NGO Safety & Security Manuals

Everything you need to know to get started (and beyond) 

Standard Works

Operational Security Management in Violent Environments, Koenraad Van Brabant. The roots of NGO security can be traced back to a U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance initiative to develop security training for the humanitarian community. Grant money funded working groups and the development of training material. Koenraad Van Brabant, who was a member of the original NGO Security Working Group, wrote this seminal book on humanitarian security. (The book is also known as GPR 8, for number 8 in the series of Good Practice Reviews published by the Humanitarian Practice Network.) Van Brabant updated GPR8 in December 2010. The revised version is available here.

Mainstreaming the Organisational Management of Safety and Security, Koenraad Van Brabant. In 2001, Van Brabant’s follow-up to GPR 8 was published. Where GPR 8 is primarily field-oriented, “Mainstreaming” focuses on security management practices and philosophies. The two volumes form the foundations of contemporary NGO security, and many of the community’s training sessions are based on Van Brabant’s works.

Generic Security Guide for Humanitarian Organisations. Most of the big NGOs have their own security manuals, but this one, produced by ECHO (the Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission) is by far the most comprehensive and easiest to use. Download it, read it, print it. It’s very good (kudos to author Barney Mayhew). Versions are available in English, French and Arabic. If the link doesn't work, try this one.

Staying alive: safety and security guidelines for humanitarian volunteers in conflict areas. ICRC released an updated version of this classic field guide in January 2006, and we immediately added it to our primary reading list. The best and most usable guide to safety and security issues in conflict zones.

AED Safety and Security Handbook - AED is no longer around (at least in name), but its excellent safety and security handbook lives on (in PDF format).

CARE Safety & Security Handbook - NO LONGER AVAILABLE - After nearly two years of hosting copies of CARE International's concise pocket guide to safety and security (in Arabic, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese), on July 29, 2008 I received an email from CARE legal counsel instructing me to remove links to the PDF files from this Web site. In August 2006 I had received permission from the former director of the CARE Security Unit to distribute these manuals, to increase their availability to the humanitarian community. It is a shame CARE has elected to remove these references from circulation. They were concise, well organized guides that were being used and appreciated by smaller organizations that didn't have the financial resources to field dedicated security staff. If CARE makes the handbook available somewhere else on the Internet, I'll provide links.

September 18, 2008 - I've been informed the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance site has an earlier edition of the English language, PDF manual. Here's the link. Get it while you can.

World Vision Security Manual. A comprehensive pocket sized guide to all aspects of field security published in 1999. Unfortunately not available online, but print copies can be ordered from World Vision for under $20 USD.

American Refugee Committee (ARC International). Safety and Security Guidelines (2004).

Security Awareness - An Aide Memoire. UNHCR security publication with versions available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese.

United Nations Field Security Handbook - If you're working for or with the UN, this is essential reading. (The UN appear to have pulled all online versions of this manual. It's still available in some Google caches.)

Advanced Topics

OCHA: Humanitarian Negotiations with Armed Groups: A Manual for Practitioners

RedR Trainer Resources - a collection of papers on a variety of NGO security topics. Primarily designed as resources for RedR trainers, but applicable to anyone interested in security. (RedR has removed this page but it's still available at here.)

ICRC: Management of dead bodies after disasters

FEMA 426: Reference Manual to Mitigate Potential Terrorist Attacks Against Buildings

FEMA 427: Primer for Design of Commercial Buildings to Mitigate Terrorist Attacks

ICRC: First Aid in armed conflicts and other situations of violence

UN: Landmine and UXO Safety Handbook 

US OFDA: Field Operations Guide for Disaster Assessment and Response (FOG)

US DOT: Emergency Response Guide - the definitive hazardous material pocket reference

Hesperian: Where There Is No Doctor - One of the best written, practical, "anyone can use" health care books ever written. Free and online.


Other Security Manuals

US Department of Commerce - Manual of Security Policies and Procedures

Peace Brigades International - Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders

US Department of Defense - Minimum Antiterrorism Standards for Buildings

Anti-Defamation League - Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies for Today's Dangerous World

Canada Public Works and Government Services - Industrial Security Manual

Government of New Zealand - Security in Government Sector

last updated June 4, 2012