“What you don’t know can kill you. What you do know can keep you safe.”
For Chris Post, a photojournalist at WFMZ in Allentown, Pennsylvania, safety is always top of mind. He’s a former first responder trained in situational awareness and says he can’t turn it off.
“I’m always looking for exits, thinking, ‘What am I going to do if someone starts shooting?’” he said. “I park my vehicle so if someone hits us it will deflect away from our live shot position.”
Post says there are all kinds of hazards to be aware of from riots to natural disasters. He once saw a young MMJ walking in flood waters wearing Crocs. When she came out, he could see she’d recently had a pedicure. Why did that matter? Flood waters are full of bacteria, Post said, and that pedicure could have caused tiny cuts or scrapes that would make her more vulnerable to infection. Lesson learned: Wear rubber boots and rinse any exposed skin immediately with a bleach solution.
Post distinguishes between events, which you can plan for, and incidents, which you have to react to. The more you know, the better prepared you can be in either situation.
For storm coverage, for example, Post always has full 5-gallon gas cans, a generator, paper towels and cans of Fix-a-Flat. If he’s renting a car, he adds an adapter for the gas can to make sure it fits the tank. And he figures out how to change a tire on the rental model before getting on the road.
For demonstrations that could turn violent, Post has cases full of gear on hand. “I carry more safety equipment than I do camera equipment,” Post said. His kit includes:
- Impact resistant safety glasses or sunglasses or goggles, rated Z87 for impact.
- Ballistic helmet, not bulletproof but protective and compatible with a gas mask.
- Bump cap, which looks like a baseball cap so you won’t be confused with the police. It has a plastic shell and offers some protection.
- Concealed vest for ballistic and stab protection.
- Masks. For teargas he carries a full face mask, but a particle filter mask is adequate for pepper spray.
- Medical kit with earplugs and Sudecon pepper spray wipes.
A more detailed packing list is available on Post’s website.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also has an online safety kit, which includes information on risk assessment, physical safety, and digital security as well as first aid videos. Even if you think you’ll never need to know any of this, it’s a good idea to check it out now, before the need arises.
Deborah Potter is an experienced journalism trainer and reporter who spent 16 years as a network correspondent at CBS News and CNN. She is co-author of “Advancing the Story: Quality Journalism in a Digital World,” now in its fourth edition. She writes regularly about journalism on the Advancing the Story website. For almost 20 years, Deborah ran NewsLab, the journalism site she founded in 1998, which is now part of the University of Mississippi. Deborah leads workshops for journalists in newsrooms across the United States and around the world on writing, social media, digital journalism and ethics.