A Crucial Component of Threat Risk Assessment: Creating A Communications Plan.

Working in hostile environments poses unique challenges, particularly in maintaining effective communication. This is crucial for individuals engaged in security, journalism, humanitarian missions, or corporate operations in high-risk areas. HET emphasises the importance of a robust communications plan to ensure safety and operational success.


Drawing on these insights, the Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) and Hostile Environment and First Aid Training (HEFAT) courses provide essential strategies to keep communication lines open and functional in the most adverse conditions.


Selecting a Key Contact

While preparing for an assignment, the importance of a communications plan is often underestimated, yet it is crucial, particularly for those on self-funded trips or assignments. Freelancers benefit significantly from having a robust communications plan to avoid becoming unreachable should complications arise.

When working independently, it's vital to determine your primary point of contact. Consider the most reliable and effective person to communicate with during your assignment. It’s important to have a strategy for how you'll keep in touch from a distance and establish clear protocols for who they should contact in an emergency. This careful planning ensures you remain connected and supported, no matter the circumstances.

Here are some recommendations on who to consider for your communications plan:

  • Local Security Contact: This should be someone your primary contact can communicate with directly and securely.
  • On-the-Ground Support: Include contacts like fixers, drivers, and translators assisting you locally. Note which languages they speak, as this could be crucial in an emergency.
  • Colleagues in the Area: Even if they are not directly working with you, for instance, journalists in the same location, such as local correspondents for major broadcasters, can be invaluable contacts.
  • Media Contact: If you are working for a media organisation, include your commissioning editor or the main contact point at the organisation.
  • Embassy Contacts: Ensure you have contact details for your embassy or consulate, including a specific name and an emergency phone number.
  • Additional Emergency Contacts: Consider including legal professionals, government officials, or others who might assist in an emergency.

Organise this list in the order of contact priority, providing complete contact information, including time zone, and dialling codes.

Next of Kin

It is essential to discuss and determine in advance with your primary contact who will be designated as your next of kin, usually a spouse, partner, or close relative, to be contacted in emergencies. Include all team members' next of kin details in your risk assessment documentation, as they may be stakeholders in your safety.

While your key contact and next of kin might be the same individual, it is advisable to consider the implications of this arrangement carefully.

Establish Multiple Communication Channels

In environments where the infrastructure is often unreliable or even prone to restriction, relying on a single communication method can be perilous. Creating a robust communications plan is crucial for safety and operational success in hostile environments. Whether for security, journalistic, humanitarian, or corporate endeavours in high-risk areas, maintaining effective communication with your home base can mitigate risks and ensure timely support in emergencies. Here are the top ways to ensure you can maintain communication in such challenging conditions:

Diversifying Communication Tools

It is critical to have a variety of communication methods at your disposal:

  • Mobile phones and internet-based tools such as emails and encrypted messaging apps serve as additional layers of communication when networks are operational.
  • Satellite phones cut through the reliance on local infrastructure.
  • Digital or even analogue radio communication can be invaluable in isolated or disrupted areas.

This strategy provides alternatives if one channel becomes compromised.

What should be included in a communications plan?

How often will you be in touch with your key contact, and through what method?

  • Pre-plan and establish communication methods with your key contact before departure.

Ensure your key contact is aware of all the methods in which you will be making contact for vigilant responses and confidence your messages are being received.

  • Regular Check-ins

Consistent updates can be a lifeline in hostile settings, helping track progress and quickly relay critical information during emergencies.

  • Implementing a Structured Check-in Protocol

The frequency of check-ins should mirror the risk level of the environment, with more dangerous areas requiring more frequent communication. This systematic approach helps in constructing a reliable timeline of events and positions, which is crucial during crises.

Who your emergency contacts are on location?

  • Local healthcare providers, embassies or consulates, security, and authorities.

Keeping a list of these contacts readily accessible and updated is essential for anyone working in potentially hazardous conditions. Make sure this information is shared with your main contact back home and included in your overall safety and communication plans.

  • Other colleagues in the area

Particularly those from your organisation or others in the same field; they can provide mutual support and pass messages to other contacts.

  • Gain contact information from on-the-ground support as soon as possible.

There may be circumstances where you won't know you're on the ground support team until you arrive. Prioritising identifying and documenting your emergency contacts on location is crucial for ensuring safety and effective response in emergencies.

Communications codes in case communications are monitored or compromised.

When operating in environments where communications might be monitored or compromised, using communication codes can provide an added layer of security and discretion. Here are some effective strategies to consider developing and implementing communication codes:

  • Pre-arranged code words and signals

When in a hostile environment, there may be the threat of kidnapping and being held hostage. It is conscientious to develop a set of code words and signals that represent specific messages, actions, or statuses that may be communicated via ransom video or audio recording. Discover other anti-kidnap and hostage techniques and how to remain vigilant in hostile environments with our HEAT course.

  • Simplifying Communication During Crises

Develop protocols that are easy to understand and execute, even under severe stress.

Capable of conveying distress or specific needs through pre-determined codes or signals, minimising the need for elaborate conversations.


Emergency Protocols

Effective emergency communication protocols are essential for quick and clear transmission of information under stress.

 Local Network Awareness

Understanding and integrating into the local communication structure can significantly enhance your operational capabilities.

  • Benefits of Local Integration

Knowledge of local telecom services helps in planning for contingencies. Local contacts and networks can provide crucial support if other communication channels fail. Also, obtaining local SIM cards can offer a fallback if international communications are disrupted.

Technology and Power Backup

Maintaining operational communication devices at all times is non-negotiable in hostile zones. 

  • Preparing for Technological Challenges

Equip all devices with multiple power backup options, such as extra batteries and maybe solar chargers. Be sure to secure devices with the latest cybersecurity measures to safeguard sensitive information.

Learn Essential Communication Strategies

 The communication strategies outlined in the HEAT course and HEFAT course are designed to ensure that personnel operating in hostile environments have the best possible support and safety measures in place. By preparing comprehensively, participants can face the complexities of any high-risk situation with confidence and clarity. Our HET training courses run every week throughout the year. Enquire today to participate and learn the valuable skills and knowledge that are needed in hostile environments, including first aid, risk management, conflict resolution, and security techniques.