“There are risks associated with what we do. I carry more safety and support equipment than I do camera equipment,” photojournalist Chris Post said.
Post wasn’t always a journalist. He worked as a first responder for more than twenty years before becoming a photographer. When he is not on assignment in Pennsylvania, Post teaches journalism professionals how to protect themselves.
Situational awareness is the ability to identify, assess and act on the constant flow of information from one’s surroundings. This is vital to field crews and journalists to ensure safety. Without a strong understanding of the environment, journalists could lose their lives.
“What you don’t know can kill you,” Post said. “What you do know can help you stay safe.”
Post introduced the Jeffrey Cooper Awareness Color Codes Chart, which organizes levels of danger perception into five different colors: white, yellow, orange, red and black.
The colors quantify a range of one’s sense of safety, from white–feeling calm and no threat–to black, which signifies complete panic.
“Most of the time, people go from white to black because they are not prepared,” he said.
The perception of threat does not always match the reality of the situation. Journalists can improve their safety in the field by developing situational awareness.
These tools allows media professionals to differentiate between an event and an incident. This understanding can help journalists and their crew to adapt effectively to sudden change.
Events follow a plan and are scheduled. Incidents are fast paced with a high level of uncertainty. An event can turn into an incident. When this turn occurs, journalists have to take a step back and determine the best course of action.
“The variable has changed. We are in a place where threats and danger are directed at the media,” Post said. “I always park my vehicle so if someone were to hit the news truck, it would optimally miss the live shot.”
During the riots in Baltimore, Post was required to wear soft-plated body armor to protect himself from violent protestors. These riots were a reaction to the death of Freddie Gray, in transport while under police custody.
“I wore a concealed vest in the Baltimore riots. It was a layer of protection I can conceal if conditions turned less than optimal,” Post said.
And they did.
Along with body armor, Post found himself in need of impact resistant goggles, a bike helmet and a mask to protect himself from pepper spray and flying objects.
“Be smart. Know what your hazards are … and what’s going on around you,” he said.
The stress and emotional repercussions of storytelling can weigh heavily on journalists and affect their mental health.
“Psychological trauma and self-care are grossly neglected in the journalism profession,” Post said. “Numbing the pain with the use of drugs or alcohol will only complicate the situation more.”
Never be afraid to reach out for help.