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Hostile environment training

Lots of LS work in dangerous environments all around the world. I was wondering how many had undergone some kind of formal hostile environment training. And if so what did the course include? how much did it cost and can anyone recommend any in the UK?

by [a former member] at 2006-09-25 21:30:07 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Newport, Wales , United Kingdom | Bookmark | | Report spam→

In the UK as far as I know, there are two main HE training companies – AKE and Centurion.

Both come highly recommended. I did the AKE course and it was very good. A lot of people think its all running around in the woods throwing thunderflashes, but in fact most of it is intensive training in trauma first-aid (the sucking chest wound…nice.) and a practical approach to risk assessment and danger avoidance. Its not gung-ho at all.

Both courses are pretty expensive though. I obtained a bursary from the Rory Peck Trust for freelances, which picks up some of the cost. You need to fill in various eligability forms etc.

One of the first principles they teach you is to have a fairly hard headed analysis of why you’re going to the dodgy place at all, which is advice I think more people on LS ought to think about…but that’s an issue for another thread perhaps.

When I was on the National Union of Journalists London Freelance Branch commitee (exciting eh?), I spent some time with others trying to create a cheaper training course in the UK, more geared to Public Order situations, which many UK freelancers were more likely to confront than warzones in far flung places (For example, a lot of photographers have little idea about their rights if and when they get arrested, or are in a legally threatening situation – a bit of knowledge which helped me out on a job on Sunday morning…)

The public order course was in conjunction with a reputable media training company and a prototype course was laid on before the G8 Summit in Scotland, but future courses were scuppered by various shenanigans which I won’t bore you with.

If you can afford the fees, the Centurion or AKE courses are well worth the money.

by [former member] | 25 Sep 2006 22:09 (ed. Sep 25 2006) | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
On hard headed analyses for going to dodgy places, have a look at this story on TIME’s webpage HERE

I can never get the Time website to run nicely, it always freezes up and this article is nine pages long, but it is a good read. At one point he says, “Why did I risk it? I had scrutinized my motivation for picking up a grenade, but not the reason I had put myself in range of it. My rationale for going to Iraq as a career milestone no longer struck me as truthful. I already had scrapbooks full of big stories and enough money in the bank. I realized that something else had driven me, an old problem of self-worth: I was good because of what I did, not because of who I was. I had important roles as father, brother, lover and son. But without achieving in some material way, I felt empty and unseen. Journalism had provided a regular opportunity to reinvent myself. I had gone to Iraq for another fix.”

by Jon Anderson | 25 Sep 2006 23:09 | Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
I got trained by the military. Been a soldier for some years and spent some “nice” months in Bosnia in the nineties…

Over here in Germany, the german army offers courses for journalists. Vincent Laforet once wrote on SS.com about getting trained in the UK – http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/882

Maybe try those below:
http://www.centurion-riskservices.co.uk/ (that’s where Vincent went)

by Bastian Ehl | 26 Sep 2006 18:09 | Magdeburg, Germany | | Report spam→
Get trained for hostile enviroments can be a total waist of time. In some cases, for much training you have for those enviroments, when your number is up, is up.

by [former member] | 26 Sep 2006 19:09 | Santiago, Chile | | Report spam→
Chris, I did Centurion’s 5-day course in Virginia, USA earlier this year. Worth every second; informative, depressing, entertaining… The instructors kept the interest level up the whole time. It was apparent they enjoy their jobs. Much of the course was realistic first-aid training and lots of hands-on situations. I believe they teach the course 3 times a month in the UK, once a month in the US.

I too was on a bursary for freelancers from Rory Peck Trust . I doubt I could have afforded it otherwise at the time. It’s a simple application process.

Of course when your time is up, it’s up. But I’ll do what I can to help slow down the clock a little.

by Allen Sullivan | 26 Sep 2006 20:09 (ed. Sep 26 2006) | Atlanta, Georgia, United States | | Report spam→
The posts above include some of the recurring problems with media personnel training for and working in hostile environments. There are more, but here are some:

“Learn from the military”: All very well if the military know what they’re talking about. Problem is, your average soldier or officer has experienced little or no real combat. Even if he has, it will usually have been as part of a large, planned operation, with all kinds of emergency backup standing by. Journalists who get in trouble can’t call in air support or helicopter casevac. We need to learn to look after ourselves, colleagues, and on occasion soldiers who often have far less experience than we do.

“No point learning. If it happens it happens”: Incredibly, there are journalists who advocate ignorance as being useful in hostile environments. Not only are such people a danger to themselves, they also put others at risk. They should do us all a favour and stay home.

“Listen to the locals”: Brilliant. What if war broke out the week before you arrived? You pay someone who desperately needs money more cash than he has ever seen in his life to drive you around. Then you ask him if it’s safe to drive down some road in pursuit of the competition because you desperately need those photographs. Even if your driver has miraculously developed sophisticated risk-assessment abilities in a few days, how keen will he be to say “no” and risk losing his life-saving job?

“It wasn’t his/her fault”: Perhaps the most difficult one. Ever notice how journalists who become casualties never seem to have made any mistakes? We write stories mercilessly exposing how soldiers die as a result of human error. But the stories we write about our fallen colleagues never come close to criticism. Meaning we often simply lie about what happened, and conceal the hard facts we should be analysing and learning from.

The environments in which some of us operate are rapidly becoming more hostile, and we are not doing enough to face that challenge using the most basic of journalistic tools: Knowledge, judgement and experience.

by Morten Hvaal | 27 Sep 2006 00:09 | Oslo, Norway | | Report spam→
i totally agree with morten, i had a course in the portuguese army special forces, when we where at the first rescue part of the course, the doctor said: if anything happens, call a medic… this was a military doctor… we then had to explain that journos don’t carry a medic in their backpack… so after that i went and had a first aid course in a medicine organization. ignorance is not the best option, like in everyhting else is the worst. here in Portugal the last course was given together by a camera man with 30 years of war experience and the army special forces. i think is a good combination. cheers all

by [former member] | 27 Sep 2006 00:09 | Lisbon, Portugal | | Report spam→
i totally agree with morten, i had a course in the portuguese army special forces, when we where at the first rescue part of the course, the doctor said: if anything happens, call a medic… this was a military doctor… we then had to explain that journos don’t carry a medic in their backpack… so after that i went and had a first aid course in a medicine organization. ignorance is not the best option, like in everyhting else is the worst. here in Portugal the last course was given together by a camera man with 30 years of war experience and the army special forces. i think is a good combination. cheers all

by [former member] | 27 Sep 2006 00:09 | Lisbon, Portugal | | Report spam→
I can’t comment on other courses, but I went on the AKE course after several years of covering hostile areas, and it was on the course I realised how many times I’d been totally oblivious to things which could have killed or maimed me for life (most of which weren’t obvious), and after my fixer was injured.

I had just enough first aid knowledge (and a kit – you all take a first aid kit…right?) to patch him up but realised I needed to know more.

Most of the time the greatest risk you’re facing is from traffic accidents, but how many of us bother to check the car we’ve just hired, along with the driver? Tires bald? Brakes ok? And make sure the drivers had enough sleep? Or isn’t drunk?

And are the indicator lights working? A friend of mine was pulled over by cops in Iraq several times, each time thinking he was going to be killed or kidnapped, until he realised they were using the broken tail light as an excuse to extort cash from the driver.

Another little hint was never stay in a hotel room above the 7th floor…because a lot of 3rd World hotels have no external fire escapes above that level. So you burn. None of this has anything to do with guns, but a hotel fire sounds a pretty hostile environment to me.

These are ex-military people but they’re not giving you specifically military information. The courses have been thought through with journalists in mind.

However what they can bring is a real life knowledge of the potential hazards and destructive power of various weapons, as opposed to the Hollywoodesque assumptions we might have about them.

Most if not all the instructors on the courses I referred to have combat experience or regularly accompany journalists as security advisors in places like Iraq. For example, AKE has a permanent office in Baghdad which handles their client base in the country.

But as I said, they’re not gung-ho because if nothing else, having a good grounding in risk assesment (thereby avoiding the dodgyness in the first place) means you get to go home to the wife and kids, and that’s a pretty powerful motivator – so the first thing they advised was to consider carefully whether you should be going at all.

We’re civilians after all, and so not bound by military orders to go anywhere.

The first aid was specifically geared towards procedures with an assumption that there is no medically qualified anyone nearby, never mind a hospital. For example, application of a tournequet can potentially lead to the loss of a limb, but if you’ve stepped on a landmine, are bleeding like a stuck pig, and the nearest hospital is a days donkey ride away, better to lose your leg than come back in a pine box.

The first-aid also covers diseases by the way – the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina are hostile environments as well, so knowledge of waterborne diseases would come in handy…as well as remembering to go to the doc when you get home, in case you’re incubating some tropical disease or parasite.

Another aspect was legal and ethical issues, including how you shouldn’t be treating your fixer like a serf – advice which hardly anyone follows it seems.

There’s also a PTSD self-assessment procedure, for when you get back home, which is another widely ignored risk factor aspect.

I could go on…the course contained a wealth of info which would have taken me years to research, a lot of which I wouldn’t even have known about.

by [former member] | 27 Sep 2006 01:09 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
I just don’t know how can anyone say it’s a waste of time. these people (Centurion and AKE) have been doing this for more than a decade now, and all have background of years of military service AND security training and advising to press and NGOs. it is totally worth it if you ask me. I did Centurion, it was a great learning experience, enlightening in many ways.

by [former member] | 27 Sep 2006 03:09 | New York, United States | | Report spam→

I am new to LS but I have an essay on of covering domestic riots in my blog. If you want you can check it out. It was for riots here in Managua but it applies to all.

here is the address: http://agstar.blogspot.com/2006/05/nicaraguan-riot-police-charge.html

It it probably to long to republish here but give it a read. IT should give you some basic pointers on how to stay out of trouble.


by Tomas Stargardter | 27 Sep 2006 16:09 | Managua, Nicaragua | | Report spam→
This topic was discussed recently on the Sportsshooter site. Here’s a link to the thread:


by PJ Heller | 27 Sep 2006 18:09 | Christchurch, New Zealand | | Report spam→
((AKE))Surviving Hostile Regions syllabus ((USD3700.00 5 days))


A hostile zone can be chaotic or unpredictable, so awareness is your first line of defence. We cover the essential factors that could impact you.


Small arms to heavy weapons – how to recognise, know the effects
Mines and booby traps – types, how they’re used, how to avoid
Artillery and mortars – be aware of direction, blast and shrapnel

Conventional and non-conventional military

Professionalism and discipline, doctrines and ideologies
Patterns of behaviour – predictable or not?
Drugs and alcohol on operations
Accountability – is there any?
Who’s in charge? Chain of command.

Don’t be a target

Do you look dangerous – are you the risk to yourself and others?
How and why you can be seen
Conventional body armour may make you a target – what not to wear

What to do under fire

Where to take best cover
Assess, assess, assess
How to get away


In a hostile zone, you can’t plan on a hospital or ambulance being nearby, so you need to act confidently and effectively in the event of medical trauma. The medical skills we teach are designed for these emergencies in the field: they’re simple and effective, and use the minimum of equipment. Through lots of practice as well as lectures, you learn:

Primary and secondary survey skills, airway management
Primary treatment, controlling major bleeding, wounds
Burns and scalds
Climatic conditions: heat and cold, altitude sickness
Venomous animals
Common diseases and treatment, how to reduce the chances of contracting an avoidable illness
Travel medicine and effective drugs


Self-sufficiency, be it psychological or physical, will allow you to maximise your powers of flexibility, resilience and control, and as a result, your safety.

How to maintain the body through food intake, exercise and clothing
Maintaining your mental equilibrium and psychological strength
How to increase the time that you can operate at or near your peak efficiency
Navigation skills
Hostage-taking: how to avoid being taken, and if it does happen, how to read events and do what you can to stay safe


Thinking ahead and planning for all contingencies is an essential component of your safety. Your objective is your well-being and protection: they’re the basis of your success. Planning skills include:

Define the aim and the risks
Do your homework – who’s involved, specific dangers, climate, time frame, geography
Essential equipment – what will you need?
Contingencies and emergency procedures – the What If? factor
Control, teamwork, responsibility, accountability
What to do on arrival in-country, how to fine-tune your plans

(((HHHmmnn… a new D2X or survival training…. hhhmmnnn…)))
If I had the dough, and I were going to hostile places, I’d do this.

by bob brown | 30 Sep 2006 08:09 (ed. Sep 30 2006) | dallas, tx, United States | | Report spam→
At NPR many (most?) of our staff working in the Middle East and South Asia have taken a combat training course and came back with very positive comments about it. One thing they felt added great value was the medical training. Of course if you are unconscious and bleeding your own training does not help you much. But it is rare that they are alone in a combat situation, whether it’s with another NPR staffer (though our people don’t travel in large numbers like TV crews) or with a fellow journo from another organization. So it is in the interest of EVERYONE in this brother/sisterhood to have everybody else with them trained to deal with any situation.

Some of our news management people (like a few above) initially had some negative thoughts about the training (thought that it might make our journos into combatants). But the emphasis turned out not to be in that direction. While it may have been previously, now it is apparently about awareness and avoidance (and self help).

by [former member] | 30 Sep 2006 15:09 (ed. Sep 30 2006) | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
On the medical training side of things I strongly recommend attending an OEC class.
Outdoor Emergency Care aka “prehospital care for non-urban settings” is taught in some
US universities for IIRC $500-600 and with about 40 hours probably goes way beyond the medical
portion of Centurion classes and others. It is mostly trauma and evironment oriented and differs from EMT training in
the sense that they teach you to be on your own… It is a requirement for ski patrol folks and
a lot of wilderness guides, but also covers frex bullet sucking chest wounds.
Mine was taught by paramedics with lots of real life scenarios using moulage. Emphasis really was about
getting yourself or somebody out when 911 is not an option.
Worth every penny.

by Olivier Boulot | 30 Sep 2006 18:09 | Paris, France | | Report spam→
I had 4 years of dangerous environment training at a place called Roosevelt High School.

by Tommy Huynh | 30 Sep 2006 21:09 | tex, United States | | Report spam→
Ive done the 5 day AKE course and highly recommend it: informative as well as lots of fun. as others have said the focus is on medical training which to my mind is useful whereever you are. AKE make the course specifically for journalists and give you a number of practical tips to help you get through a possibly dangerous environment.

Apart from the medical training the things I remember the most was the emphasis on planning for worse case scenarios in case a situation goes haywire. its not rocket science but it helps you to gain a perspective which emphasises you own and your colleagues safety. Not necessary in most places but in some it could be the difference between life and death.

As Oliver said – worth every penny

by Harrison Mitchell | 01 Oct 2006 15:10 | Toposi, Bolivia | | Report spam→
Our Department of National Defence used to run free Media Awareness Training several years ago – a three-day course for journalists at Canadian Forces Base Kingston. Topics taught included mine awareness training, threat assessment of your surrounding area, and a brief introduction to foreign weapons – RPG’s, AK-47’s, etc. Don’t know if they still run it, as it was aimed at the first group of embeds for Afghanistan; however, any kind of First Aid or advanced First Aid training is highly recommended IMO.

Sgt Frank Hudec
Cameraman/Canadian Forces Army News

by [former member] | 01 Oct 2006 20:10 (ed. Oct 1 2006) | Ottawa, Canada | | Report spam→
My few cents/pence/pense on this is that the answer is a bit more complicated. I see at least three aspects to this:
1. You are a non local in another country / culture
2. 90% of the time, anywhere in the world, your biggest threat to your security and gear is crime
3. the times you are actually doing your “job” in the combat/war/emergency zone.

So you need to have the training to handle all three. The first is the easiest and the hardest — getting along in other cultures. Some of us feel good about this, although I made a weird faux pas in Morocco a couple weeks ago that opened my eyes a bit. But as much prior training and info you can get on the area of operations will always help, but you need to keep learning everyday and listen to the locals

The second are those “everyday” situation where crime is the big enemy. If you aren’t earning your pay (which means taking calculated risks) then you need to stay safe. We’re talking simple personal security here that you would do in any big city — not making yourself a potential victim. My experience in ‘government’ work being on my own in strange places is real simple — if you start to feel uncomfortable, get out. You dont want to become someone else’s story. Again there are probably a number of good courses to take on how to not be a victim, and you can check with the local authorities or any support people about the types of crime you are most likely to encounter.

The last is the toughie. I can’t say avoid trouble if you are covering the trouble. But most everyone should avoid being “in the trouble” as it is happening. You need to plan ahead and create some ‘outs’ for yourself.

So if I were looking for training, I might, as someone else said, avoid the military/paramilitary courses to some degree. A good offensive driving course may be in order, and anything geared towards journalists or non military people will be helpful, even the what to do when ‘captured’ courses are probably good. The other really good advice is to learn your rights in a situation / country and know what the country your going to honors in regards to citizens from your country. And where to go for help.

It is probably also good to learn what the country/local policy on emergency health care is as well.

That isn’t totally on the mark, just some ideas that you might need more than one training course or info on a lot of different areas. Even if youre off filming with the local insurgents, it might be good to have done some rapport building with the local authorities, so they know who you are if youre arrested, injured, wounded or killed. They might appreciate what youre doing, but they will probably honor your status to some degree. As long as you don’t “become” what you are there covering.

Well, for what it’s worth


Mike Allison

by Mike Allison | 17 Dec 2006 07:12 | western, United States | | Report spam→
there are some liabilities involved too. we will not assign anyone, staff of stringer, to a conflict zone unless he or she has gone throught an hostile environment course, evn though wome have worked in such environment in the past.

and refresher courses (one or two days) every three to four years are necessary… especially for first aid..


by jerome delay | 17 Dec 2006 09:12 | joburg, South Africa | | Report spam→
A cheaper alternative in relation to Landmine UXO and IED awareness training can be found here:

2 day courses run in the UK regularly, covers Mine, UXO and IED identification, effects, safety distances, route planning and avoidance, mine and UXO incident drills, booby traps, and searching vehicles for IEDs

by Pete Donaldson | 25 Aug 2007 14:08 | Brisbane, Australia | | Report spam→
i don’t want this to come out the wrong way, i am a big believer in and support the hostile environment courses. but what i want to address is why they are necessary in the first place, which gets to the issue of why young journalists or photographers want to cover war.

the short answer, it would seem obvious to me, is that we all want to go: peak experiences, events of world historical importance, bearing witness, making a difference, fame + fortune, , etc. Except you look at the majority of people, of your peers, and you realize that they DON’T feel this burning urge to go to combat zones and risk life and limb. So why do YOU?

if you do, it may as it did for me, spring from all kinds of personal history and family, and obsession with war, you might say, the aftershocks of war were pervasive through my childhood. so it behooved me to learn as much as i could about it, first vicariously and then later in reality.

part of that is doing your homework, reading, studying. A course or military service or whatever will teach you great practical skills. but it won’t teach you history, politics, culture, etc. A lot of journalists end up spending a lot of time with various militaries but don’t understand military traditions at all. which leads to all kinds of problems.

i’ve met a lot of my colleagues over the years, who didn’t know that there had been a Russian war in Afghanistan before ours, that Iraq had once been part of the Ottoman Empire, and so on.

and so it is with the practical stuff of navigating a hostile environment. i’m amazed how many of us, despite covering numerous conflicts, don’t know the first thing about how to fire a gun, or even drive a car or read a map. there are skills in life that everyone should just know, and practice every now and then. that seems so self-evident. but so many times, you’re in the middle of nowhere and exhausted, and the guy you’re with can’t take over because he doesn’t know how to drive a stick-shift!

and, mea culpa, I don’t know how to swim. So 70% of the planet’s surface is hostile to me!

by [former member] | 25 Aug 2007 15:08 (ed. Aug 25 2007) | New York, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Granted this thread is way too old now, but Alan is so right. Whoever it was above that devalued the worth of this training, and claimed there’d be military men with less experience than he is falling for the common disposition among seasoned operators of this industry, which is having done it all for 20 years, they’re beyond being taught anything by pretty much anyone.

Five minutes into the opening address of an AKE (or other) course, the oldest and boldest of us will have learn something. From the outset you’ll learn just how unprepared you are, how dangerously you have been working in the passed (although it is a necessity of media work to take more uninformed risks than it is for the military and that is just the way it is). And by the end of the week you’ll have learnt so much that you’ll know the only reason people like whoever it was are saying things like that is because they just don’t know how much they don’t know.

by Wade Laube | 25 Aug 2007 16:08 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
There are affordable alternative companies to AKE and Centurion -

Check out EBO Protect.

Having graduated from the Professional Writing course at Falouth University and with military experience I have found myself running the EBO Protect Hostile Environment and First Aid Course – HEFAC.
The course is tailored to take into account your final destination so, as well as covering essentials such as situational awareness and first aid it focuses on problems specific to your ultimate destination wheter that be Toxteth or Tikrit.
A hostile environment doesn’t have to be a war zone and the training with EBO Protect reflects this; it is more about preparedness, it forces you to stop and think about where you are going and to pre-empt any problems that might occur, as well as providing you with a host of practical skills it also gives you a way of thinking that is transferable to any assignment, foreign or domestic, helping you deal with whatever life throws at you.
Thanks to EBO Protect, students of journalism can now benefit from doing a HEFAC course as part of their degree programme -

Check out Falmouth University MA in International Journalism.

by Paul Bradford | 27 Oct 2007 10:10 (ed. Oct 27 2007) | Cornwall, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
This thread has taken me back to many months and years in conflict zones. I have photographed and filmed in Chechnya during the peak of fighting, I was in Lebanon during the civil war, I’ve been through several African conflicts…

My advice is relatively simple. First, and foremost, going to a conflict zone is like getting into a fight. No matter how much training you get, you learn when you’re there. Once that adrenalin kicks in, it takes some time to get the memory banks reactivated enough to remember all the training. But once you’ve overcome those first few moments of fear surrounded by tracer bullets in the night (had several of those) then, indeed, knowledge is useful.

My second advice is, never go to a conflict zone alone if you’ve never been there. The first time is the worst and you need someone who knows what they are doing. I cannot overstress this point. It happened to me on more than one occasion where I had a younger or less experienced photographer, cameraman or journalist ‘tag along’ and afterwards they, without exception, thanked me.

My final recommendation is to travel light, always. Sounds simplistic, but in conflict zones you need mobility. If you are weighed down, you’ll be a slower target. I apologise for diving right into the conflict aspect and not talking about ‘naturally’ hostile environments. I could. I’ve spent time both in the Sahara and the Canadian Arctic. Funny, same advice. Learn on the ground with someone who knows the terrain. I can’t imagine any survival training preparing you for a 30-degree windstorm on Ellesmere Island in February. You better have an inuk or an experienced Canadian with you ;)

Hope this is helpful to someone.

by Giray | 28 Oct 2007 15:10 (ed. Oct 28 2007) | Annecy, France | | Report spam→

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