B. Staying safe
This section gives information and advice on how to protect yourself and how to deal with situations that threaten your safety.
Please remember that these guidelines are merely advisory and do not supersede instructions, standard operating procedures (SOPs), contingency plans, etc. issued by the security office of your particular mission.
The following topics should be covered in greater depth during safety and security trainings, such as the Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) that you should try to participate in before deployment.
1. At your residence, at work and during recreational time
On mission, daily life and work may be very different from what you are used to at home. This section gives you basic safety instructions and advice on infrastructure at your residence and at work, as well as on how to behave during recreational time.
Residential safety and security: there are some important matters to take into consideration when choosing a residence.
First, choose a safe neighbourhood to move to. Make sure the access routes to and from your residence provide alternatives and avoid dead-end or narrow one-way streets. Check out the parking possibilities, e.g. carports and driveways within fenced or guarded areas. An apartment, especially one above the second floor, presents a more difficult target for criminal intrusion than a house and provides the tenant some degree of anonymity. Perimeter security (e.g. a fence or security guards) can improve the safety of your residence, as can solid doors, grilles on the windows, secure locks, an alarm system, adequate fire safety, emergency exits and safe rooms (if needed).
When you first move into a house or start working in a new environment, use your initiative and common sense to identify hazards. For example, look out for exposed electrical wiring, windows without mosquito mesh, areas where it is easy to slip or fall, hazards from unlabelled bottles or substances, or containers handy for water storage which may have contained pesticides or may be breeding-grounds for mosquitoes. Be aware of fire hazards such as open stoves, open fires or cooking pans, and the use of charcoal fires without adequate ventilation. Make sure that the owner of your apartment or house is legitimate and that you have the proper legal paperwork to rent the place. In
general, the security section of your mission should be consulted in the process of selecting your residence. A specialist engineer should be consulted when selecting accommodation in an earthquake-prone environment.
Recreational time: these rules are obvious, but all too easy to brush aside when other things seem more important. Having survived the mud and potholes on mission, take care during times of leisure. At the seaside, be aware of dangerous currents, undertow or rip-tides, and areas known to have jellyfish, crocodiles or sharks. Stay within your depth unless you are a strong swimmer. Use life jackets for offshore water sports or when using inflatable craft. Never run along the side of a slippery pool; never dive into cloudy water or into a pool of unknown depth. Do not drink alcohol before swimming or diving.
During your rest and recreation, do not lean against any balcony that could be unsafe, especially after drinking alcohol! Some may be less well built than your body. Binge drinking brings many risks ranging from killing yourself – or your friends – in a road accident to contracting HIV because you forgot to take the necessary precautions.
2. Fire safety
Make sure you are familiar with whatever types of fire extinguishers you are provided and how to use them. If possible, you should also have access to a fire blanket.
The five main types of fire extinguisher, and the types of fire they can be used on, are displayed in the diagram below.
Remember: never put water onto boiling oil. It will explode!
In the event that someone catches fire, you should:
- stop, drop and roll them over;
- cover them with a fire blanket, damp sheet or other material;
- try to smother the fire.
In the event of a small fire in a building or vehicle:
- use your fire extinguisher or fire blanket;
- keep your escape route to your back – never let a fire get between you and your exit;
- if one extinguisher doesn’t put the fire out, get out;
- if in doubt, get out;
- call the local emergency services;
- assemble at your designated assembly point.
In the event of a large fire in a building or vehicle:
- keep yourself and others well back from the fire;
- remember: cylinders and compressed gasses can explode in a fire and have been known to travel more than 200 metres;
- never re-enter a burning building.
- make sure you are familiar with your environment;
- know your escape routes;
- have an escape plan.
- nominate a fire warden to take charge in case of fire;
- carry out routine fire safety walks if the building does not have a fire alarm;
- check for fire dangers regularly;
- if you smell smoke, investigate and evacuate;
- if you smell gas, open all windows, ventilate and evacuate;
- agree on an assembly point with your colleagues – a location everyone goes to in the event of an evacuation or emergency;
- know how to call the local emergency services;
- know your address or your location;
- if possible, place battery-operated fire alarms on escape routes and in bedrooms or dormitories.
- check for fire dangers before you go to sleep;
- re-check your escape route.
3. On the road
Road accidents are more likely to harm you than any other incidents on mission. For this reason, it is important that you keep the following in mind at all times:
- never drive after drinking alcohol or taking drugs;
- never drive beyond your capabilities or in dangerous road conditions;
- get a good night’s rest before any long journey and take regular breaks – every two hours if possible;
- drive with a companion and share the driving when covering long distances;
- avoid driving at night if you can;
- maintain a sensible speed, even if you have an urgent appointment;
- always wear a safety belt;
- ensure any vehicle you use is well maintained and regularly serviced;
- select and train any drivers you use with care and thoroughness;
- before taking a trip, familiarise yourself with the appropriate behaviour in case of an accident in your specific mission context;
- keep a first aid kit, gloves and a torch with spare batteries in the vehicle;
- always know the phone numbers for the local emergency services and for the relevant mission personnel;
- wear a crash helmet if riding on a motorbike.
Checkpoints and road blocks
Checkpoints and road blocks are quite similar: a manned position on the road designed to monitor and control movement in a particular area. Checkpoints can be operated by legitimate authorities (e.g. police or military) as legal checkpoints or by illegitimate individuals or groups as illegal road blocks, often set up by local gangs to extort money from passing civilians. When you move into a new area you can expect to be stopped at these control points. As you gain more experience and credibility with the group manning the barrier, you may be allowed to pass unchecked. Never rely on this, however, and always be prepared to stop.
Some checkpoints are well constructed and established for long-term use with sandbagged bunkers, a tent or rest areas, and a clearly visible and raisable barrier across the road. They may well have mines placed across the road for added security. In other cases you may simply encounter a tree or even a branch pulled across the road, with one or two men plying their new-found, lucrative trade as toll collectors.
So how do you deal with checkpoints and road blocks? The following information and advice is valid for legal checkpoints. When approaching illegal checkpoints, consider the advice below, but use your common sense.
- Do not approach a checkpoint that appears to be out of place or hostile. Consider asking your local staff or drivers for their opinion.
- At night, dim your headlights well in advance of the checkpoint so as not to blind the personnel working at the checkpoint. Switch on your inside light so that those inside the vehicle can be seen not to pose a threat. Ensure that any light mounted on top or at the back of your vehicle to illuminate your flag or logo is turned on.
- As you approach a checkpoint, inform your base, slow down, lower the volume of your radio speaker and make no transmissions. Using your communications equipment could raise suspicions. Music should be turned off. Take your sun glasses off. Keep your hands visible.
- Obey any signs or instructions to pull in or stop.
- Be polite, friendly and confident. You should not talk too much, offer cigarettes, etc. This might suggest that you are afraid and could be exploited by the road block personnel. Do not open any doors or windows until you are satisfied that it’s safe to do so.
- Show your ID card if requested. Explain in a friendly way, if asked, where you are going.
- Prepare a short summary of your organisation’s work, but keep it short. In case they insist on checking your vehicle, let them do so.
- Do not be in a rush to continue your journey. Be aware that the road block personnel might be keen to talk or offer advice to you. You could also ask them for useful information on the route ahead or your eventual destination.
- Avoid temptation by ensuring that there are no attractive items such as electronics, sweets, chewing gum or cigarettes visible from the window. Avoid wearing expensive watches.
- Pass through checkpoints one vehicle at a time, maintaining visibility of any other vehicles in your convoy.
- When you leave the checkpoint, contact your base (watchkeepers).
- At illegal checkpoints run by free agents rather than clearly identifiable legitimate personnel, it might be worthwhile stopping before the block itself if you possibly can. Just wait for a while and observe. Is other traffic passing through the road block? How are the occupants of the vehicles being treated as they pass through?
- You could wait for an oncoming vehicle (i.e. one that has passed through the road block) and ask them for advice on whether it is safe to proceed yourself. You could ask your local staff or drivers for their opinion on whether it is safe to proceed. If it does not feel safe, turn back.
An ambush is an attack by assailants in a concealed position. It is an extremely dangerous, life-threatening situation. Avoid travelling in areas where a threat of ambush exists. In most cases, ambushes are deliberate operations, carefully planned and coordinated. Take the following precautions to reduce the risk of being ambushed:
- Avoid travelling close to vehicles that might be targets (e.g. food convoys).
- Avoid travelling at night.
- Avoid routines and patterns of operation where possible.
- If travelling is absolutely necessary, try to travel in a convoy and listen to road safety information from credible sources, if available.
- Consider the use of an armoured vehicle where necessary and wear protective gear or have it available for use.
- If you encounter a deliberate obstacle or a road block and you have time to stop in advance, do so and assess the situation. Withdraw if necessary, or if in doubt. A professional ambush will be situated at a sharp bend in the road or just over the brow of a hill, so that you have no warning. Keep your base (watchkeepers) informed of your movements.
- Be aware of the ‘ground’, especially in high risk areas. Always strive to note possible escape routes by vehicle or on foot. Ask yourself what would be likely terrain for an ambush.
How to react if caught in an ambush?
If you are caught in a deliberate ambush, you are in an extremely dangerous situation. Your options might be limited:
- Stay calm, think quickly, use your common sense.
- You might want to accelerate and race through the site, or reverse, if at all possible. Reversing might be too slow to get away and racing through might not be an option if the road is blocked.
- Do not do anything that could exacerbate the situation further.
- In case you cannot get away, follow the instructions given by the personnel who have ambushed you.
- If possible, call for help and inform your mission headquarters of your location and the incident.
4. Individual protective gear
The flak jacket
If you receive a flak jacket, familiarise yourself with the jacket before you have to use it. It provides a low level of protection for the chest, back and neck, being designed to protect these parts of the body against the effects of blast, shrapnel and splinters of glass, wood, etc. It is not designed to stop a bullet. It is comfortable and light to wear and should be used in conjunction with a helmet.
The ballistic jacket
Ballistic (bullet-proof) jackets offer varying levels of protection. The best can give protection against all known rifle and pistol rounds up to 7.62 mm. They are expensive. They too are designed only to protect certain parts of the body. Additional neck and groin protection options are available. They can come with a large front pocket for your ID cards and first-aid pressure bandages. With the high level of protection comes weight: some 12 kg. At first you will find them very difficult to wear, but you will soon become accustomed to them. There are male and female versions. Make sure that you have the correct version and size, and that you are familiar with the protection level and correct usage. Use the ballistic jacket as follows:
- The back and front collar options, which can be opened and closed, give added protection to your neck and throat.
- Always check to make sure that the ballistic plates are in place. They can be easily removed. One plate is normally curved and should be placed in the front compartment of the jacket.
- The jacket and other safety items are very expensive. You will need to take care of them as best as you can. They are extremely attractive items for thieves.
- The ballistic jacket can save your life. Make sure that it is fully functional and protected from damage or theft.
Helmets are designed to protect the most vulnerable part of the body from blast and shrapnel. They are not normally designed to stop a direct hit from a bullet. Use the helmet as follows:
- The helmet is worn in high-risk areas where flak and ballistic jackets are used.
- Always ensure that the neck strap is securely fastened. Otherwise a jolt will send the helmet flying off your head just when you need it most.
- The helmet takes time to put on and fasten, so don’t wait until it is too late.
- Open the windows of your vehicle a little when wearing the helmet. It restricts your hearing and, with the windows shut, you might not hear the warning sounds of danger.
- Be aware!
Unauthorised possession or carrying of weapons of any kind is a no-go for civilian personnel.
The handling of weapons by civilian crisis managers is not only unnecessarily dangerous, it can irretrievably undermine the image of the mission. This applies whether you use a weapon, possess it or simply pose with it.
Positions occupied by personnel with police or military backgrounds can require the carrying of weapons. If that is the case, carefully check the details with the mission you are deployed to.
5. Mine hazards
When deployed on a crisis management mission, you may be confronted with mine hazards in different ways. Mines or minefields can be leftovers from an earlier conflict. Mines or IEDs are used, for example, to protect property, to pose a threat or even to attack an enemy. This section provides basic information on mines, IEDs, UXO and booby traps and offers some basic advice on dealing with these threats.
There are two types of mines that you need to watch out for: anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines.
Anti-personnel mines (AP mines) are designed to cause injury to people rather than to equipment. They might be laid in conjunction with anti-tank mines or by themselves.
- The pressure mine: a mine that explodes when put under pressure (e.g. by someone stepping on it). It is generally round in shape, 6-10 cm in diameter and 4-6 cm in height. Older types are made of metal, but most modern pressure mines are made of plastic, making them very difficult to detect. They are made to blend into their surroundings, being green, brown, grey, etc. in colour, and – when properly laid – almost impossible to detect visually.
Some exceptions to the classic pressure mine are:
- The wooden or plastic rectangular AP mine: this mine is shaped like a pencil box 14 cm long and 3 cm high.
- The air-delivered AP mine: also known as the ‘butterfly mine’, this mine is shaped like the ‘winged’ seed of an ash tree. You may have seen such seeds spiralling down from a tree in the autumn; they catch the wind and spread out over a wide area. The butterfly mine is shaped in a very similar way and with the same intent. It is dropped from the air and gently spirals down to earth. Thousands may be dropped at a time over large areas. They are normally blue or green, but sometimes come in camouflage colours. These mines look unusual and are attractive to children in particular. Keep well clear of such mines and never attempt to touch, squeeze or pick one up. If you do, it will explode.
- The bounding or jumping mine: this mine can be attached to a trip wire made of very fine metal or nylon wire. You walk into the trip wire and it is pulled taut, thus triggering the mine. Or you touch the mine itself and the pressure triggers it. Once triggered, the mine springs up to about waist height and then explodes, spreading fragments in all directions. These mines have the same dark colours as other AP mines. They are normally partially covered, with just the top sticking out of the ground. On the top, they have a small spike or a number of spikes that set the mine off if touched.
- The fragmentation mine: normally linked to a trip wire, this mine is attached to a wooden or metal spigot and placed in the ground so that the mine remains stationary about 20 cm above the surface. The metal casing of the mine has perpendicular grooves in it, dividing it into neat squares. The surface thus looks very much like a bar of chocolate divided into squares. When it explodes, the casing breaks at the weakest point – along the criss-cross of grooves – and razor-sharp squares of metal fly in all directions.
- The claymore AP mine: though a fragmentation mine, this is shaped somewhat differently. It is convex because it is designed to spread its fragments in a limited direction, or arc, of around 60 degrees. Instead of a casing with chocolate-bar grooves, small metal balls are packed into the explosive and encased in plastic. The mine (the same colour as the others) sits just above the ground on its own set of legs. It can be set off by a trip wire or by an electrical detonation command wire, which can run for a considerable distance away from the AP mine. The person setting off the mine waits in safety for his target to appear, touches the wire to a battery or presses a switch, and off it goes, lacerating its target with high-velocity metal balls.
Anti-tank mines are designed to disable heavy vehicles. They are normally laid in fairly large numbers to achieve their aim. In an active conflict zone you can be fairly sure that mines of this type will be kept under observation. They are valuable weapons and they are protecting valuable routes or objectives.
Do not go too close to such mines. And, obviously, never, for any reason, touch them. In areas where fighting has ceased, the mines may remain in place though their guardians are long gone. Nevertheless, you should not yield to the temptation to interfere with them.
Some important features of anti-tank mines:
- Much larger than anti-personnel mines, with a diameter/length of up to 30 cm (the size of a dinner plate) and a height of up to 11 cm.
- Square or round in shape.
- Made of plastic or metal.
- Coloured the same as AP mines, i.e. dark, camouflaged.
- Detonated by the pressure of a heavy vehicle passing over them (just remember, your vehicle is heavy!)
- Occasionally detonated by a tilt rod sticking out from the top of the mine and sometimes attached to trip wires. Just as these mines are normally watched, they are also further protected by surrounding the area with anti-personnel mines – another good reason to keep away from them.
IEDs – Improvised explosive devices are essentially ‘home-made’. The term covers a range of devices similar to small grenades and anti-personnel mines, which are made up of metal fragments and explosives. However, such self-made explosives do not necessarily have the same shape or size as mines. IEDs are often made of and look like an article of daily use – a small box, a bag or a parcel – and can be triggered either through contact or by remote detonation.
UXO – Unexploded ordnance refers to all types of explosive ordnance/ammunition that did not explode when it was used and that still poses a risk of detonation. This can include all types of explosive weapons, such as bombs, bullets, shells, grenades, etc. All UXO should be treated with extreme caution: even if ammunition has been fired, it can be in a very unstable state and still pose a risk of detonation!
Dealing with mine/IED/UXO threats
Now that you have some idea of what mines are and what they look like, how should you deal with them?
- Contact the Mine Action Service or your mission’s security officer for information on mine threats in your specific mission area.
- Do not touch any mine/IED/UXO – stay well clear of it. If you didn’t put it down, never pick it up.
- Do not use your radio, mobile phone or SATCOM in close proximity (within 100 metres) of a mine unless absolutely necessary. The radio frequency you are using might cause the mine to detonate. This applies to all such devices: booby traps, mines, IEDs and UXO.
- If you come across mines/IEDs/UXO, try to leave some indication to others of their presence. Make sure such a warning is placed at a safe distance from the mined area. Inform other organisations and the local people of the mines’ locations.
- Always seek local advice if moving into a new area or one that has been the scene of recent fighting.
- You should not use a route that is new to you unless you are certain others have used it recently. Try not to be the first to use a road in the morning.
- Remember, mines can be attached to trip wires. Do not even attempt a closer look.
- If you are in the lead vehicle and you spot mines, stop immediately and inform the following vehicle.
- Do not try to turn your vehicle around. Do not get out of your vehicle. Try to drive backwards slowly along the same track you came on.
- Do not be tempted to move onto the verge of the road to bypass obvious mines, to get past some other obstacle or even to allow another vehicle through. A natural reaction at home might well be to pull over on a difficult or narrow road to let a fellow traveller get by. In mined areas, forget it! You should not be polite and pull onto the verge. The verges may contain mines. If necessary, reverse back to a wider area and let the other vehicle pass.
- If a road is obviously blocked by something (for example, a tree or a vehicle) in a likely mined area, do not be tempted to drive onto the verge
or hard shoulder to get by. It could contain mines. Turn back.
- Avoid dangerous areas, such as old front-line positions, barricades, deserted houses in battle zones, attractive areas in deserted villages or towns, country tracks, gardens and cultivated areas (mines may be laid in tempting orchards, vineyards or vegetable plots).
- Make sure you understand local mine-awareness signage and be alert to the presence of uncollected dead livestock or uncultivated lands which may indicate the presence of mines.
- Be on your guard against ‘cleared areas’. An area might be declared to be clear of mines, but you cannot be 100% certain.
Remember, if you identify a mined area or are informed of one, spread the news. Record the information and mark it on your maps.
Actions in a minefield (MINED):
- Movement stops immediately.
- Inform & warn people around you. If you can, contact your base for help, indicating where you are located.
- Note the area. Examine the ground to ensure you are safe where you are, look for tripwires/mines/fuses.
- Evaluate the situation. Be prepared to take control.
- Do not move from your location.
Avoid booby traps!
A booby trap is an outwardly harmless object designed or adapted to kill or injure by exploding unexpectedly when a person disturbs or approaches it. A booby trap can be triggered when you perform an apparently safe act with it (for example, opening a letter or a door, or picking up an attractive article lying on the ground). The device is deliberately disguised as, or hidden inside, a harmless object.
Withdrawing troops may place booby traps in all sorts of places so as to inflict damage on their advancing adversaries. Booby traps may be left on paths, by wells, in houses or just lying in the open and attached to an appealing object.
Do not explore deserted houses, towns or villages. You should not be tempted to snoop around or use the houses to ‘answer the call of nature’. Most importantly, do not touch apparently interesting objects lying innocently on the ground. Just leave them alone.