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July 26, 2004

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News Organizations Provide Security Training

By Seth Effron, Ed Fouhy and Media Nation Staff
Monday, July 26, 2004

It may seem to some of the journalists at the national political conventions that they're being prepared to cover hostilities in Basra, Iraq, rather than politics in Boston, Mass.

Several news organizations, including The Associated Press, Knight-Ridder newspapers and The New York Times, have required their staffs to attend classes on personal safety and how to deal with acts of terrorism.

Knight-Ridder newspapers hired Centurion Risk Assessment Services to provide a mandatory one-day training session for all news staffers covering the national political conventions. Knight-Ridder, which operates 59 newspapers in major cities such as Philadelphia, Miami and San Jose, is also requiring journalists headed to the Athens Olympics to attend the course.

Clark Hoyt, Knight-Ridder Washington bureau chief, said it would be irresponsible not to make sure that reporters are properly prepared and informed at a time when U.S. government authorities are issuing warnings about potential acts of terrorism during the presidential campaign in general and at the political conventions specifically.

"I hope nothing bad happens," Hoyt said during an interview in Knight-Ridder's convention work space beside the Fleet Center. "But we need to take some prudent precautions.”

Centurion, based in Britain, has worked for many years with news organizations including the British Broadcasting Company, Reuters and others to develop programs and provide personal safety and risk- assessment training for journalists assigned to the world's danger spots.

Hoyt said his organization, like several news operations, requires any journalists assigned to war zones or trouble spots such as the Middle East to take the week-long courses.

Associated Press staffers were briefed Sunday morning by Centurion on the potential for trouble during the convention and on issues of personal safety in the event of trouble. One AP staffer described the session as "frightening."

Several news organizations issued safety gear, including hoods for protection in case of chemical attacks, to their staffers. But others noted that the hood, which protects against smoke, doesn’t help with bio attacks. NBC News Vice President Bill Wheatley said his staff of more than 300 has had evacuation drills, but haven’t stocked up on suits or masks. “You have to train people carefully in those,” he noted.

The Democratic National Committee raised the stakes on the atmosphere surrounding the convention hall when it issued a 19-point list of items banned from the Fleet Center. The list includes the usual -- umbrellas, scissors, plastic replicas of weapons and knitting needles -- and some not so usual: flashlights and unopened envelopes and packages.





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