Safety Tips for Covering Occupy Wall Street

And civil disorder in general

At least half a dozen journalists have been injured or detained while covering the growing unrest in the United States. Here are safety tips that reporters can use to prepare for potentially unruly protests:

Before you head out

• Make sure your accreditation is in order and easily accessible.

• Alert authorities that your news organization plans to cover the protests, and obtain the cell number of the person in charge.

• Take protective gear. This can include helmets, gas masks, or vests, depending on what the local police force uses for crowd control.

• In case of tear gas, carry a bandana soaked in onion, lemon, or vinegar, which neutralizes irritation.

• Don’t wear contact lenses. Bring eye drops and spare glasses.

• If there’s a chance you might be pepper-sprayed, don’t wear face crème or cosmetics. They burn on contact.

• Use earplugs to help neutralize sound cannons.

• Wear comfortable boots that you can run in.

• Don natural fabrics, which are less flammable than synthetic fabrics.

• Prepare a backpack with supplies to last a day: lightweight raingear, energy bars and water, spare batteries for electronic equipment.

• Pack a medical kit and know how to use it.

• Carry a photocopy of your press accreditation and telephone numbers of your editor and lawyer. Make sure your editor knows how to reach your family in case you’re arrested or hurt.

• Set your cell phone to speed dial an emergency number.

• If possible, explore the terrain ahead of time. Are there stores you can dart into? Can you arrange to film from a high vantage point? Negotiate a “safe” place where you can retreat if mayhem erupts.

At the scene

• Don’t go alone. Get someone to watch your back if you’re shooting pictures.

• As soon as you arrive, spot escape routes and look for landmarks like a tall building or lamppost. It’s easy to get disoriented in a crowd.

• Stay on the edge and do not get caught between police and protestors.

• Crowds have a life of their own. Stay aware of the prevailing mood.

• Alert your editors if the scene turns angry.

• Stay away from aggressive people. They may provoke a violent response.

• If planning to move, seek advice from people who have just come from the direction you’re heading.

• Television crews should travel as light as possible. If experiencing aggression, leave the tripod behind so that you can run fast.

When trouble erupts

• Avoid horses. They bite and kick.

• Stand upwind from tear gas.

• If the police detain you, insist that they call the cell phone of their boss, whose number you just so happen to have.

• Call your lawyer and editor.

• Maintain a safe distance from violence.

For more safety news, contact Judith Matloff or visit the International News Safety Institute’s Facebook page.

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Judith Matloff teaches at Columbia School of Journalism. She is a veteran foreign correspondent. Her third book, No Friends But the Mountains, about impoverished mountain people, will be published next March. She is also the author of Fragments of a Forgotten War and Home Girl. Tags: , , , ,