On the Greatest Risk to UNCIVPOL: A Lack of Situational Awareness


By: Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20150108

I believe the single greatest risk facing international civilian police is a lack of situational awareness. Chapter 6 and 7 of the POTI text illustrates the different safety, security, and health risks that confront international civilian police. They are listed as follows: Hijacking, detainment, abduction, sniper fire, mines, loss of radio contact, food poisoning, diseases, heat exposure, snake bites, scorpion bites, stress, PTSD, and accidental injuries (Lanholtz, 2009). There is a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts that follow this list of security risks intended to increase one’s personal security awareness. This implies that all associated risks documented by the UN and faced by the international civilian police can be mitigated at least to some extent. Without question, different missions bring with them different degrees of risks. Nevertheless, an unawareness of the situational risks involved in any mission poses the greatest risk to the international civilian police.

The POTI text echoes this notion when stating,

“The best way to be safe is to avoid trouble in the first place, rather than having to attempt an extraction later. This means that you should develop a strong sense of security awareness and adjust your behaviour to take into account the environment in which you find yourself and the possible risks related to it” (Lanholtz, 2009).

This reminds me of a lesson I learned after reviewing a list of fallen Highway Patrol Officers on a particular state website. After further investigation, I discovered that majority of the casualties were the result of officers hit be vehicles during traffic stops. Yes, the drivers that were stopped could have been terrorists or anti-government maniacs, the officers could have incidentally discharged their weapons after failing to place it on safe thereby accidentally shooting themselves, could have been shot upon approaching the vehicle, and an entire list of other possible risks could have contributed to their deaths. Nevertheless, failing to pay attention when approaching the driver’s side of the vehicle caused them to be struck by oncoming traffic.

It was to no surprise that I read this week that “majority of the fatalities that occur on UN missions are the result of automobile accidents that have been caused by bad and/or unskillfull driving” (Langholtz 2009, 109). Again, not paying attention can be fatal! It is in the best interest of all international civilian police to keep a mental index of the risks noted by the POTI text and remain vigilant at all times.


Langholtz, Harvey J. (ed). 2009. United Nations Police: Restoring Civil Order Following Hostilities. Peace Operations Training Institute.


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