People Management: Risk training for global danger zones

In-house tuition for hostile environments might not be enough, writes Indira Das-Gupta.

The demand for specialised training for humanitarian workers visiting hostile environments is increasing, but too many charities still put their employees at unnecessary risk, says one expert.

Centurion, a company offering hostile environments and emergency first aid training, has trained 2,700 NGO employees since it was set up in 1995.

The company has experienced a steady increase in calls from both NGOs and journalists since the 11 September terrorist attacks.

It's not only war zones that are hostile. Charity staff working in tsunami-affected areas, for instance, would need health and hygiene training.

Some charities offer in-house training, but Centurion managing director Paul Rees fears it is not always adequate. He says: "Some charities offer only one day of theoretical training. I would consider three days of training to be the absolute minimum."

Christian Aid sends employees to Centurion for varying lengths of time, depending on where they are going. Kiruja Micheni, security manager at the charity, explains: "We categorise countries according to how dangerous they are. A typical European country would be one or two, Kenya would be three, Sudan four and Iraq and Somalia five, making them no-go areas.

"For any country ranked above three, employees receive four days of training.

After three years they have to go on a refresher course.

"Around 50 per cent of it is first aid. The course includes realistic scenarios and a simulated attack."

Christian Aid also offers debriefing and counselling when employees return.

Amnesty International also categorises countries, but uses Foreign Office guidelines. Even if a country is deemed 'high-risk', employees might be sent there. Ruth Jolly, senior training and development adviser, says: "All employees sent on missions to high-risk countries receive five days' training with Centurion. We would only send people to a specific location if they are experts on that country or relevant themes. The training is to help them deal individually with risk, and the level of insurance we have to take out for them is dependent on them receiving approved external training.

"Ultimately, our employees will be going to help people who deal with high levels of risk in their lives every day, and this training is to help them to complete their missions effectively."

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