- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

Gearing up for war
With a new Persian Gulf war looking increasingly likely, this and other news organizations have begun making our plans for coverage.
Some organizations are much further along than we are, especially the television networks with their large crews and the tons of equipment they have to move around.
We understand the networks are already renting space in countries such as Kuwait and Qatar; CNN was reported as early as last spring to be scouting rooftops in Tel Aviv for monitoring incoming Scud missiles.
For our part, we have been in touch with Pentagon officials to see about "embedding" a reporter with U.S. troops when they go into battle and to inquire about Defense Department plans to set up a press center for daily briefings, as there were during the 1991 war with Iraq.
We have also been talking to our free-lance correspondents in the region; at least one of them, Joshua Kucera, is already in the process of moving from the Balkans to northern Iraq, where he hopes to set up in the Kurdish city of Erbil, and others may follow.
U.N. reporter Betsy Pisik and staff photographer Maya Alleruzzo, meanwhile, are getting ready for a return to the region after distinguishing themselves during a two-month stint in Israel and the West Bank at the height of the violence in the spring.
As a first step, we did something we probably should have done before: We sent Miss Pisik for five days of intense training last week at a course on how to work in a hostile environment.
Such training, popular for some time with relief agencies and some branches of the United Nations, has caught on with news organizations only in the past few years, particularly after the deaths of Reuters photographer Kurt Schork in Sierra Leone and Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
Two or three companies offer the training. Miss Pisik got hers from an outfit called Centurion Risk Assessment Services, which is run by retired British Royal Marines and conducts the course at a former military base near Woodstock in western Virginia.

First aid in the field
Eight men and three other women took part in the program, including reporters from Reuters, the Associated Press, USA Today, Knight-Ridder newspapers and the Christian Science Monitor. At least a few of them expect to be covering the war in Iraq.
A large part of the training focused on health and first aid in the field, including how to deal with a "sucking chest wound" or severed limb and how to make sure you have a supply of potable water.
There were also a few dramatic moments, such as a simulated hijacking in which trainers acting as commandos unexpectedly boarded a minibus carrying the journalists to the field, threw hoods over everyone's heads and led them off the bus by their thumbs.
Miss Pisik was required at one point to follow two trainers along a narrow path through a supposed minefield when a sudden explosion accompanied by very realistic smoke and pints of simulated blood left one trainer unconscious and the other screaming in pain with a hand torn off.
The trick was to have the presence of mind to first deal with the unconscious victim, clearing his throat and making sure he was breathing, before tending to the man with the severed hand. All this had to be done, of course, without straying out of the narrow area that had been cleared of mines.
More valuable than any of this, Miss Pisik said and we hope more likely to be used was training in how to evaluate the risks in an unusual situation and how to know when those risks are too great to be justified.
This included a lot of practical advice on such matters as how to carry large amounts of cash, how to hire a trustworthy guide and how to navigate with map and compass. At the more extreme end was how to determine which direction gunfire is coming from and how to use swim goggles and a bicycle mask to stave off tear gas.
Miss Pisik says she learned she had instinctively been doing some things just right negotiating military checkpoints, for instance but had been doing some other things completely wrong.
Her editors will feel immensely more comfortable next time we send her into a hazardous situation, knowing she has had the training she needs to get everything right.


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