Surviving Terrorism

iStock_000011748848XSmallWhenever an incident like the bombings in Boston occur, there is first the search to find the offender, then will come thehow could this have been prevented question. The answer to the second question may not be one of institutional culpability, but more of personal responsibility.

We’ve all been taught to drive defensively – we know though that not everyone practices it. Driving defensively assumes that people will do unpredictable things – they will speed, run stop signs, fail to signal before making a lane change, and, for whatever reason (telephone call, texting, surfing the web, applying makeup, eating, involved in conversation, dealing with kids in the backseat, daydreaming), they may just not see you. Driving defensively involves some awareness, but not a total sense of paranoia – this is a concept we can apply to our daily lives. It’s the concept of living defensively. 

Ira Lipman, in his book How to Be Safe: Protect Yourself, Your Home, Your Family, and Your Business from Crime, says that bombings are by far the most common incident perpetrated by terrorists (Lipman 341). Bombs are typically concealed in trash cans, bags of some sort (laptop bags, purses), and even in every day items such as clothing, toys and cameras (Lipman 341).

Surviving a terrorist attack begins with awareness. When you enter a store or any location, quickly survey the area. Do the people there look like they belong? You typically intuitively know the baseline for the places you go – is there anything outside of the baseline? Are there any items that appear to be out of place? Also:

  • Identify exits from the facility, doors leading to back offices and the restroom; alternate exits could help if you need to immediately evacuate the facility and back doors and restrooms could provide places to shelter-in-place
  • If you notice someone or something suspicious, notify the personnel in the facility and if you’re uncomfortable, leave the area
  • If there is an explosion you should dive to the ground; there may be a secondary blast and ground based explosions follow a cone like pattern, extending upward and outward so standing up presents too much of a target
  • If there is gunfire, hit the floor. When people shoot, many times they will shoot high, and their eyes are normally drawn to moving targets; when it’s time to run, crouch down – this takes you below the sightline and often below the line of fire

The Israelis have been under attack so frequently that their citizens, starting in their youth are taught to recognize signs of suspicious activity and people. They are also taught how to notify authorities and many aren’t afraid of being embarrassed if their report turns out to be wrong. Identifying suspicious activity is not magic – it’s about knowing the baseline for a location or activity and then looking for deviations from the baseline. Not every deviation is a terrorist attack, but it should be cause for further investigation or monitoring.

For workplace violence situations, if you are confronted by a shooter, lower your voice, talk slowly and politely (Lipman 301). Do not aggravate the person. Escape the situation as soon as possible.

For an active shooter situation, the Houston Police Department has produced an excellent video, available on YouTube, on how to respond to an active shooter – the strategy is simple, RUN – HIDE – FIGHT. In that order. If there is an active shooter, the first thought should be to RUN from the situation. Get away as far as possible. How far? We used to tell pilots in training that if they land a plane and its on fire, run until you feel stupid. And that’s still good advice.

If you can’t run, attempt to HIDE. Lock doors, lower window shades, turn off lights. If you can’t hide, or if you’re about to be discovered, then FIGHT.  Use whatever you can as a weapon, a fire extinguisher, your laptop, a sharp pen or even a pencil, whatever. Remember that you’re about to enter a fight for you life – this isn’t the schoolyard where someone will step in if one person gets the upper hand – as my Krav Maga instructor used to tell me, use violence of action to fight back and don’t stop until the threat is negated or you can safely escape.

The government and private businesses cannot prevent every bad thing from happening, no more than police always can prevent careless or reckless driving. We have to drive defensively – we may still get hit, just like we may still become the victim of a terrorist bomb or bullet, but at least, by living defensivelywe are swinging the odds in our favor.

Lipman, Ira A. How to Be Safe: Protect Yourself, Your Home, Your Family, and Your Business from Crime. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 2011. Print.


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