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Published: September 29, 2020

Adapting security training during COVID-19: World Vision’s journey with Rapid Access Security Training

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Training is one of the essential ways through which a humanitarian organisation prepares its staff to deliver aid to those communities most in need. In this blog, we gain insight into World Vision’s latest learning innovation: Rapid Access Security Training.

Given that the need is greatest in more insecure and fragile areas, it follows that training in personal security is critical to keep staff safe, ensure duty of care is met and enable effective programme delivery.

Humanitarian security has long used words such as agility, flexibility and adaptability as keywords on how teams should behave in dangerous contexts, and rightly so. It is great to have rigorous plans and procedures in place, but personal and organisational behaviour that is adaptable to the circumstances at hand is also critical. COVID-19 and its associated limitations provided the opportunity for us to apply those principles to our training modalities and security management. This resulted in the creation of Rapid Access Security Training (RAST).

World Vision has long relied upon Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) for international staff and has developed a strong curriculum administered by a global training team, which trains staff before deployment to high-risk areas. Through on-site, high-fidelity training, the organisation imparts knowledge, and ‘muscle memory’ for staff operating in dangerous areas, as well as the opportunity for hands-on practice in skills such as first aid and navigation. The course has been run around the world, with instructors and students from multiple countries coming together for the immersive experience.

For local staff, World Vision has used Security Awareness in National Theatres (SAINT), which is, in content and delivery, similar to HEAT, but is delivered by and for staff working in their home countries and is contextualised for that operating environment.

HEAT and SAINT both enable World Vision to teach basic techniques to stay safe, as well as to prepare staff on how to interact with local populations to create and maintain acceptance, and how to manage stressful situations during a career in humanitarian aid. HEAT and SAINT will both be resumed in full after the pandemic restrictions can safely be relaxed.

Then came COVID-19 and its travel restrictions.

At the moment, it is not possible to travel freely and gather in large groups of people, yet the humanitarian and operational needs did not decline. Rather, needs are increasing and, likely bringing increased fragility and insecurity too. The ambiguity around when normal travel and training can restart is still with us.

In this context, we created our new Rapid Access Security Training.

RAST delivers the classroom material of HEAT through expert, live, virtual instruction by the World Vision training team, and it delivers the practical field curriculum through instruction by our local security staff. Almost all of those security staff are HEAT and training of trainers (ToT) trained to deliver our SAINT training, and, with ongoing support, are now able to work with the training team to deliver RAST, thus enabling operations to continue during COVID-19.

Over the last few months, World Vision has piloted this training in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This country was chosen because it is an insecure context with pressing security needs, but also because it is affected by many of the typical challenges to effective training that we see in fragile areas. These include finding suitable venues, obtaining permits, ensuring the language of the course is accessible, sourcing reliable internet connection and working against the ever-present possibility of demonstrations, transport challenges and other surprises.

The flexibility gained with RAST has enabled World Vision to continue to meet two key needs: continuing to serve communities in need and fulfilling the duty of care we have for our staff, who work hard in dangerous places.

This experience has reinforced three insights for us.

Firstly, humanitarian work requires good security risk management conducted by able security staff in the field. Investments in those staff are as critical for day-to-day operations as they are for conducting training. In this case, the foundation for RAST was laid years ago by hiring effective staff and investing in them as SAINT trainers through the HEAT and ToT programmes.

Secondly, to deliver the type of security training required in this era of uncertainty and increased risk, local security managers need the support of trainers to ensure they have the knowledge, tools and coaching needed in the field. For this reason, HEAT will continue to be the go-to training model in the future.

Thirdly, there can be no sustainable humanitarian programmes in fragile contexts without a sound security culture. The purpose of humanitarian security is to enable good, safe programmes to reach those communities most in need. Key to achieving this is context-appropriate training, which enables staff to participate in a security culture where everyone plays a role in keeping the organisation safe and effective in contexts of need, danger and ambiguity.

About the Authors

Bill Slaybaugh is Deputy Director of Training for World Vision’s Office of Corporate Security.

Johan Eldebo is Regional Security Director -Southern Africa for World Vision.


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