Preparing for hostile environments - by Michael Kosmides, Online Desk Editor, Greek Section
For many journalists the way to Baghdad, or any other dangerous area, passes through the English countryside.
Nothing picturesque there: it's all about a training camp where two companies, Pilgrims and First Action, employing mainly former SAS and Royal Marines people, provide journalists with a potentially life saving six-day residential course.
It is appropriately named Hostile Environment and First Aid Training (HEFAT).
HEFAT is obligatory for all BBC journalists travelling to areas where conditions are far from peaceful.
It is a demanding course, both physically and mentally. Days start early and finish late. The training runs indoors and outdoors, regardless of weather conditions.
The First Aid exercises help one deal with a variety of situations, ranging from battlefield wounds and amputated body parts to heart attacks. Hideous looking fake wounds and blood are involved in those.
The exercises are useful out of the war zone too. We know now how to respond to choking, diabetes and road traffic accidents.
Various scenarios are involved in creating an awareness of safety and security in a dangerous zone such as dealing with checkpoints; how to use body language to get away from an angry crowd; responding to incoming fire and what to do if you find yourself in a minefield.
The course peaked in a mock kidnapping during which we were interrogated and eventually led to be "executed". Some managed to convince the "executioner" to let them go (being Greek helped me somehow); others were shot with blanks.
Despite the obvious tension that leaves at least one person in every group in tears, it's a very positive experience. If you survived, you know you'll be able to do it again if things go wrong in real life.
If you were "executed" you may have a better chance of survival - next time.
It's worth adding that if someone at the BBC decides that he or she would rather avoid the chance of reliving any of it in real life, they can withdraw - no questions asked.
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