Safety Handbook for Journalists

4. Travel Safety

On arrival

Pre-departure and on-arrival briefing.

Being aware of the situation in the country the journalist is visiting is critical to reduce the risks. News agencies have to make sure that the procedures are in place to inform their staff and journalists of the general context and the specific security considerations for that specific country, region and area of operations. It is essential that all this information should be viable to journalists before departing and there should be an immediate follow up on arrival.

Preparations before deployment are a joint task and shared responsibility between the journalist and the news agencies. The News agencies have to enable the journalists to have access to information and give them the necessary training. At the same time, the journalist has the responsibility to ensure that they have enough information and they are prepared. Some of the elements that should be considered before deployment include:

  • Health risks and prevention.
  • Risks of crime and violence.
  • Natural disaster risks.
  • Accident risks (e.g. safety concerns about local airlines or boat or bus services).
  • Essential telephone numbers (office, mobile phones of key staff, medical facilities, the police, and key embassies).

Ideally you have a map of the city with clearly defined key locations (including office and hotel). If maps are not readily available, open sources such as Google Earth may provide sufficient geographical information.

The information that is not subject to rapid change can be used in a pre-departure briefing note. However, sensitive pieces of information should not be displayed if it can jeopardise the safety of the journalist. The essential phone numbers and contact information should not only be stored on your digital equipment as the battery may run out or might get stolen.

On deployment, sometimes it is preferable to use taxis rather than using an agency vehicle. Yet it is of utmost importance to use reliable taxi operators, if it is not available try to get a list of trusted taxi drivers used previously by other peers or agencies. Do not use the same driver repetitively, do not give any personal or journey details to the driver.

Travel and movement security

Journalists should know that road accidents, carjacking, banditry and other vehicle-based attacks are by considered the most common causes of death and injury among travellers in foreign countries.

Vehicle choice

The choice of the vehicle can have a direct impact on the safety and security of the journalist. The type of vehicle can draw attention to the journalist. It is important to use a vehicle that blends-in with the local vehicles. If travelling to remote locations it is essential to have the correct vehicle.

Vehicle safety

Having a vehicle that is in a good working order increases your safety. Journalists should have basic knowledge about vehicle equipment. In addition, the journalist should check that the vehicle is sufficiently equipped with: water, oil and fuel levels, tyres in good condition, seat belts installed and used, and other essential equipment (jack, spare tires, first aid kit etc.).

Make sure that the driver checks the vehicles daily. Vehicles must be cross-checked before any vehicle movement and that the mechanics are good.

Vehicle Exterior

  • Check the vehicles upper body for any damage and report any found:
  • Cracked / damaged lenses
  • Door handles operation
  • Mirrors
  • Outer Tyre walls & tread
  • Tyre Pressures
  • Wheel nuts
  • Wiper Blades
  • Check the vehicles under-side for any damage to the following & report any faults:

Vehicle Interior:

  • Dashboard Warning Lights
  • All light controls
  • Washer / Wipers
  • Air-Con
  • Fans
  • Seatbelt damage & security
  • Central Locking
  • Communications Check
  • Handbrake operation
  • Med Pack
  • Breakdown Equipment
  • Rations and water

Vehicle parking procedure:

  • Always park in well-lit parking areas.
  • Select a parking zone with 24 hours guarded parking.
  • Always check your car after an overnight or long stay at any location.
  • Do not “nosey park”. Always reverse into a parking space because if you have to leave in a hurry it is a lot easier to drive straight out of a parking space than to reverse.

Safe driving

Safe driving is the main dynamic in vehicle movement. There are a number of factors that influence safe driving techniques. Animals, cyclists and local population may all share main roads with vehicles, roads may be under repair may not be marked and roads may not be lit at night; rural tracks may be muddy, and mountain roads dangerous; all these factors constitute a real challenge.


Unless an extreme emergency (for example where there is crossfire), at all times speed limits must be respected at all times. Risk of road collisions increases with speeding and reckless driving.

Seat belts

Seat belts should always be worn and the exception to this rule is only in those circumstances where a quick exit from the vehicle may be in order. Some people suggest that you stand out in many countries if you’re seen wearing a seatbelt. The choice is yours and so make sure that you have appropriately identified such indications.

Driving at night

Only essential travel should take place during night hours in conflict zones, since risks of ambushes and kidnapping increase and road safety and observation decreases.


Before self-driving in hostile regions think of:

  • Language barrier between you and locals should an incident occur;
  • Lack of area knowledge – could end up driving into a dangerous area unknowingly;
  • Accident procedures – dealing with the local police;
  • You are unaware of what is normal or abnormal in the area;
  • Dealing with local authorities or military;
  • Passing through checkpoints.


Advantages of working with local drivers:

  • They are familiar with local security and geographical locations.
  • Know the local checkpoints and high-risk areas.
  • Language and cultural and negotiation skills.
  • Will have an idea how to manage an incident when it happens.
  • They are aware of local driving policy and best practice.
  • They will know escape routes and fuel stations.

Drivers should have:

  • A valid driving licence.
  • Language skills (essential or desirable).
  • Good eyesight (this should be tested).
  • Driving experience in urban and rural areas and a good driving record.
  • Technical competence in maintenance and repair (test this).
  • Ability to drive in difficult terrain and in undisciplined traffic (test this too).
  • Map reading and use of navigation aids.
  • Reliability. Establish the credentials of the individual and their possible networks. A social or character reference is a good means of establishing reliability.
  • Journalists might consider in some circumstance’s other factors such as ethnic identity, age, temperament, analytical and observational skills and local knowledge of the area of operation.
  • Simulation training should be carried out prior to deployment on: actions on aerial attack, mined areas, armed robbery on the road, checkpoints management, journey planning.

Communications while travelling

Mobile phones are generally used for vehicle movement communications, this is all well and good as long as you can get a signal, and your battery lasts the journey, so always carry a car charger and spare batteries.

Satellite phone as a backup if you lose a GSM signal, they automatically switch to satellite communication.

Report lines during your trip should require that there are pre-designated spots on the map where you communicate back to the news desk. This will give the office team an idea of your travel movements and last known reported location, especially if you get lost or abducted. At least they would have a starting point and potential search area to look for you.


Be aware if you are travelling with an armed escort that your profile will be highlighted and the risk of attack could increase. On the other hand, it could deter an attack.

Journey planning

  • Route selection and security: When you travel by vehicle you are vulnerable to attack, especially in high-risk areas, especially if the route is unsecured.
  • Pre departure checks
  • Check serviceability of vehicle and seat belts
  • Keep doors always locked also make sure tail gate doors are locked on SUV vehicles, get into habit of locking them (brief driver)
  • Any attractive items placed out of sight (Laptop, cameras, Tripod etc.)
  • Route card and map ready to hand
  • Program Coordinates into GPS do not enter names encode all location in case the gps is taken off you and you have sensitive locations programmed into your devise which can be used against you i.e. military locations.

Route selection

  • This can be done in coordination with your local driver well in advance of vehicle movement.
  • Pre-plot your intended route on Google Earth and send it to the news desk by email so they have your intended route. 
  • Also, you can plot your reporting lines on Google Map for communication purposes so the news desk knows you have reached certain locations on route.
  • Do a map study to select the best route and avoidance of dangerous routes.
  • Avoid roads where IEDs have been laid or potential IED placement locations.
  • Research all alternate routes if possible.
  • Avoid routine with timings and route selection.
  • Confidentiality of times and dates (especially with the local drivers).
  • Use the correct vehicle for the journey.
  • Select the safest not shortest route.
  • Remain alert throughout the journey.
  • If the threat is high make sure that work colleagues know your route and timings.
  • Estimate travel times and distances, and plan the journey so that you arrive well before nightfall or curfew hours.
  • Emergency options: are there alternative routes, or safe places where you might get help or find sanctuary? Where is the nearest medical facility?
  • Establish a monitoring system: with the news desk by using report lines which are geographically positioned on your map. Use code words or coded phrases if necessary when communicating over unsecured communications.

Security procedure en route

If you are a staff journalist, another media worker or other individual should be driving.

  • Keep all doors and windows locked – you are especially vulnerable when static.
  • When static in high threat locations the driver should stay inside the vehicle with the engine on ready to leave in the case of an incident.
  • Keep a two-car distance away from the vehicle in front and do not follow military convoys; they are a target.
  • Be aware of ploys (vehicle crashes into you, illegal road blocks etc.); anything that will tempt you to get out of the vehicle
  • Sensory deprivation: Do not use headphones with music in the vehicle as you should be aware and observing all the time.
  • One of your best defences in a vehicle is the use of your mirrors.
  • Be vigilant at junctions where people loitering close to edge of the road
  • Ignore beggars and road sellers etc.; keep windows up and just keep driving
  • Keep an eye on your navigation at all times – know where your nearest safe haven is located
  • Keep the journey plan confidential if there is a risk of targeted attack.
  • Estimate travel times rather than distances and plan the journey so that you arrive well before nightfall or curfew hours. Build in time for local inquiries, e.g. about the risk of mines. Anticipate possible delays. You can then indicate estimated departure time, arrival time and return time.
  • It is always useful to have a team briefing in which the journey plan is reviewed and discussed. A returning team should be debriefed on any changes in the route taken.
  • Keep track of distances using the mileage counter. If the security situation allows, consider using a tracker device to track the route and your news agency knows your whereabouts.