Safety, Security & Aid Workers

"Security" has a dual focus for aid workers: security for the aid workers themselves, and security for the local people aid workers are in a country to help. This page discusses security for aid workers. There is another advice page of information on security for the local people aid workers are in a country to help. This advice page is only a partial introduction to security for aid workers - they are no substitute for proper training and management from qualified and experienced people. Safety and security threats faced by aid and development workers are very real. If you doubt such, go to Google and type in aid worker, UN staff, or volunteer and the word killed, robbed, raped, injured or kidnapped. Overall, the number of aid and development workers harmed is few compared to the huge number of workers in the field, but the risks are real. Among the threats to the safety of aid workers are politically-motivated violence, violence related to robbery or other criminal intentions, unsafe physical conditions in the country (poor sanitation, unsafe roads, land mines, poor medical facilities and substandard treatment, etc.). Security briefings for aid workers usually focus on preventing violence and responding to threats. Every duty station is different, and every aid and development worker will face unique security and safety concerns. In addition, different aid workers face different security concerns: someone away from field headquarters may have to worry about kidnappings, whereas someone at headquarters may have to worry about rioting and looting. In addition, women can face threats not faced by their male counterparts (and vice versa). All aid workers need to be aware of safety and security situations in whatever country they are working in, and ways to address such. Safety and security should be a concern for every aid worker, not just for security officers:

  • Read all materials provided to you by your agency regarding safety and security. Consider re-reading them after you have been in-country for a while.
  • If such is not already provided, ask your agency for a pre-departure and/or an upon-arrival safety and security briefing.
  • Read daily, weekly or monthly written security updates from your agency. If such is not provided, find out if other agency staff receive such updates, and if there is a way you can have such sent to you directly, or if another agency's staff will pass on such updates to you.
  • News wires may report security problems in your country (bombings, shootings, etc.) before anyone in your agency knows about them. You can use RSS to have news stories with specific key words sent to you immediately.
  • Remember that when you violate your agency's safety and security guidelines, you could be putting others' lives at risk, not just yourself. That includes local people, like drivers and guards. Also, some agencies will not pay death benefits if it is found that an aid worker was killed with violating security measures.
  • Don't let others, including from your own agency, pressure you into violating your agency's safety and security guidelines. You are not weak or a coward for following these guidelines.
  • Consider taking workshops on security outside of those provided by your agency, and read security materials produced by other organizations.
  • Report any security incident, however seemingly benign, to your security officer. Your officer should know about anything suspicious you have witnessed or heard about.
  • Preparation for work in insecure areas
  • Writing a security plan
  • Managing security in the field
  • Reacting to incidents
  • UN Security Phases
  • Where to find a comprehensive security manual
  • An example of an NGO's security policy and security manual
  • Protection for Human Rights defenders


Managers: it is vital that you plan and manage the security of your staff thoroughly. This is time-consuming. But failing to do so may get someone killed, and can put your whole programme at risk.



Security preparation includes trainingbriefing and equipping your staff, and assessment of the risks in the area in which you plan to work. In an emergency it can be very tempting to leave one or more of these out. Don't.


Security plan

Write a security plan, at least in outline, before you deploy staff to an insecure area, or (in the case of staff working in their own country) before work begins.



Good management of staff is one of the best ways of preventing security problems. This involves many things, including:

  • Building good relationships with many different organisations and individuals
  • Ensuring that all staff behave appropriately to the culture and security context
  • Checking that staff stress levels do not rise too high
  • Keeping communications equipment and vehicles in good condition
  • Careful administration of money, information and valuable items


Security incidents

If staff are properly trained and managed, they are much more likely to react well to any incidents that to happen. Managing an incident also includes reporting, debriefing, learning lessons and if necessary investigating the causes of an incident.


Other things to look out for

Security management is a big subject. Further points to bear in mind include:

  • Making sure your buildings are secure
  • Recruiting and managing guards
  • Disciplining all drivers to handle their vehicles safely (a high proportion of aid worker deaths are due to vehicle accidents)
  • Fire safety
  • Health and hygiene (in many cases health risks are a greater threat to aid workers than security risks)
  • Good radio procedures
  • Rehearsing reactions to likely incidents
  • Coordination with local security forces (if this does not compromise your integrity) and other humanitarian organisations


UN Security Phases

The UN has six security levels, which indicate the UN's assessment of the comparative security threat in an area.


An example of an NGO's security policy and security manual

See an example of an NGO's security manual.  The NGO's security policy is included within it, at Annex A.

This isn't the only way to write these documents, but it's one way, and you may find it helpful to use as a source of inspiration for your organisation's security manual.  Make sure you think all the issues through for yourself, and don't just copy this manual blindly - the issues may be radically different for your organisation and you may need different procedures.

This manual is long, yet it aims to be as concise as possible within each section.  Consider whether there are some sections that you could leave out.  Equally, consider whether your organisation might need a standard procedure on all of the topics listed here - and possibly some others too.


For more detail

The ECHO Generic Security Guide for Humanitarian Organisations is a comprehensive security manual. It has a table of contents at the front and a detailed index at the back, making it easy to find what you need. It's in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

It's aimed at humanitarian (i.e. emergency) aid workers and organisations. But it's also relevant, with minor adaptations, to long-term development work.

Most of the material in this Security section and related pages is taken from the ECHO Guide, with minor adaptations.  Please note the copyright statement and disclaimer in the Guide.


Protection for Human Rights defenders

See the 'Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders', produced by Front Line, an Irish-based NGO formed in 2001 for the specific purpose of protecting Human Rights defenders.  Their website is at


Other Resources

A further list of safety and security manuals is available at this NGO Security Blog.

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Security Manual - Example1.doc662 KB
Tags: Security