Executive protection professionals need to understand the changing nature of terrorism.
As the upsurge in mass-casualty terror attacks on Western targets has dominated headlines over the past few months, we now see terrorist actions striking ever closer to home with dismaying regularity across Europe, the United States and other locations around the world.
Terrorism in no longer a terrible thing that happens elsewhere to others. For the progressive protection professional, it is therefore of prime importance to take the threat of terrorism seriously and to consider this when protecting yourself and your principal.
These uncommonly brutal attacks have something in common
When examining recent attacks in Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul – and most recently, Bangladesh – several common factors should be considered: All of these attacks targeted civilians; they were all brutally violent events which the attackers did not plan to survive; and they all took place in public locations at times when they were predictably filled with crowds of people.
Protection professionals don’t get to choose whether terrorists target military, political or civilian victims. We have no influence over whether terrorists seek to live or die. But we are able to consider the variables of time and place when planning safety and terrorism protection. While we obviously do not know where terrorists will strike, we do understand the target profile. This understanding can be a very powerful tool. Terror groups (and those conducting acts in the name of such groups) strive to cause shock and fear, to disrupt the way of life where they strike and, of course, to achieve widespread coverage in the press.
You’ve got five seconds to make a choice that could mean survival
When interviewed, survivors of the attacks all say the same thing: “At first, we thought it was firecrackers or fireworks. We only realized it was an attack when…”. This is critical information to everyone – both security professionals, innocent travelers and partying friends.
Whether in a protection role or not, when we sense ambiguous noises or scenes we have at most five seconds to make a decision as to what to do. This brief window is critical to our principals’ and our own safety.
The first few seconds of any attack are mayhem for victims and attackers. The perpetrators do not yet have control of the environment, and we need to use this to support and enable our survival. This is where security’s golden rule number one offers it richest rewards: knowing your environment increases your chances of avoiding trouble, and of survival if trouble strikes anyway.
Your primary and only goal during a terror action’s first seconds should be to remove yourself and those under your protection as far from the attack as possible. Get out of harm’s way, get out of the building, get going in the right direction. Now. Once you hunker down and wait, your chances of survival are greatly diminished.
Stay away from crowds. Trying to help the wounded is noble, but first be certain that the attack is over and that it is safe to do so. It is now that you can cash in the situational awareness credits in your memory bank. Getting to the service entrance you noticed, the adjacent corridor, elevator, etc., will be your way to safety. Move fast, but if you have no other choice, fight and fight to win.
There’s safety in crowds and police presence. Until there isn’t.
When terrorists attacked the Stade de France in Paris in November, 2015 and Ataturk Airport in Istanbul this June they were confronted prior to entering their target location. In both cases it was at this point that they detonated their devices, killing themselves and killing or maiming those within the blast radius.
The takeaway from this is two-fold. One: Where possible do not use crowded entrances, or at least minimize the time spent there. Two: Though it seems counter-intuitive, remember that the presence of security personnel or police does not necessarily constitute a safe haven. In fact, security or police actions can catalyze an attack.
Does an attack on a city imply this place is less safe than others? Not necessarily. While we might be left with the perception that cities where an attack has happened are extremely dangerous, in fact once the attack has ended, these cities might be safer than most: Authorities have them locked down, and the bad guys are forced to keep a very low profile.
To sum up: We can’t know where terrorists will strike next, but we can make an educated guess that they will target crowded places where security and law enforcement are indeed deterrents, but may also catalyze a desperate attack. Knowing your environment enables you to make important decisions quickly.