My fellow journalism buddies and I were shipped off (sent away on a short bus ride) to the extremely dangerous and war-torn land (pretty and peaceful Predannack Airfield) to learn how to report and survive in hostile environments.
We were given a scenario that kept developing from start to finish of the course. We were reporters sent away with the disaster-relief charity Shelterbox to the make-belief central asian country of Lizardstan where a 9.9 earthquake had devastated the country. Amid the destruction was an intense political divide between the government-supported minority and the oppressed opposition majority. A scandal would later reveal that the government was stopping aid from reaching the desperate and impoverished population to punish the opposition.
And so the adventure begins..
Everyday from 8 am until 12 am, our Blue Dot Safety instructors would teach us certain skills and then we would go on a mission and apply it all.
So how about a sneak peek of the highlights then?
1. Navigating in the dark
Using a compass, a map and my footsteps alone I can get from point A to point B - without my iPhone.
2. Surviving an ambush
Knowing where to run, hide, and from which direction when our car comes under fire.
3. Mine awareness
Recognising the different types of mines and explosives and where they could be found.
4. Medical emergencies
Basic first-aid but also knowing what takes priority in a mass emergency. There was also the tough lesson of discovering where to draw the line between humanitarianism and journalism.
5. Hostage situations
Best practices for surviving a hostage situation. Not to mention preparing in advance for it when it could be a risk.
6. Kit and attire
You will be surprised what sorts of things can come in handy (let along exist) in dodgy or extreme environments.
7. Communication and technology
Using a GPS to take a grid bearing and then communicating that exact location via radio (walkie-talkies) in an emergency report. Harder than it sounds when you’re being ambushed – believe me.
8. Getting the story
An international journalist was also running the course, playing the role of our editor – who absolutely under any circumstances wanted the story and wanted it fast. You won’t believe how difficult this turned out to be. Do you use your phone to call emergency services, treat a source for his gunshot wounds, free the aid worker held in captivity at the helicopter crash site where you could come under attack at any minute – or do you get it all on camera?
That was the very predicament we faced on our last mission. Which is why I only ended up with a few pictures from the entire three days – none of which show much of the action.
The amount of thought and strategy that went into the course and the scenarios (I mean, a helicopter crash site!) was beyond impressive. You could hear and see the threats (gunfire, explosions and wounds) making it all the more realistic. So even though it was all artificial and our lives were not really at risk, our reactions and capabilities were oh so real.
Coming up next: putting my HEFAC training to the test on my final project at the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.