Since the horrific attacks in Paris and repeated incidents at international hotels around the world, a deluge of advice has been flooding in from security professionals, journalists and anti-terror agencies alike on how to deal with terror attacks should you get caught in one.
The counsel most often given includes terms like Run, Hide, Communicate and Fight. These are indeed good top-line tips, but how is the average civilian supposed to implement them? The practicalities are usually incomplete and unclear – and more ambiguity is not what we need.
In this blog, I’m going to try to flesh out these ideas so you might make better use of them in case of a hostile event.
Of course, there is no “one size fits all” solution to personal security, and the sad reality is that terror can strike anywhere at any time. But that doesn’t mean you should stay at home under your bed and cave into the terror that a tiny few would impose on the vast majority of us. Nor does it mean that we need to stock up on bullet-proof vest and personal protection weapons. You don’t need special equipment to improve your chances of surviving a terror attack.
What can be helpful is this: Some knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, the good judgment to read a situation and know when to do what, and swift response. But hey, these things can help you every day in many other ways, too. So let’s see how to apply them in case all of our worst nightmares come true, and we are in the middle of a terror attack.
Be aware of your surroundings
Unlike other crimes terrorism is not governed by neighborhood, time of day or how much of a victim you appear. Terrorists do not necessarily go after the elderly or weak. They don’t prefer dark alleys to well-lit streets. And they often have zero regard for their own survival. So unlike other violent crimes, being closer to law enforcement won’t automatically make you are safer. You need to use your own wits.
Learn to use your eyes and ears: They are among your most powerful weapons. Being aware of your surroundings can often help you avoid trouble all together.
For example, if you see someone who looks suspicious, move away and tell someone in authority. Indicators that could raise suspicion are many. It could be unseasonable clothing, like a big coat in hot weather. It could be nervous behavior, restlessness or sweating in a cool environment. It could be someone who is not acting like everyone else. For example, if you’re at a concert and everyone is looking at the stage except one person, who is glancing nervously around and looking tense. This doesn’t mean the guy is a terrorist, of course, but it is worth noting. He might just be waiting for a partner who is late; but if the guy never settles down, you might want to move away or tell someone – or at least enlarge your scope of awareness to include the guy in addition to the music.
When you are out and about in public, don’t put yourself in a sensory bubble.
If you’re walking on a city street wearing earphones, it’s better to have one ear plugged-in and the other plug-free so you can hear what is going around you. To make things worse, plug in both ears to loud music, then pull a hoodie over your head to completely dull your situational senses of sight and hearing. Your environmental sensitivity will be so dramatically compromised that if someone comes up behind you, you won’t notice until it’s too late. If someone was being attacked behind you, you wouldn’t even know it was happening and just keep on trucking.
Of course, I don’t expect an article like this to change the way a lot of teenagers and 20-somethings get from A to B. But even the most jaded millennial might want to consider the benefits of improved situational awareness – at least sometimes.
Lastly, it’s a good idea to pay attention to law enforcement warnings and terror-threat alerts. While it’s easy to think you know better, or perceive the warnings as paranoid fear mongering, remember this: Law enforcement agencies have access to intelligence that the rest of us do not; so if they direct us to stay away from a specific area or issue travel warnings for a particular territory, do take heed. There is usually a good reason for this.
Good situational awareness will keep you out of a lot of trouble. But in the unfortunate and unlikely event that you do get caught up in real hostilities, let’s take a closer look at the sound advice offered by Homeland Security, the FBI and many others. Here are some pointers on how to run hide, communicate and fight.
Be prepared to run. But only in the right direction!
Rule number one is simple: Run! This oft-offered piece of advice sounds reasonable and is doable for most of us. But is it a good idea? Well, that depends.
Let’s say we are in a hotel conference room and we hear gunshots outside. Should we run? Or what if I’m getting out of my car in a stadium parking lot and I hear an explosion. Should I run? Perhaps I’m inside a store in a shopping mall and I hear screaming. Should I run?
There is a very simple rule of thumb in this regard:
Make a move only if you are certain that where you’re going is safer than where you are.
This needs to be imprinted on your consciousness. It may save your life.
As analyses of hostile incidents have proven, people often flee from life-threatening situations despite the fact that they are safe where they are, only to run to a location that is even more life-threatening. People automatically run because that’s a natural response. In many cases, this instinctive reaction unintentionally transports them from safety to danger.
If we are in a conference room and the attacker is not, we are, for the moment, safe. There is no threat in the conference room. However, if we blindly dash into the corridor we may well run into a hostile holding a gun. It would be preferable to barricade ourselves in the conference room, and maybe to strategically position ourselves next to the door with a weapon of any sort, be it a chair or television, that will enable us to disable any hostile person attempting to enter.
If you are in a store and there is screaming or gunshots somewhere in the mall, stay put. Get the shop assistant to lock the door, get on the floor and stay as far away as possible from the glass store front. If you can disappear from sight into a closet, even better. But do not run blindly into the mall; you may be headed straight toward the danger.
If, however, you are in the direct vicinity of the gunfire or gunmen, then by all means run! Just be sure you’re headed for less danger, not more.
Hide as if your life depended on it. It does
Hiding is most definitely a great option to avoid harm. Here too, however, we could all benefit from a little more information.
In the case of hostile attackers, hiding means disappearing from sight. Hiding under a table or behind a chair is not adequate. One unbelievable act of bravery we witnessed in the recent Paris attacks was a pregnant woman who hung from a window ledge: This is the embodiment of hiding. She showed ingenuity and bravery, and quite simply removed herself as a target.
As any martial artist will tell you, the best block is not to be there. If I am not seen, I cannot be specifically targeted.
Climb into a cupboard or slip into a walk-in fridge. Better still, lock yourself inside your hotel room or any room. Do not simply huddle in a corner and hope you will be left alone. Very unfortunately, experience has shown us that this is rarely a winning strategy.
It is important to understand the difference between cover and concealment. Concealment is something like a plywood shop counter that hides you but does not stop bullets. Cover is something that can stop bullets, like a wall. Hiding under a table provides neither cover nor concealment and is a bad idea. A walk-in fridge, on the other hand, can provide both cover and concealment.
If you must make a quick choice, choose concealment over cover. If you are well concealed the gunman cannot see you and therefore cannot target you. Should a gunman come around the corner where you are hiding, then you no longer have concealment or cover.
On the other hand, if the gunman has already seen you and you are fleeing, then you want to put the cover of a bullet-proof barrier between you and his bullets.
Communicate calmly – and tactically
Emergency communication flows in two directions. One is from those inside the besieged facility to people on the outside. The other is from security personnel on the outside to those trapped within.
Let’s look at inside-out communication first. Phone calls, social media and a myriad of messaging applications enable people inside a facility to provide invaluable information to the security personnel outside. But what do they need to know? Some information can be of great tactical value and should be prioritized: How many attackers can you see? Do they have long or short guns? (Regular folks cannot necessarily differentiate between pistols, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, etc.) Where are the ones you can see located? Are you or anyone else hurt?
The other channel of communication is from the security personnel or police outside the besieged area to the shoppers, guests or visitors within.
A security officer with access to the PA system can make an announcement warning people they are in danger and instructing them what to do. They should. Most security personnel will say, “Of course I would do that.” However, when we put them under pressure in simulations, even though they intend to make an effective and intelligible announcement that will save lives, they generally stumble over words, speak quickly and make little sense.
Knowing the proper methods of emergency communication is one thing. Implementing them appropriately in high-stress situations is something completely different. Without good training, the efficacy of even excellent tools is greatly diminished.
Fight, if you must. And then as if there’s no tomorrow
Unless you are well trained and highly skilled, attacking the attackers should be your absolute last resort.
Given a truly desperate situation of either fighting or being the next victim of a determined gunman, it is better, in my opinion, to fight. This at least gives you a chance. If all other options are exhausted and you cannot run, hide or communicate your way out of a life or death situation, do fight as if there is no tomorrow.
A word about fighting to all of those who make their living doing something else. If you are going to fight a gunman on a shooting spree, then do so with excessive aggression and force. There is no such thing as a proportional response against a terrorist who is trying to take your life. You must commit 100% and keep attacking until they are no longer a threat. Use any and all weapons in reach: chairs, tables, rocks, whatever it takes to neutralize the threat.
I hope you never need my advice. But remember it anyway
The fact that such an article is at all necessary is itself a sad commentary on our current state of affairs.
We live in a reality that is sometimes disturbing. Nonetheless, it is our reality. And it is therefore our responsibility to prepare ourselves and our children as well as we can in the sincere hope that we will never need any of the advice written above.
That notwithstanding, I’d rather my loved ones have this knowledge and not need it, than need it and not have it. I hope the same for yours. Stay aware and stay safe!
This article was originally published by Mac Segal on LinkedIn Pulse on December 16, 2015.