Security training before heading to a conflict area

Nadim is undergoing an intense security training and sent this blogpost to share his experience.

DAY 1: MRG’s and RPG’s

“Your main objective is survival”…

I will be spending the next four days in a security training program organized by the UN. That’s a requirement before heading to some of the conflict areas around the globe. In a week I’ll be going to such an area in order to identify, at the invitation of the government and the UN, a role for IFAD in addressing some of multiple issues linked to rural poverty where conflict adds an incredible complication to the hardship of the rural poor.

This blog post describes the four days and, if possible it may also describe the short visit to the conflict zone. Along the way, there will be room for thinking about the link between relief and long-term development; the foolishness of war; the motivation of UN (and other) humanitarian and development personnel; the precautions to take; and the steps we should take to ensure we step cautiously (not a pun) in laying the foundations for development in a conflict situation.

The quote above is from the training material to prepare us for a possible hostage-taking situation…but we’ll have time for this; it is covered only in Day 2.

Acronyms and DNA:

There are thirteen (talk about a lucky and promising start…) of us trainees in the classroom. The youngest is probably Tina (at least we’ll call her that way for the blog…all names are fake but the characters real…yes, paranoia was affecting me even before the start of the security training.) So, my desk neighbour Tina, all of 23, is the youngest. She works at the IOM. The balding old man next to her, at almost 53, is probably the oldest. The group is quite diverse at other levels too: 6 women, 7 men; nurses, pilots, economists, agronomists, managers, political scientists; conversations in a combination of 7 languages at any one time—(well actually 8 if you consider that Australian was heard quite often).

Rapid introductions and we start with the abundant alphabet soup of forms, rules, regulations, and forms that are necessary to ensure the security of personnel. We cover the ways to request security clearances for trips and missions, the key security personnel, the main threats and the alert levels.

Then, we watch quick, sobering videos of actual incidents and we discuss them. It is a reminder (if any was needed) that the absolute and shocking majority of victims are local civilians—the real heroes if we have to find ones in these sad events.

Sessions follow at a rapid pace, including a session on cultural awareness (“Don’t discuss religion and sex”); the latest security update in the country (opportunity to note just one of the numerous ironies of the situation: “security is much better but we can expect that this will mean more missions and therefore more risks”); and a reminder that communications are vital to our missions and survival in a hostile environment. OUCH! A sample of hair was just snatched from my forearm…for possible future need for DNA.

In the evening, back at the hotel, there’s homework and the learning of the phonetic alphabet where A is Alpha; B is Bravo etc. My name, therefore would be November, Alpha, Delta, India, Mike (“In some countries letters like India, Yankee & Whiskey are considered to be unsuitable; therefore substitutes should be found and used from other variations of the phonetic alphabet.”) I do squeeze in a joyful reunion with old college friends—that’s relief!

Before I go to sleep many things are racing through my mind, including the fact that normally I would have been in Rome completing the MRG for our staff…let’s hope the back-up arrangements I left in place are working. My very last thoughts are for the civilians in hostile environments.