Some jobs are worth the risk of going to far flung and dangerous parts of the world. Healthcare practitioners, journalists, expats and NGOs need to traverse volatile environments with very little security in order to provide help to those who badly need it. Hostile Environment Awareness Training or HEAT prepares individuals for navigating challenging circumstances while protecting themselves and others.

The Training Method

Due to the nature of the topic, most Hostile Environment Awareness Training programs are conducted in a manner similar to that given to members of the law enforcement. Instead of the usual eLearning or lecture- type face-to-face training, Hostile Environment Awareness Training is usually in the form of high fidelity stress exposure training that puts together theory with high-stress and hyper-realistic simulation of common risky situations.

The step-by-step training intervention begins with theory, and then proceeds to guided exercises to make learners familiar with all the concepts. The intensity level rises day by day in order to let learners simulate the experience where they can use their newly acquired skills in realistic conditions.

HEAT Content

Basic First Aid and Psychological First Aid

HEAT programs normally begin with basic first aid and psychological first aid. In this section, learners will learn how to communicate during an emergency and how to care for any casualties. It also covers how to look after yourself while making sure that the casualty is being attended to. Treating common injuries such as minor bleeding and minor burns are also discussed. Learners will also be taught how to handle an unresponsive casualty and how to set priorities of first aid while effectively managing the scene. Other courses may include treatment of fainting, animal and stings, sprains and strains. Personnel Security and Safety Another common topic under HEAT is personnel security and safety. This topic covers security and safety in different situations, preparing for overseas travel and deployment, identifying and reducing potential risks tied up with field travel and deployment, and using various communication modes in the field. Some specialized courses may cover the techniques to avoid and to respond to an arrest and a detention situation.

Medical Threats in the Field

HEAT courses also include medical threats in the field. This covers environmental factors (humidity, significant elevation above sea level, extreme heat and cold), diseases caused by animal bites or exposure to animal excrement, and endemic diseases.

Fire Safety

Fire safety is another major part of most HEAT program. It covers the importance of fire safety, the types of fire, as well as roles and responsibilities of persons in a fire incident. Fire safety laws in the country where the personnel will be deployed are also discussed in the training, focusing on fire safety legislation and fire risk assessment. Customized programs include may include housekeeping, detection and warning systems, the location of fire extinguishers, evacuation routes and exits, fire signs, and emergency lighting.

Managing Emotional Stress

Living in hostile environments can cause a lot of emotional stress. HEAT programs include training on relaxation through deep breathing techniques, relaxation imagery, tension-relaxation contrasts, cue-controlled relaxation, and biofeedback. Some courses also teach learners to review their attitudes and values, restructure their thinking, set goals, use positive imagery, rehearse mentally, and schedule their activities effectively. They recommend behavioral changes to better manage interpersonal situations and distress by checking the learner’s assumptions, sharing their expectations with others, using assertive communication and exercise. Relationship reviews may also be included, which involves reviewing past hurts, how to forgive people, communicating emotions and rewarding oneself. Crisis Negotiation Crisis negotiation also be a part of HEAT. It is “a law enforcement technique used to communicate to individuals who are threatening violence including barricaded subjects, stalkers, criminals attempting to escape after a botched robbery, and hostage-takers.” This portion of the program makes use of Behavioral Change Stairway Model, a specific model developed by the FBI. The model has the following stages:

  • Active Listening: Understand the psychology of the perpetrator and let them know they are being listened to.
  • Empathy: Understand their issues and how they feel.
  • Rapport: When they begin to see how the negotiator feels, they are building trust.
  • Influence: Only once trust has been gained can solutions to their problem be recommended.
  • Behavioral Change: They act, and maybe surrender.

Hostage Situations

Surviving hostage situations is also an integral part of most HEAT courses. Topics include the two types of hostage situations, as well as recognizing the phases and knowing what to do in each.

In phase one, capture, learners learn how to quickly assess the perpetrator’s intent, avoid attention, and stay low. They learn ways to escape or disarm and disable the intruder.

In phase two, learners what to do during the internment stage including how to stay calm, connect with the perpetrator, and staying alert to rescue efforts and opportunities to escape.

The third phase is a discussion about the resolution stage, which may lead to a negotiated release, rescue or escape.

Critical Incident Peer Support

Traumatic events are one source of “stress injuries” to employees. To combat the effects of post traumatic stress disorder, critical incident peer support training is included in HEAT programs. Topics under critical incident peer support cover the five essential needs of people after a traumatic experience ( safety , calm communication, the feeling of connectedness, skills and resources to cope, and confidence in their leaders, mission and future endeavours).

Steps in providing support include evaluating the strengths and vulnerabilities of the person, what stress management he has completed, resources that are available or needed, and individuals or parties that can help him. It also covers taking action such as showing concern for the individual’s well-being, and allowing him to talk about his experience.

More in depth courses include providing physical, emotional, and moral safety, minimizing exposure to environmental stressors, providing factual information, reducing the spread of rumors and promoting morale. Learners are also taught how to foster resilience and promote recovery through social support mechanisms such as friends, family, and activities.