Planning for Specific Physical Risks

What is it and why does it matter?

Even for the most experienced journalists, there may be new risks you’re faced with on a new assignment. Preparing for and knowing the risks beforehand are critical, and can save time, stress, and minimize the potential of harm. Even if you’ve done active conflict, a natural disaster or protest might pose new challenges, and vice versa. A bit of advance knowledge could save you stress, danger and help you get on with the job.

Key elements

First and foremost, know what you’re getting into. By doing your risk assessment you’ll have a done a bit of research on the place you’re going and the risks you’re likely to face. Now’s the time to learn a bit more about what that means.
Natural Disasters

  • Have torch, batteries, proper protective, clothing for environment & weather (reflective gear if appropriate), water tablets, medications, compass, knife, wet wipes for bathing, water, food(energy bars, nuts, MREs). Do not expect these to be provided or available.
  • Always make sure equipment/SAT phones are charged, take additional batteries.  Know how to operate generator if needed.
  • Do not interfere with relief and rescue workers, and do not cross police lines.
  • Follow warnings of authorities and disaster experts. Always check imminent weather.
  • Keep adequate communication regarding status and plans with editors/news desk. Provide local contacts in case you go missing.
  • Do not touch fallen cables or cables near water sources, or canisters that may contain hazardous materials.
  • Avoid standing under trees or reporting from unstable platforms/locations.
  • Refrain from smoking, and do not switch engines on or use cell phones is you smell gas or sewer odors. Leave area on foot ASAP in this case.


Tear Gas

  • Tear gas is generally used as a spray or shot from a baton gun as a grenade canister. Being hit at close range with grenades can and have resulted in death.
  • Expected reaction: Streaming tears and burning of eyelids and through, gagging, coughing, dizziness, disorientation
  • Avoid presence of teargas if you have respiratory disease/concerns
  • Oil-based creams, sunscreens, and make up absorb and retain tear gas, avoid wearing if possible.
  • Protective options order of effectiveness: Gas Masks, escape hoods, builder’s respirator masks, dust mask + airtight goggles. Take note of possible export licenses needed for each when traveling.
  • Myths & methods to be avoided: Using an apple cider vinegar, charcoal, lemon juice, or water soaked cloth over the mouth, toothpaste under the eyes, sniffing a freshly cut onion
  • If teargased: Cover mouth with plain cloth if no other protection, move to high ground and out of approaching clouds. Shower (not bath) exposed skin thoroughly with soap and water, avoid rubbing eyes and face. Wash all exposed clothing, clean equipment.


Presence of Weapons

  • Knowledge dispels fear. Know if you are a target, the exact details of situation, always be on your toes and aware.
  • Know types of weapons and bullets, their effects, and what will and won’t stop them.
  • Have knowledge of appropriate, necessary ballistic vests, helmets, and other protective gear.
  • Journalists should never carry a weapon, or take photos of themselves or colleagues doing so.
  • If under fire: Assess situation. Find cover, get down, don’t run, but move to another position/location if necessary.
  • Crossing open ground
    • Move fast, keep low. Take management 50 meter bursts at a time, then get low and rest if possible.
    • Keep reserve of energy, avoid overextending yourself.
    • Maintain control of equipment and team, decide if better to run together or individually.
  • Possible threats:
    • Direct small arms fire
      • Pistols – effective range of 30 meters
      • Assault rifles – 300-400 meters
      • Machine gun – 600-800 meters
      • RPG – 300 meters

Safety Precautions for Women 

  • Sexual violence against female journalists is a risk in come areas, as an intimidation tactic and or more broadly a cultural habit. Know if this is a risk in the areas you are working, and prepare accordingly. This includes notifying your editors of the risk and pushing them to provide you with proper protective resources.
  • Get self defense training.
  • Crowds can be especially dangerous for sexual violence. Be aware of this at all times, always make sure that you are constantly aware of your surrounding/is anyone is watching or following you. Always have a plan of escape and how exit the area if need be.
  • In areas risky for women in this regard, never work alone. Try to have ‘bodyguard’ figure with you, work with male colleagues, etc. Just make sure that someone can keep an eye on you while you work.
  • Mace, power knives and stun guns can be tempting to have, however be calculated in whether they are appropriate. Self defense weapons like these can easily be taken and used against you. Prioritize investment in physical self defense skills.
  • Dress for the culture, blend in as much as possible. In places where sexual violence/harassment is high risk:
    • Tight pants can be harder to pull off. Keep rear covered with long shirt or similar.
    • Wear strong leather belt, flipped inward for difficult removal.
    • Wearing a one-piece bathing suit can also deter/delay attackers, giving more opportunity to possibly escape.
    • Sports bras flatten breasts to help avoid attention, and can be difficult to remove like the bathing suit.
    • A stab vest can be helpful for assault protection.
    • A scarf can be worn to cover hair is needed, however keep it loosely wrapped. Perpetrators have use scarves to choke, drag women. A baggy beanie or hat to cover hair is a better option.
    • Avoid button down shirts, as they can be removed easier.


Additional Resources