This week, helicopter pilot Allan Cram discovers the safety and security manual he says his crew should have received when they first arrived in Afghanistan. Better late than never? Maybe not in a country in the midst of war, where every common type of gunfire is identified in a manual.
The following is from a manual developed by the construction company who had contracted our helicopter. None of this information was provided to us upon our arrival — something that may have contributed to a different outcome. Here’s what the manual said:
“Upon arrival in Afghanistan, all new staff will be picked up at the airport and transported to the main office in Kabul where you will receive a security briefing that provides an update to the current environment you will be living and working in. The briefing will provide the following information:
• Current environment, overview, and update on current security incidents
• Summary of the current Country Wide Threat Level
• Specific detailed briefing on your area of operations
• Restrictions on behavior or movement, i.e. curfew, alcohol, and off limits areas
• Diagram of compound, and location of facilities
• Review of emergency contact information and procedures, and ICE
• Description of friendly forces operating in the area
• The local evacuation plan
• Medical facilities familiarization
• Security Team Weapons familiarization
The briefings are presented by the Security Team. All have exceptional backgrounds and qualifications in the area they are briefing. Additional topics that will be covered are:
• Personnel evacuation plans
• Evasive driving orientation for passengers
• Transportation incidents/immediate action drills
• Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) recognition
• Basic First Aid
Additional subjects may be added as the environment changes. Providing training and updates on these subjects will assist the staff in the event of an emergency. All participants are encouraged to ask questions so that any of their concerns can be answered properly and to their satisfaction.
Top Ten Common Sense Ways to Survive in High Risk Environments
10. Don’t be Obviously Foreign — In some places, like downtown Kabul city, you’ll stand out no matter what. There is really no need to outwardly advertise yourself. This is why PSDs are going discreet with no display of weapons. However you can blend in by wearing darker tone clothes, concealing body armor and not wearing baseball caps or USA marked clothing. There are many people from this region who look like westerners.
9. Don’t Openly Display Flashy Jewelry — Robert Young Pelton, author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places, accurately describes westerners in the Third World this way: “as obvious as a naked man with one hundred dollar bills taped to his body.” Wear local, inexpensive jewelry if you must look beautiful.
8. Keep Copies of your Passport and Hide the Original — Carry three copies of your passport and all of its relevant information in two separate areas of your baggage and one on your body. Passports are the hottest commodities in the world and yours is up for a clever pickpocket.
7. Listen to your “Bad Vibrations” – Do not ignore your sixth sense. When you get alarmed or spooked maybe your sub-conscious is telling you something profound … like, “Get out now!” Listen to it, but first only after thinking through the situation clearly for a few seconds, observe the situation around you and ask yourself “Is there a source of rescue close by?” If the bad vibes are still there then act on your feelings.
6. Learn Where your Nearby Safe Locations are – As soon as you arrive, look at a map and orient yourself to safe havens near your work place. You may need them in an emergency or illness. Think of them as your last resort security blanket.
5. Read Afghan sourced English Language Newspapers/Websites — The locals and expatriates who write these papers are well in tune with the regional information. Learn from them and see why the market is going to be burned down just when you want to visit.
4. Avoid Unexpectedly Amorous Men and Women — Although you are probably attractive enough, be wary of people who approach you and try to woo you the moment you arrive. If its romance, you’ll know soon enough. Most of the time it is someone who may want a foreign passport, your wallet, to take you to a gift shop. Remember, you are the cash cow and they want a little milk. Most people are naturally attracted to foreigners. Listen to what your mother told you when you were 15; it is still applicable.
3. Become Aware of Real Security Threats —Before you ever set foot out of your home, learn if the country and people are amenable to your visit. There could be threats you won’t see before arrival. Research the Internet and find the facts. For example, although Iran is not a popular destination, it is a wonderfully hospitable place for Americans; however any slight turn of political events could make you a long term visitor. Weigh the risks.
2. Avoid Known Hotspots – Check with the Security Office to see if you are planning on going someplace not even the press will go.
1. Don’t Panic! — Things happen in the world. Some times good. Some times bad. Panicking does not help. Relax and watch cautiously everything and everyone around you. Take decisive action (like running) should a real threat emerge.
Listening to Gunfire
Why do we hear so much gunfire in Afghanistan? There are many reasons but the most popular reason is that you are hearing celebratory fire from a wedding. But there are many types of gunfire and learning the patterns of fire is important to your safety.
- Single gunshot (pop) – Guard turnover – heard in the middle of the night, at early morning hours and evenings this usually reflects one of three things, watch turn-over of guards who hand their weapon off to the new guard. He generally doesn’t know if the weapon is loaded so instead of looking in the chamber or removing the magazine he pulls the trigger and fires a round into the air.
- Single gunshot with burst (pop- Bup-bup-bup-bup) – New Weapons purchase – another variant that can happen anytime and is usually followed by a burst of full automatic fire. This guy now has a new toy and needs to test fire it just to make sure it works.
- Double gunshots (pop pop) – Stay Away warning – this is the sound of two shots in quick succession. Usually heard at night, this is the universal warning. It means “I am awake, have a gun and will warn you by pulling the trigger twice. Please go away.” It may also mean, “Bad guys are near”, a warning for other guards.
- Double gunshots with Burst (pop-pop-Bup-bup-bup-bup) – Celebration gunfire.
- Generally associated with weddings and most often heard on Thursday and Sunday nights. These are rhythmic shots sometimes done to music and while dancing.
- Full automatic with irregular shots (pop-bup-bup-bup-pop-pop-pop bup-bup) – Firefight – This is usually a crescendo effect sound of a battle. The combatants are now exchanging irregular bursts of semi and full automatic fire. The staccato sound and overlapping shots are a clear sign that you are near a battle. This usually involves the police vs. criminals’, neighbor vs. neighbor, or just a full-on neighborhood battle. Stay clear and get inside if you hear it.
- Total mayhem fire into the air – Super celebration – reserved for the deaths of esteemed people, New Year’s Eve … the super celebration involves firing every bullet in the house into the air… especially the colored red and green tracers. Run; don’t walk for the house when the super celebration happens and take cover as falling un-aimed bullets will kill as efficiently as aimed bullets.”
“Afghanistan” Radio Nederland Wereldomroep”Kabul, Afghanistan” zedwards @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Kabul” zedwards @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Kabul, Afghanistan” ISAF Media, ISAF photo by TSgt Laura K. Smith, Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights Reserved.
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