What I learned from virtual Hostile Environment Awareness Training for journalists from IWMF

It’s not surprising, but it is still unsettling that there is a growing need for Hostile Environment Awareness Training training for journalists. With the pandemic, protests, and increased arrests and press freedom violations against journalists and other threats, safety has become an increasing concern for journalists in the U.S.

(This post contains both non-affiliate and affiliate links, meaning I may receive a fee for purchases made by clicking on certain links. View my disclosure policy here.)

As of Thursday night, the Press Freedom Tracker recorded 249 cases of journalists being attacked, 68 cases of equipment damage, 78 arrests and 12 cases of searched or seized equipment. Over 880 cases of “aggression against the press” have been noted just during Black Lives Matter protests alone.

It’s an alarming trend.

I’ve covered small demonstrations and have had first aid and CPR training, but knew I wasn’t prepared to face the threats we’ve seen journalists deal with so many times just this year. When I saw that the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) was open for applications for virtual HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training) for journalists, I immediately applied.

While I was excited to be accepted, I honestly wondered what the course would look like. Training is typically hands-on, but due to the pandemic, this wasn’t an option. How much information can you actually get from online training?

It turns out that you can learn a lot.

Equipment recommendations

IWMF offered the training with RPS Partnership using Zoom and Google Classrooms.

We learned about the types of gas masks, safety glasses, ballistics helmets, bulletproof/stab vests, medical supplies and other items to purchase and which to avoid. The instructors covered the pros and cons of several items. They also talked about the levels of ballistics protection. (You can read more about that here.)

For example, one instructor warned about the dangers of wearing improper googles or safety glasses during a demonstration. He pointed out some of the better options that are available. (These safety glasses (affiliate link) were his top recommendation.)

He also pointed out the differences in various gas masks. He had several recommendations and explained the differences, including how much they can filter, visibility differences and costs. I plan to purchase this one (affiliate link) from his list ASAP:

That mask is a great example of how helpful this course was. I had already looked into purchasing a mask but didn’t know which ones were any good. The instructor’s recommendations list made selecting one much easier.

Another instructor showed us how to properly apply a tourniquet and pointed out the type we want to watch for. She suggested C-A-T (Combat Application Tourniquets) and recommended buying orange ones for visibility. She also showed us how to apply them. I’m adding this one to my cart:

Her recommendations were helpful as there are so many tourniquet options and many first aid kits come with one. I didn’t know which ones are truly quality tourniquets that I can trust with potentially saving a life. Buying a pre-stocked first aid kit sounds great, but as the instructor spoke, my shopping list for additional medical items grew longer. She suggested adding several other items, including Celox (affiliate link).

Hostile environment and situational awareness

We learned how to become more aware of our immediate surroundings, especially during protests. They also taught us how to prepare risk assessments before going on assignments.

(We used a different assessment form but the Committee to Protect Journalists has a starting template available. The Rory Peck Trust also has information on this.)

Some considerations were fairly obvious, but others were new to me. I appreciated hearing the perspectives of people who have traveled all over the globe and have faced a wide range of threats.

Some of the awareness training included strategies for covering protests. The instructors had some great tips that came at a time many of us are scrambling to find the best ways to cover the ongoing protests.

Photo by Koshu Kunii on Unsplash

Victim assessments

The instructors offered equipment recommendations, but they also showed us how to use them, either through their own demonstrations or through video clips. They showed us how to perform CPR, evaluate injuries, prioritize critical injuries and more.

Some videos were graphic but necessarily so, such as a clip on how to pack a (mock) gunshot wound to slow the bleeding. Be aware that you may find some images, videos and topics disturbing.

We learned the myths of tear gas and how to best deal with it should we encounter it while covering a protest.


This course was empowering. I cannot overstate the importance of this training for journalists. I can’t control when emergencies happen, but I can improve my preparedness and response.

This training could help you out if you’re in trouble (or help to avoid the situation in the first place). It could also be critical for someone on your news team or someone in the crowd. You never know when you’ll need this information.

I have peace knowing I’m far better prepared than I was before the training.

Apply for Hostile Environment Awareness Training for journalists

When I applied for HEAT, I had no idea what my chances were of being accepted. I didn’t see anything that listed how many openings there were or the percentage of applicants they normally approve. But I decided to give it a shot just before their deadline. A few days later I received the selection email.

We had to fill out a release of liability form and a survey stating what we knew and what we wanted to learn. The beginning of the schedule was a bit sporadic, with different times and days, but they did a great job fitting everything in. According to IWMF’s website, their normal HEFAT (Hostile Environment Awareness and First Aid Training) lasts four days. They spaced the virtual HEAT out over about a month.

IWMF had recordings available along with the resource and recommendation lists in our Google Classroom. This made it easy to catch up on sessions if we missed any.

If you’re interested in HEAT/HEFAT training, watch for application openings from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

(Note: The website says that the training is HEFAT (Hostile Environment and First Aid Training.) While we did learn some first aid techniques, my certificate was for virtual HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training.)

I received HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training) for journalists for free from the International Women’s Media Foundation. I’m incredibly grateful for the organization’s generosity. This post contains affiliate links but was not sponsored or requested by IWMF.

My experiences and the linked products above are provided only for sharing purposes. ImariJournal and its owner(s)/writer(s) do not assume liability or responsibility for the use of, or accidents or injuries involving, these items, recommendations or practices, whether they are used correctly or incorrectly. ImariJournal and its owner(s)/writer(s) strongly encourage and advise seeking proper safety, legal, ballistics and medical training, advice and product recommendations from experts.

What would you want to learn in Hostile Environment Awareness Training for journalists?