerate and try to get out of the kill zone, although this is a risky tactic as artillery and mortar rounds can cover wide areas. It is better to immediately abandon your vehicle and run or crawl into protective cover. Again make sure the attack is over until getting back into your vehicle, remember a forward observer might be watching your vehicle.

Small arms and heavy weapons safety distances