Safety Handbook for Journalists

1. Operational Self-Sufficiency

In this section, journalists will receive a better understanding of equipment needed and the equipment checklists. Journalists will learn how to be self-sufficient in all environments.

Journalists’ preparation should start well in advance before being deployed, where possible. They should be aware of their physical condition, health issues, and personal status in general. It is extremely dangerous for journalists suffering with certain illnesses or diseases to travel to an area where it is required to make great physical efforts.

So before any deployments, the following steps need to be taken into consideration:

  • Health: A journalist should complete a medical and dental check-up before and after returning from a conflict zone.
  • Food and water: It is important to know that food and water indigenous to some areas might cause health problems (even in hotels). Always carry bottled water, energy bars etc.
  • Sleep: it has been proven scientifically that people who lack sleep or who have been deprived of sleep can make wrong decisions and judgments. Always ensure you are well rested, and have a sleeping shift system in place.
  • Hygiene: Being deployed in remote areas does not mean the journalists can neglect hygiene. In a non-hygienic environment a person’s health can deteriorate rapidly.
  • Stress: Journalists should have the capacity to handle stress in hostile environments. One of the best methods to manage stress is to do some physical exercises. This helps the body to release endorphins, which help to make the person calm at least two hours after exercise. Being in a hostile environment is very different in a low risk area; habits and routines should change accordingly.
  • Awareness: there are risks associated with any given environment. The key is to remain aware of the nature of the risks, their levels and changes, in order to react accordingly. 
  • Low profile: criminals or terrorists are more likely to target overtly wealthy individuals and obvious foreigners, rather than those who give the impression of being familiar with their surroundings. A low profile and a look of confidence will reduce the risk of being targeted.
  • Unpredictable routine: Hostile agents favour targets with predictable routines. Individuals who vary their day-to-day routines are less likely to be targeted.
  • Layers of protection: no single measure can guarantee security protection. Good personal security involves layers of protection.

Personal Equipment:

A journalist must take the appropriate time and be methodical in their personal preparations:

  • Clothing: Journalists should take into consideration the surrounding environment and have clothing that helps in keeping the temperature of the body stable. Consider local clothing to blend in with the community. Journalists, particularly females, should be culturally aware with regard to clothing.
  • Footwear: Pair of well-broken in, comfortable, water-resistant boots, which give good ankle support and are flexible with good tread, is essential in all environments.
  • Military Equipment: Do not dress in military equipment or carry military bags otherwise individuals may be mistaken for military combatants.
  • Tracking Device: In a highly volatile environment, a journalist might consider having tracking GPS devices updated every 5 minutes.
  • Grab Bag or Go Bag: There are many occasions when journalists may have to extract from a position for safety reasons. Minutes and seconds can be the difference between life and death in these circumstances. A grab bag should always be at arm’s reach, in case of an emergency evacuation.


The Grab Bag should contain the following:

  • Sleeping bag and mat.
  • Mosquito Net.
  • 24 Hr Food Rations.
  • 72 Hrs Sterile Water.
  • Fire Lighting Equipment.
  • Head Torch and Spare Batteries.
  • Spare Phone and Camera Batteries.
  • Solar Battery Charger.
  • Multitool Or Pocket Knife.
  • Warm and Waterproof Clothing.

Personal equipment to be carried at all times:

  • Navigational Equipment.
  • Personal First Aid kit.
  • Communications Equipment.
  • Camera and Recording Equipment.
  • Passport and Visa.
  • Food and Drink.
  • Flight/travel tickets.
  • Local and International Currency.
  • Press Identification.
  • Head Torch.
  • Dummy Wallet and Money belt.
  • Body Armour and Helmet.

Editors and managers responsibilities

Responsibilities: Field Managers (e.g. Producer, Bureau chief)

  • Assess risk to field staff according to company policy and provide risk assessments for editorial staff.
  • Monitor deployed crews, withdrawing them if they have ceased to be effective or in immediate danger.
  • Monitor mental and physical fitness for the task at hand.
  • Promotion of good teamwork.
  • Responsible for safety equipment and briefings.

Responsibilities: Team Field Managers

  • Ensure that the group operates according to the organisation’s safety policy.
  • Ensure proper use of safety equipment and procedure.
  • Correctly handover safety information to relieving crews.
  • Ensure the story does not outweigh the current risk assessed.
  • Maintain crew emergency procedures (e.g. casualty evacuation) and internal communications.
  • Provide final decision making on team safety decisions.

Formal Incident Reporting

All incidents, no matter how negligible, should be reported to line management. To construct proper safety policy, we must draw lessons from experiences shared within the organisation.

Regional Specialisation

Always utilise the skills of an organisation’s staff to formulate areas of specialisation wherever possible. Language skills should be seen as particularly valuable.

There is often too much reliance on local fixers who might know local conditions but are unlikely to be experts in safety and may not have a great understanding of the editorial and safety requirements.

Operating with fixers and local staff

  • Always respect fixers and local employees.
  • Do not compromise your local staff; they have to stay there after you leave.
  • Treat them as you would expect to be treated.
  • Make sure operational staff have protective equipment as well.
  • Always agree beforehand the amount you are going to pay local staff and fixers and honour this.

Recommendations to Journalists

  • Undergo conflict zone and medical training.
  • Correctly prepare and plan in advance if possible.
  • Make sure you a physically and mentally prepared.
  • Have a communication and reporting plan in place with your employer.
  • Make sure you prepare a proof of life form and will before deployment.
  • Make sure you vet your fixers and drivers and they are in place before deploying.
  • Make sure your computer and phone are clean and secured.
  • Make sure you encrypt all communication and electronic files.
  • Make sure the news desk has a copy of your operational plan and contingency instructions.
  • Avoid using a satellite phone (or any radio frequency-based device) from the same location more than once.
  • Keep the maximum length of any transmission to 5 minutes. Some experts warn that even this could be too long, as instantaneous tracking and attack through Triangulation is possible.
  • Avoid having multiple parties transmit from the same location
  • Many journalists get into difficulties by not doing a basic price cost analysis of conflict zone reporting. Account for your accommodation, fixer/translator, driver and vehicle, bribes, insurance, visa and entry costs.