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Artwork: Jack Forbes

Basic preparedness: Risk assessment

September 10, 2018 7:00 AM ET

Decisions journalists make in the field have direct bearing on their safety and that of others. The risks inherent in covering war, political unrest, and crime can never be eliminated, but careful planning and risk assessment can mitigate the dangers.

Written risk assessments should document the dangers a journalist may be exposed to, assess how to mitigate those risks, and include a contingency plan. If done correctly, a risk assessment serves not only journalist , but anyone nominated to assist him or her if something goes wrong. An assessment should be prepared for any potentially dangerous assignment and revised frequently. Each assessment should be tailored to a particular situation.

Risks to identify may include:

  • Battlefield hazards in conflict zones, such as small arms fire, aerial bombardment, artillery fire, landmines, booby traps, and unexploded ordnance.
  • Terrorist attacks, such as suicide bombs, gunmen, knife attacks, vehicular attacks, sieges, or terrorists directly targeting journalists.
  • Kidnapping for ransom or political objectives.
  • Crowd disorder, including teargas, missiles, rubber bullets, kettling, mob attacks, or sexual assault.
  • Criminal risk such as petty crime or violent assault.
  • Digital security, including risks to safety of data or protection of sources.
  • Government or non-state actor intimidation.
  • Long-term threats to the journalist, as well as sources, contributors, and local staff (fixers/drivers).
  • Environmental and health factors such as natural disasters or vaccination requirements.

A risk assessment should take into consideration:

  • The medical capability of the team.
  • Any training required for a particular deployment. Appropriate and up-to-date hostile environment and first aid training are crucial.
  • A clear and detailed evacuation map and plan that is agreed on in advance or on arrival.
  • Equipment, particularly personal protective equipment.
  • A well-established communication infrastructure that includes a clear and appropriate check-in, a point of contact, and an emergency call-in procedure.
  • Appropriate insurance coverage tailored to the level of risk. The policy should be shared with your point of contact or next of kin.


For additional information and risk assessment templates, visit CPJ's Resource Center.

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