Know your risk

June 9, 2015 01:30

By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
Does your newsroom have a Risk Management Plan? If you don’t—you should!

Recently, at the annual RTDNA Canada conference in Toronto, I attended a session on how newsrooms should prepare for dispatching their crews into potentially dangerous areas—and how advance planning is critical to protecting the most valuable part of any organization: its people.

Risk is the effect of uncertainty on objectives. And risk management, according to Harris Silver of the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC,) includes a coordinated set of activities designed to reduce the risk while accomplishing those objectives.

Silver is an expert in this area. A former Canadian military officer, he leads the networks efforts on the myriad steps necessary to keep the CBC’s news crews safe in hot spots all over the globe. He points out that employers have a “duty of care” responsibility to their employees to take the steps necessary before, during and after their deployment to a story, whether that story is in Syria, Nigeria or just a few miles from home.

 And it’s not just in war zones or medical emergencies for which news departments should prepare. Domestic safety issues are growing, too, evidenced by attacks on news crews or reporting teams which find themselves in the middle of a riot or police action.  

Silver advises that news coverage of any story that could potentially present danger be subjected to an advance Risk Assessment. That written assessment includes what is being done, where it’s being done and the specific risks that could accompany the crew’s activities.  Such an evaluation should then be presented to news management for its sign-off.  When complete, the document can serve as a guide for assignment and logistics planning.

He’s quick to point out the assessment is not designed to be a “do or don’t” document, but rather serves as advice toward how best to accomplish the objective of getting the story covered. Once the risks are evaluated, do they match the risk tolerances of the staff being deployed, the local station management and the corporation?  If not, can the risks be modified so they do?

Next, consider the steps necessary to protect the crews from harm or injury.  Include the following:
  1. Is training needed to better equip the crews for their protection.  Security consulting firms can advise you on courses on surviving hostile regions, travel awareness and personal safety.
  2. Require medical clearances from the crew members who will be deployed.
  3. The HR department should collect emergency contact information, health and medical details and other personal information that can be used in situations where crew members may be detained or unable to communicate back to you.
  4. Be sure the proper insurance coverages are in place prior to departure.  Many standard medical and AD&D policies won’t cover employees in these kinds of situations.   Additional, specialized insurance policies are available including travel health and evacuation coverage, war risk insurance and even what’s known as “special risk” insurance—covering situations like kidnappings and illegal detainments.

Mitigation strategies are next on the list.  Consider the following:
  1. Depending on the location, the risk level could include the use of an outside security firm.
  2. Providing personal protection gear to crew members
  3. Medical and evacuation plans
  4. Establishing regular check-in procedures once the crew is deployed. 
  5. Having someone in the organization stay abreast of developments “on the ground” at the location so he/she can advise the crews of incidents of which they might not be aware.

Much of this planning can and should be done in advance and isn’t dependent on knowing the specific story or location. Given the nature of breaking news, it’s critical to have much of this information ready to go quickly.

Finally, make use of the many online resources available to you to research current conditions and situations around the world. Among them; for the latest in travel advisories, for up-to-date health and medical information around the world and for overviews and maps on countries and regions worldwide. And discuss your plans with your own network, if possible, for more advice and assistance.

Keeping your staff safe in often fast-changing, volatile situations is your top priority and advance planning to manage the risks involved can go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.