How CBC News prepared the crew for travel to an Ebola zone
Safety suits and disinfectant part of daily prep for field work in Liberia's outbreak zones
CBC News arrived in Liberia this week to cover the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which has claimed thousands of lives in West Africa and captured the attention of people worldwide since the disease surfaced again 10 months ago.
The danger of contracting the virus in such a volatile region means that the decision to send three CBC News journalists — correspondent Adrienne Arsenault, producer Stephanie Jenzer and cameraman/editor Jean-François Bisson — wasn't a light one, but CBC realized covering such a momentous story from afar wasn't enough.
EDITOR'S BLOG | Covering the Ebola story: A unique challenge
And so began a complex and time-consuming effort to establish effective safety protocols and a workable coverage plan that began about a month before CBC News left for West Africa.
"The first thing we start everything with is a thorough assessment of the risks that we're going to encounter, and then we look at how can we overcome those risks and enable them to get in and do their job," said Harris Silver, the CBC's high risk deployment manager.
Then, Arsenault, Jenzer and Bisson — along with CBC News managers — received training and advice from experts on how Ebola affects its victims and how to prevent contracting the disease.
The journalists had a sit-down with infectious disease specialist Michael Gardam, who explained the signs and symptoms of Ebola.
"The thing with Ebola is the symptoms are like every other thing in the beginning," he said. "There's nothing special that jumps that says this is Ebola versus malaria versus typhoid versus rickettsia. It all looks the same."
(Mobile users: Watch Dr. Michael Gardam explain Ebola symptoms here)
Next, the crew learned how to put on the protective gear required for an Ebola outbreak zone. It involves putting on many layers of equipment — including boots, gloves and hoods — and taping down the edges to ensure no skin is exposed.
"I feel protected with this," Jenzer said, after putting on the full suit and mask.
(Mobile users: Watch CBC News journalists learn how to don the protective gear here)
Packing was also no easy feat.
"We, obviously, need a bit more equipment than we usually need," Bisson said, standing in front of boxes containing personal protective equipment.
Bisson acknowledged that the full suit will make him less agile as a camera operator.
"It'll be harder for me to see and work around with my camera, but we're required to wear this. It's to protect us and it's very important," he said.
(Mobile users: Watch CBC camera operator Jean-François Bisson explain what to pack for an outbreak zone)
A significant part of the preparation, however, was less about being in the midst of an outbreak but about coming home.
"It all comes down to your own peace of mind," said Dr. Tim Jagatic of Doctors Without Borders. He shared his advice with the CBC News team on being carefully prepared to make sure that any worries that emerge upon returning from West Africa are not rooted in actually contracting the disease.
"If you feel a little bit nauseous from stress, and you're going to be in a high-stress environment, it's the stress — not Ebola," he said.
(Mobile users: Watch Tim Jagatic share advice on preparing to come home from West Africa)
Arsenault, Jenzer and Bisson are in Liberia for seven days. Follow their live coverage here.