Advanced Security in the Field (ASITF)


United Nations personnel are no longer seen as neutral peacekeepers in times of war or conflict but are now actively targeted for violence in the areas where the UN operates.

In order to train United Nations personnel they developed two courses for use in training. Basic Security in the Field (BSITF) and Advanced Security in the Field (ASITF).

The material below is based on that latter course, previously only available to United Nations personnel deployed to conflict areas.

Online Course

If you want to take the course directly from the UN Department of Safety and Security you can click here.

Knowing and Using Your Vital Security Tools

The objectives of the first module are to discuss communication tools, and basic navigation and survival techniques.

Radio/Voice Procedure

The first section focuses on basic radio terminology, also called voice procedure. Voice procedure has been standardized in the western world so that individuals from different groups may work together seamlessly, and many of these very standard elements have entered popular culture.

This terminology includes:

  • Roger – Your last message was received.
  • Over – I am listening for your reply. (Always at the end of a sentence.)
  • Out – I have finished talking and the communication is over.
  • WILCO – Your last message was received and I will comply.
  • Say again – To repeat a message (e.g. I say again, Can you say again)
  • Copy – I heard and understood your message
  • Affirmative – Understood.
  • ETA – Estimated Time of Arrival

When radio conditions are poor, it may become necessary to spell a word out using the NATO Phonetic Alphabet.

Minimum Operating Security Standards (MOSS)

The UN has a variety of security standards in place at each operating location. Part of these MOSS include the establishment of an Emergency Communication System (ECS). ECS may include use of HF, VHF or UHF Radios, telephones or computers.

HF radios have very long ranges  (but are also very large devices, fitting on roof-tops) while VHF and UHF have shorter radio ranges (of 25-100KM depending on configuration) but can be handheld.


Virtually all radio communication can be monitored. Sensitive information should not be passed through radio as it can be easily intercepted. You may need to use coded terminology in order to communicate in this scenario.

The ASITF training uses an example of a hostage-taking to demonstrate radio procedure and other safety tips, explaining for instance, that you can estimate how far you walk by timing yourself walking 100 metres (using paces to get the original 100 metres down) and then going based on your average time to travel that distance.

Navigation and Direction Finding

When using a map, lay it flat in the direction of the landscape (so that north on the map matches north on the terrain.)

Sun Method

The sun can be used to determine north and south, because it always rises in the east and sets in the west. This is most accurate on the Equator.

Watch Method

Using your watch in the northern hemisphere, you can point your hour hand of your watch at the sun. South will be halfway between the hour hand and the 12 o’clock mark.

In the southern hemisphere, point your 12 o’clock mark at the sun. North will be halfway between the 12 o’clock hand and the hour hand.

Stick Method

Put a 1 metre long stick into the ground where it will cast a shadow. Mark the spot where the shadow ends. This will tell you where west is. Wait 10-15 minutes for the shadow to move, then mark the new  spot where the shadow ends and that will tell you where east is.

If you’re standing in between the two marks with the east marker to your left and the west marker to your right, your body is pointed at north. The direction behind you is south.

Star Method

At night, you can use the Big Dipper in the northern hemisphere and the Southern Cross in the southern hemisphere to find the approximate direction of north or south.

Other Methods of Direction Finding

Compasses and GPS (Global Positioning System) devices can help you find your way but may be more easily lost or broken in a field situation. Therefore it is advisable to practice other methods of direction-finding and traditional map reading and land navigation in addition to proper use of these tools.

Other Navigational Hazards

Crossed sticks may be evidence of a mine, along with other elements like knotted grass or objects tied to trees.

Finding Water

Water may be essential to your survival, but you should avoid at all costs drinking untreated water which may contain unknown and potentially dangerous pathogens. If you have a cloth or other fibrous or porous material (sand, coffee filter, etc.) you can attempt to filter the water as much as possible.

Finding Food

Many parts of the world contain ready sources of edible food, many of them may be poisonous and it is important to study your local environment prior to being deployed there in order to keep.

Creating Shelters

Creating shelters helps protect you from the elements. Sheltermaking is a discipline all on its own, but some very basic shelters can be constructed in a few minutes or hours. For example, a lean-to is created by leaning branches in an A-frame shape and adding leaves and mud to the sides and roof.

Other shelters may be constructed in winter, swamp, beach or desert environments as the situation dictates.

Creating Fire

Fire can be started with a variety of methods including friction, and artificial firestarters. You should start with small dry pieces of leaves, bark or other matter called tinder. Next, small pieces of wood or sticks that is very dry called kindling is used. After that, somewhat larger sticks can be added. Once a fire is fully established, logs can be used.

Signalling Techniques

Signals are used to help rescuers locate you. They must be used carefully given that in hostile or unfamiliar areas you may attract attackers as well as helpers. Fire can create a signal simply by being lit or with smoke signals. Green leaves or grass can create white smoke while tires, rubber or oil-soaked rags can create black smoke.

Using a large wet blanket, you can cover the fire briefly to interrupt the smoke and make it more visible.

The international smoke signal for distress is 3 columns of smoke, created by 3 fires burning near each other (ideally in a triangle formation.)

A mirror or other shiny object can be used to direct a beam of sunlight in the direction of a passing pilot. Only a few seconds is required, and any more than this may blind a pilot.

Torches work similar to fire, and electric flashlights may include strobe options to help you signal. Clothing may be used on the ground (again in the shape of a triangle or other man-made shape), while natural materials like rocks, vegetation or brush may be rearranged to help indicate your location.

Finally, your own voice, car horn or other objects may create noise to help signal your location.

Where possible, always signal in threes (e.g. Morse code, mayday or emergency on the radio, etc.)

Transporting Cash

When you need to transport cash (always a dangerous activity) there are things you can do to keep yourself safe. Simple confidentiality helps ensure that only those that need to know about your cash transfer, do.

The individual moving the money (the courier) should use normal looking bags and dress so they blend in. Ideally money should be split up among two or more couriers.

Your Public Behaviour, Image, and Personal Safety

Introduction and Values

The goal of this module is to help you understand how cultural and behavioural elements may play into your security. Your individual actions reflect on the United Nations as a whole. Standards of conduct of the United Nations include respect for people and their cultures, respect for the environment, and acting with integrity.

Values shared by the United Nations as an organization include:

  • Integrity
  • Professionalism
  • Respect for Diversity

Guidelines for Personal Conduct

Being respectful of individuals regardless of their ethnic, religious, racial, economic or cultural background. Do not discriminate. Keeping a clean appearance helps you feel pride in yourself. Specific dress concerns may be important in some locales.

Body language may change depending on where you are, so being calm, professional and avoiding boisterous behaviour will help you avoid attracting undue attention. Misuse of alcohol can lead to all kinds of dangerous situations, as can use of drugs (whether legal or illegal.)

Avoiding mine fields, battlefields, military installations and religious buildings (unless you are of the faith that the religious building serves) will help you stay out of trouble.

Culture Influences Perception

The way that we are raised leads to a variety of subconscious and conscious perceptions about how we see the world. We filter experiences through our own lenses. Seeing someone from India who eats with their hands or off the floor might be considered uncouth in the western world, while there is no such belief assigned to the behaviour in that country.

Keeping an open mind and learning about the cultures in which you interact will help you avoid cultural faux pas.

Cultural Checklist

The following elements may be important elements to understand in your new environment. How are these elements impacted by the culture in which you work?

  • Respect
  • Time
  • Greetings
  • Appearance
  • Body Language
  • Physical Contact
  • Loyalty
  • Hierarchy
  • Decision-making
  • Disagreements
  • Feedback
  • Emotions
  • Gender
  • Age/Respect
  • Risk Taking
  • Relationships
  • Personal Space
  • Attitude Towards Work

Assessing Your Security Risks

The UN Security Risk Management Model is presented below. It involves a Threat Assessment, Vulnerability Assessment and Program Assessment feeding into a Risk Analysis. This leads to the enumerating of potential options, decisions and planning, and implementation of a security management program. Finally, reviewing and modifying the plan helps to ensure it is updated and accurate.

Threat is defined as “Those things that may harm us.” We can do little to reduce a threat, it is exists or it does not. A risk is the probability of being harmed by a threat. The categories of threats include:

  • Perceived Threats (threats that appear to be threats but have not been verified)
  • Actual Threats (threats that are known to exist)
  • Direct Threats (threats directed specifically at United Nations personnel)
  • Indirect Threats (threats that may affect United Nations personnel but have not been directed at them.)

A Program Assessment examines things like where a program will operate, what stakeholders (partnerships, NGOs and other organizations) are involved, what the outcomes are, and what will the outcomes be if the program if implemented or not implemented?

A Vulnerability Assessment will explore strengths and weaknesses of the project in order to identify vulnerabilities. Examples include physical security issues (like a vulnerable front gate) and other issues like having only one route to an important location.

Risk Analysis

Risk Analysis involves examining the likelihood of a threat (how common it is) and its impact (how severe a threat would be to the operation when it occurs.) A risk analysis matrix tool is presented below:

After determining the level of risk, it is important to look at options in order to decide on the best course of action.

Nothing is More Important Than Your Wellbeing

The goal of the final module is learning about stress management and self-care. Stress is a response to some form of pressure or threat. Stress is not bad, because it allows us to make changes in our life in order to evade threats – such as by increasing our adrenaline to evade a predator or by forcing us to search for food when hungry.

Stress Management

Reducing stress involves first recognizing that you are in a challenging situation. Next, there a variety of coping strategies an individual may implement to help them reduce stress:

  • Exercise
  • Relaxation
  • Good Nutrition
  • Debriefing with colleagues
  • Reading books, taking up hobbies
  • Keeping a source of support back home
  • Avoiding substance abuse like cigarettes/drugs/alcohol

Types of Severe Stress

Severe stress leads to cumulative stress (a sense of physical and emotional fatigue after a lengthy period of continued stress), burnout (a state of depletion and impairment that prevents an individual from performing their job effectively), traumatic stress, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Coping Strategies

Coping involves all the things we do in order to control our stress. Avoiding drugs and alcohol are examples of maladaptive coping, while hobbies, sleeping, relaxation, deep breathing, meditation, and many other activities are examples of positive coping.

Counselling and therapy can be other important elements in dealing with stress.

Your Options in Challenging Environments

The final module covers a variety of situations that may affect personal safety like bomb handling, emergency handling and natural disasters.

Suspected Bomb Handling

  • Clear the area
  • Do not touch or move the object
  • Do not use cell phones or radios near the object

Bomb Threat

If/when you receive a phone call relating to a bomb threat, it is important to collect as much information as you can from the caller. Information like:

  • What type of bomb is it?
  • When will it go off?
  • Where is it located?

Take note of any details like sounds in the background, that may help locate the individual.

Individual Threats

Threats such as telephone calls or letters directed to you may cause fear but in most cases in the UN environment, turn out to be hoaxes. Collecting as much information from a telephone caller and keeping an envelope/letter undisturbed are simple precautions you can take to help resolve this sort of incident.

Emergency Planning

Emergency planning is the process of examining what negative events could occur in a country, an area or region, an office, and individually – and then to make contingency plans to deal with those issues. An office emergency plan includes information on:

  • Evacuations (fire, bomb threat, etc.)
  • Responding to an Active Shooter / Intruder
  • Safe Rooms
  • Fire Plan
  • How to respond to threatening phone calls

When a bomb explodes:

  • Drop to the floor
  • Take shelter under a strong object like a desk or table
  • Protect your face and head with your arms

Natural Disasters

Earthquake safety involves bracing heavy items so that they don’t cause damage when they shake. Store heavy and breakable items on bottom shelves, and shelter in place until the earthquake is over.

Volcano safety involves wearing long clothing, a dampened face mask/cloths, and goggles.

Tropical storms (also called cyclones, typhoons or hurricanes) safety involves staying indoors and/or evacuating to a specified area. Ensure you have enough food and water in case supplies are interrupted.

Tsunamis are large sea waves caused by an earthquake, eruption or landslide. Tsunami safety focuses on moving to higher ground as soon as possible. Look out for the sea receding from the coast.

Tornado safety involves getting to the lowest point (cellar, basement where available) and staying away from windows. Get under a heavy item like a bathtub or a desk. If outside, get into a ditch or other low-lying area.

Flood safety involves evacuation, collecting as much fresh water as you can (fill all containers, including bath tubs with it), and turning off all electrical devices. Waterborne diseases like cholera may exist so boiling tap water may be necessary until the water supply is restored.

Bushfire/Wildfire safety involves evacuation, seeking shelter in buildings (if evacuation isn’t possible), drinking lots of water, and (if stuck in a vehicle and surrounded by fire) turning off the ignition and getting on the floor.

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