Guidelines for Medics Working in Hostile Circumstances

 Morton County Sheriff's deputies prepare to face off against Dakota Access Pipeline protestors, near Cannonball, North Dakota. Photo by Frontline volunteer William 'Billy' McMaster. 

Morton County Sheriff's deputies prepare to face off against Dakota Access Pipeline protestors, near Cannonball, North Dakota. Photo by Frontline volunteer William 'Billy' McMaster. 

 
 

Part I: Guidelines for Medics/Volunteers Working in Hostile Circumstances

  • Before the Action Starts: Guidance for Organizers
    • Talk with your medics/safety volunteers about their needs and concerns, and specifically how they’d like support from you in the event of a personal emergency.
    • If your organization is committed to nonviolent resistance, consider developing a Non-Engagement Policy and Code of Conduct; these require medics/volunteers to NOT engage with police, military or counter- protestors in a hostile manner, in either speech or action. One of the best ways to keep medics/safety volunteers safe is to make sure they make it clear that their role is solely medical; they are neither protesters nor combatants. Their sole responsibility is to provide care to those who need it. (If you’re concerned about liability, we recommended that you create a record showing that these conversations/agreements have taken place, although you might not want to name the medic/safety volunteer due to security concerns; a nickname or other identifier might be better.)
    • Ask each medic/safety volunteer to write a safety plan covering what steps they have taken to prepare for potential arrest or injury. Who needs to be notified? Can they identify a local pro-bono attorney or legal service?
    • Make sure the medic/safety volunteer has established an emergency contact, that you have that person’s name and contact info on record, and that the person they’ve listed will NOT be attending the same action. Encourage the volunteer to provide a second contact if at all possible. Ideally, the contact would share two phone numbers and two email addresses (and will have informed their contacts of what nickname is being used).
    • Make sure each medic/safety volunteer has established a check-in time with their emergency contact or other designated person. The check-in should happen after the medic/volunteer has left the event and is in no perceivable danger (or at least is only in minimal danger) of arrest or harm.
    • Ensure the medic/safety volunteer has informed their contact person that an organizer/coordinator from your organization may call them to get a final status on the well-being of the medic/safety volunteer.
    • Establish two or more escape routes from an action if, in your judgment, those routes are needed. These may be critical if authorities begin firing live rounds, physically attack protesters, etc.
    • Establish the location of a safe house for medics/volunteers. Ensure that each medic/volunteer knows the location of the building(s).
    • Organizers/coordinators should obtain contact info for the nearest police station and nearest hospital for each action (this is to speed up communications in case a medic/volunteer is arrested or injured).
    • It may also be important for organizers/coordinators to establish contact info for a local human-rights activist; a local contact for Amnesty International or similar human-rights advocacy agency, for example).
  • During the Action
    • Organizers/coordinators should encourage medics/safety volunteers (and protesters) to take breaks, eat food, and drink water to avoid heat-related injuries and/or dehydration
    • Medics should not chant, carry protest signs or engage in other activities that would blur the lines between combatants and noncombatants (per the Geneva Convention guidelines for the conduct of medical-aid society personnel)
  • After the Action
    • We strongly recommend that organizers/coordinators have a healthcare provider and a mental-health therapist available during actions and in the immediate period following an action to provide support to medics/safety volunteers (Frontline Wellness United will work to provide you with these at no cost, if you’re unable to find them locally).
    • The organizer/coordinator (working to manage the medical/volunteer team) will report the status of all medics/safety volunteers to their organization after an action has been completed. The report should include the number of medics/safety volunteers at the action, the health and welfare status of each of them, an estimate of the number of patients treated, the types of conditions/injuries treated, any concerns the coordinator or volunteers have, and anything else the coordinator or volunteers would like to report that would enhance the safety and wellbeing of medics/volunteers and persons at any future action.

 

Part 2: Responsibilities of Medics and Safety Volunteers

  • Your Role
    • Medics/volunteers at an action are responsible for their personal safety. They must not take undue risks, or conduct themselves in any way that violates a Non-Engagement Policy or Code of Conduct.
    • Medics/safety volunteers should behave in a manner that minimizes risks to themselves and others in their immediate environment. Protecting oneself should be a medic/volunteer’s first priority. Under no circumstances should a medic/safety volunteer behave in such a manner that the distinction between medic versus protester becomes unclear.
    • Medics/volunteers are present solely to protect the health and well-being of all persons at a protest or other action.
  • Before the Action Starts
    • Each medic/volunteer should be familiar with laws regarding providing medical assistance (Geneva Convention articles, Good Samaritan Laws, Volunteer Protection Act, personal insurance/liability, etc.)
    • If more than one medic/volunteer is scheduled to attend an action, a group coordinator should be identified, if possible. This person is responsible for ensuring that all medics/volunteers have established an emergency contact and a final-check-in contact (these contacts must be local, so that they can respond directly to health/legal issues concerning medics/safety volunteers). Group coordinators will want to review the guidelines above.
    • Medics/volunteers will have a planned check-in time with their emergency contact after the action is concluded/they are out of perceived danger.
    • Ideally, all medics/volunteers should carry a cell phone with their emergency contact/check-in contact preprogrammed.
    • Review safety information with the organizer/coordinator so each medic/volunteer knows the escape routes and location of the safe house, should they need to use them.
  • During the Action
    • Medics/volunteers must carry personal safety equipment such as non-latex gloves, face shields or anti-pathogen mask. They’re also encouraged to carry basic First Aid supplies, a change of clothing in a plastic bag, and a spare plastic bag to hold soiled clothes (such as clothes contaminated with pepper spray or other noxious chemicals), spare food and at least one liter of water. A spare change of clothes can also help obscure your identity, if you’re being pursued by someone after leaving a protest.
    • Medics/volunteers should take rest breaks, and food and water breaks to prevent heat-related injuries and/or dehydration. Coordinators in the field should encourage volunteers to take rest breaks.
  • After the Action is Over
    • The group coordinator will report the status of all medics/volunteers to their organization after an action has been completed. The report should include the number of medics/safety volunteers at the action, the health and welfare status of each, an estimate of the number of patients treated, the types of conditions/injuries treated, any concerns the group coordinator or medic/safety volunteers have, and anything else the group coordinator or volunteers would like to report that would enhance the safety and wellbeing of medics/safety volunteers and persons at any future action.
    • Talk with trusted friends, family and Frontline Field Operations staff/coordinators and healthcare providers after an action in order to reduce stress, and to stay strong and healthy for future social-justice work. If you need to decompress, or have a medical issue, contact us online for help.

Be effective, and work safely!