If you’re planning to work in sensitive areas, hostile environments or remote locations you need to prepare – this involves making sure you have the right equipment, the right local knowledge and the right training.
The demand from employers for access to these places often means that staff step into situations they don’t fully understand or worse, corners are cut to meet budgets. The results can be disastrous. Finding the right guide or fixer is invaluable but you also have to understand the factors that will affect you when you get there. Dealing with problems as they arise, navigating cultural differences and knowing what to do if it all goes wrong are not something you can’t leave to chance.
Numerous companies now exist to help you arm yourself with the knowledge needed to get the job done as safely as you can. One of the best is TYR Solutions, headed by Steve Cook. Steve has a degree in Risk and Security Management, a distinguished background in military and law enforcement and extensive media experience. This has attracted countless government, corporate and media clients to his books over the years.
What does TYR Solutions do?
We are a media and NGO focused risk mitigation company, that provides a number of solutions from pre-travel preparation and briefings, hostile environments training to secure tracking and on the ground consultancy.
What is hostile environment training?
The aim is to raise peoples awareness when working in such environments, people think hostile environments are always conflict areas, but it’s not, varying environments and natural disasters also have a number of risks and threats.
What does the course cover?
The course is split 50/50 between security/safety and medical related subjects. Security and safety covers subjects like: Planning and Risk Assessment, weapon awareness, personal safety, unarmed defence, communication security, mine awareness and covering riots and protests
On the Medical side we take students up to a trauma level, starting at the basics of DR C ABC, our course also includes environmental risks and threats, prevention of diseases, venomous animals, stress and introduction to TRiM (Trauma Risk Management)
All students will receive a HABC accredited level 3 in First Aid Response, level 2 in CPR/AED and level 2 in Medical intelligence.
Why is it vital that those working in dangerous or sensitive areas attend hostile environment training?
The course educates individuals allowing them to be more aware, empowered and to be in control while on assignments. It’s vital so that people know they are prepared prior to going into a potential challenging environment. It also raises their awareness while working in such situations.
What kind of people attend your courses?
All types of media, from freelance photojournalists, tv news gathering, tv and film production and NGO’s
Are enough fixers receiving this kind of training?
No, fixers are one group of the industry that are not often included in training. While organisations have a duty of care to their staff, freelance journalists and fixers are often forgotten about. We are accountable for all our staff while working on assignments.
Hostile environment training can prepare you for difficult situations on the ground but how important is it to combine this with a good, reliable fixer?
It’s essential that the fixer is good… without a good fixer you’re really having a shot in the dark unless you’ve got good local knowledge yourself. It’s also extremely important that we understand and respect cultural differences. I’ve seen misunderstanding and cultural insensitivity lead to the loss of stories but more importantly put people in harms way.
Training can make all the difference in staying focussed under fire or in potentially lethal situations but can you think of any examples of normal, untrained/semi-trained fixers showing extreme bravery or resilience?
I remember a situation when I was in Iraq. Its as much a story about the bravery and resilience of our fixers as it is a lesson about maintaining good relationships with them. I was conducting training sessions for local staff with another British guy. We were training them to provide local assets to a corporate organisation such as security, medical capability, advanced driving – that sort of thing.
The other instructor wasn’t teaching quite as he should and generally failed to show the trainees due respect. The local staff had complained, causing me to have words with him. On completion of the course we went on a live training exercise. While our client was conducting interviews on the ground our local staff were monitoring the situation in the area. They were approached by local policeman who demanded to buy us for kidnap (to ultimately claim a ransom) – something common at the time.
I didn’t know why at that time but when our clients job was done I noticed that the local staff were very on edge. I kept quiet, just got in the car and left. We all settled in for the night at base but I knew them well enough to see that something was seriously wrong. When they told me what had happened I was stunned and asked them why they didn’t give me away… they told me that I was like a brother, I had worked hard for them, trained them and treated them with respect. They had told the police to get lost or they’d kill them.
I was pretty angry that they hadn’t told me but at the same time humbled when they said, “… if the other instructor was there, we’d be rich men by now”. This seemed to me to be a good indication of how to treat local staff.
What message would you want to share from this?
You have to use the right people, for the right job going into the right area. You have to have a good relationship with the people you’re working with. In some countries fixers will work just to make money and may not be the right person, if you treat them badly they’ll just drop you in it.
How can you know if the fixer you’ve found is up to the job?
Prior to committing to someone you have to do due diligence. Most people find people through word of mouth or recommendation at the moment but we’ve seen examples (especially in Syria) of fixers selling out people they’ve known for years. Recommendation, knowledge and ability of what you want to achieve are key. You have to select your fixer for his knowledge and his ability to work in areas. He has to be the right person for the area or you’ll put yourself or your fixer in danger. It sounds like common sense but i know its often failed.
Cost, lack of planning and over keenness to get into an environment are reason for choosing the wrong people. When major networks took a step back in Syria it created a vacuum whereby freelancers could operate and they employed fixers based purely on cost or because they could simply communicate with them (language wise). I know fixers who in some cases will create a cheap price to attract business which quickly develops as they add extras to the bill. Securing pricing early on for things like fuel, food and transport is a good idea.
What are your plans for TYR in the future?
To continue to support media and NGO’s in aspects of safety, also to support and be part of future projects to keep people safe while working in challenging environments.
Learn more about Steve and TYR Solutions at: http://www.tyr-solutions.com