One of the curious things about people is how quickly, and sometimes how slowly, we learn. In the wake of the Paris attacks and then San Bernardino, it seems people have finally started to take preparedness a bit more seriously. We can sometimes be a bit harsh on civilians, and honestly, it is often quite funny, but when disaster strikes we all want everyone to be okay. We train for the worst-case scenario all the time, so preparedness is part of the air we breathe; it’s not that way for civilians who only know it through the evening news or their Facebook feed. In this article, we will present you with advice on how to survive a terrorist attack.
We have to give credit where credit is due: We have witnessed true heroism from people totally untrained and unprepared, who stand up when the worst day of their lives arrives. From the stoicism, everyday humor, and bravery exhibited by Londoners during “The Blitz” and the IRA bombing campaign from the ’70s through the ’90s, to the defiance of Parisians in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and the latest Paris attacks, civilians have greater reservoirs of bravery than they are aware of. But they are seldom prepared to act, and as a result, it takes time for them to react — that time costs lives.
There are many articles and videos making their way through the Internet right now about how to survive a terrorist attack or an active shooter, and I’m not going to belabor them other than to summarise some key points. It doesn’t pay to focus on these scenarios too much; despite the huge media coverage, your chances of being caught up in one are still infinitesimally small. Even in terrorist-afflicted countries such as Israel during the last Intifada, you had a one in 76,000 chance of being caught up in an attack. In 2001, the worst attack the U.S. had ever seen only put the odds up to 1 in 101,000. That being said, the same awareness that helps you react quickly in such a rare instance will also help you to react quickly to any other far-more-likely emergency situation you will encounter. As Louis Pasteur put it, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”
1. Be the Spark
One of the best videos on dealing with active shooters was made by Endeavor Defense and Fitness. The co-owner, Aaron Janetti, talked about how just one person is needed to provide the spark, and more people will join in. That’s where you come in. Regardless of what your rank is, or was, you need to be prepared to lead, to be the spark that pulls everyone else into action before things start to spiral out of control.
You’re never going to be a victim, you’re never going to go down without a fight. No one wants to go down without a fight. No one wants to be a victim. Sometimes they just need to be shown the way: they will need that spark to break the spell of fear and inaction. They will fight, but you will need to let them know it’s an option, and perhaps the only one available. If you feel fear and panic, that’s normal, but fight it and focus on those around you. If you’re the most experienced, or even just the calmest and most put-together, make sure you keep your head up and direct those around you. It will calm them down and give them much-needed focus.
2. Look for the Exits
The most important thing is to simply be aware of your surroundings, what’s going on, and where things are. We’ve heard the pre-flight safety briefings millions of times, but the one thing you should always do is look and take note of where your nearest exits are. In a crash, you’re not likely to think clearly, even if you have time, and passengers have died waiting to exit burning planes because they followed the crowd instead of going to their nearest exit. The same goes for any concert venue, stadium, or even freeway. Always look for the exits, automatically, as an ingrained habit. This is vital information for evacuating or escaping, whether it’s an attack, earthquake, car pile-up, fire, or any other adverse event.
3. Be Prepared
To survive a terrorist attack, you need to carry the right equipment. No, I’m not talking about a “Batman” utility belt with your IFAK, but a keychain-sized utility tool can be awfully handy in a pinch. Preferably one with a glass-breaker, but really anything is better than nothing. Your vehicle should definitely have a robust first-aid kit. Sure, they can be pricey but are absolutely worthwhile. Also, it’s amazing how many spare supplies you can pick up at work after conducting annual training. Your odds of being in, or near, a motor accident are far greater than anything else that comes to mind. Take a look at your kit and review the basics, CPR and AR protocols, MIST, and any instructions you have for your equipment. Consider including a space blanket, glow sticks, shovel, candles, and a couple of rations too, especially if you’re looking at taking long road trips in the winter.
4. Free Your Mind
One of the most important things you can do is keep your mind open to possibilities. Nothing kills people faster than freezing up. Be aware of the risks and their solutions. If things go south, don’t get stuck on the tracks with Plan A. If you find your primary exit blocked, look for another. If the bleeding won’t stop, improvise a tourniquet. If you’re trapped in a room and a shooter is hunting through the building, think about going through the drywall. Relax, focus when necessary, but don’t lose your lateral thinking and keep your eyes open for opportunities.
This article was originally published on January 27. It has been updated for republication.