Safety Tips

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Several journalists have been injured or detained while covering civil unrest in the United States and abroad. The following are some tips – courtesy of the International News Safety Institute – to help prepare you for unruly protests or events.

Before You Head Out:

  • Contact protest organizers/check Facebook event: Is there a planned route?
  • Research local police tactics. Is kettling, tear gas, pepper spray likely?
  • Make sure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible.
  • In case of tear gas, don’t wear contact lenses and bring eyedrops and spare glasses.
  • In case you expect pepper spray, don’t apply face cream and cosmetics. They burn on contact.
  • Use earplugs to help neutralize sound cannons.
  • Wear comfortable boots that you can run in.
  • Wear comfortable clothes made of natural fabrics, which are less flammable than synthetic.
  • Have you news director/point person on speed dial.
  • Are there Twitter hashtags to follow to track events?
  • If possible, explore the terrain ahead of time:
    • Are there stores you can dart into?
    • Can you cover from a high vantage point?
    • Negotiate a “safe” place where you can retreat if mayhem erupts.
  • Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day:
    • Lightweight raingear
    • Energy bars and water
    • Spare batteries for electronic equipment

At the Scene:

  • Don’t go alone. Get someone to watch our back if you’re shooting pictures.
  • As soon as you arrive, spot escape routes and look for landmarks like a tall building or lamppost. It’s easy to get disoriented in a crowd.
  • Stay on the edge and do not get caught between police and protestors.
  • Crowds have a life of their own. Stay aware of the mood.
  • Alert your news director if the scene turns angry. Be on alert for aggressive people. They may provoke a violent response.
  • If planning to move, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction you’re heading.

When Trouble Erupts:

  • Maintain a distance from the violence.
  • Avoid horses. They bite and kick.
  • Stand upwind from tear gas.
  • Repeat to police officers that you are the press. Keep note of officers’ badge numbers.
  • If detained, call your news director your lawyer and your union representative.