1. Be physically and mentally prepared. Go on a Hostile Environment course that includes basic first aid training before your assignment if at all possible.
2. Most conflict zones require an ability at least to run, hike and endure discomfort. Ensure appropriate jabs and carry basic medical kit with clean needles. Wear internationally recognised bracelet with caduceus symbol and record of allergies, blood group etc. If in a conflict area with US forces, consider writing your blood group on
your boots – that’s what American troops do, so thats where their medics would look first.
3. Know the background of the people and place of assignment and of the dispute. Learn a few useful phrases in the local language, most essentially foreign press or journalist. Know the meaning of local gestures that might be important.
4. Do not move alone in a conflict zone. If travelling by road, use a safe and responsible driver with knowledge of terrain and trouble spots. Identify your vehicle as media unless that would attract attack. Travel in close convoy if possible. Do not use military or military-type vehicles unless accompanying a regular army patrol. Make sure your vehicle is sound, with plenty of fuel. In hot conditions check tyre pressures regularly as a blow-out can be disastrous. Know how to change a tyre and ensure the spare is roadworthy.
5. Think twice about moving across open, or poorly covered ground, with troops. Snipers are unlikely to distinguish between combatants and reporters.
6. Seek the advice of local authorities and residents about possible dangers before travelling. Check the road immediately ahead at safe intervals. Inform your headquarters and colleagues remaining at base of where you are going, your intended ETA and expected return. Check in frequently. Beware of carrying maps with markings that might be construed as military.
7. Meet unfamiliar contacts in public places and tell your office or trusted colleague your plans. Try not to go alone into potential danger. Plan a fast and safe way out before you enter a danger zone.
8. Never carry a weapon or travel with journalists who do. Be prudent in taking pictures. Seek the agreement of soldiers before shooting images. Know local sensitivities about picture-taking.
9. Carry picture identification. Do not pretend to be other than a journalist. Identify yourself clearly if challenged. If working on both sides of a front line never give information to one side about the other.
10. Carry cigarettes and other giveaways as sweeteners. Stay calm and try to appear relaxed if troops or locals appear threatening. Act friendly and smile.
11. Carry emergency funds and a spare copy of your ID in a concealed place such as a money belt. Have a giveaway amount ready to hand over.
12. Keep emergency phone numbers at hand, programmed into satellite and mobile phones, with a key 24/7 number on speed dial if possible. Know the location of hospitals and their capabilities.
13. Familiarise with weapons commonly used in the conflict, their ranges and penetrating power so you can seek out the most effective cover. Know incoming from outgoing. Know what landmines and other ordnance look like. Do not handle abandoned weapons or spent munitions.
14. Stay alert at all times, even after fighting or explosive event. Abandoned or apparently spent munitions can explode at any time. A terror bombing could be followed by a secondary device. Roadside bombs might be planted in rubbish or dead animals. If in doubt – dont go on.
15. NEVER ASSUME – PERIOD. Beware – be very aware – of all military in a war. Many soldiers in combat are poorly trained, young and inexperienced – and very frightened. They will shoot first if they feel at all threatened. Do not assume they know who you are, where you are and what you are doing in the thick of the fighting. Their leaders might but the boys with the big guns might not. Do not assume they can see you clearly, especially through their sights. That camera you raise to your shoulder could be seen as an anti-tank weapon. Hold the camera low when filming approaching tanks and twitchy soldiers.
16. Wear civilian clothes unless accredited as a war correspondent and required to wear special dress. Avoid paramilitary-type clothing. AAvoid carrying shiny objects and exercise care with lenses. Reflections of bright sunlight can look like gun flashes.
17. Be prepared to wear flak jackets, body armour, helmets, gas masks and NBC apparel as appropriate. For demonstrations, use more discreet gear such as hardened baseball-type hats and light undergarment protection.
18. Know your rights, internationally and locally. Know the Geneva cconventions as they relate to civilians in war zones.
19. Journalists who have endured high danger and witnessed dreadful events may experience traumatic stress in later weeks. Do not be embarrassed to seek counselling.
20. Do pass on your advice and experience in the conflict to your colleagues.