As with any personal defense issue, the most important step is simply accepting that it could actually happen to you or your family. Thinking about what you would do, imagining being there and visualizing your response are huge parts of your preparation.
If you were in a major city and there was a terrorist attack like the one that occurred in Boston, what would you do? Imagine that you were passing through or visiting as a tourist in a city that you didn’t know well and had no close friends or family and the city were targeted by terrorists and the explosions start. In trying to help people formulate their plan, I have broken my advice down in to three areas, relative to how close you are to the actual attack:
#1 Immediate Area: You or your family are affected by the attack:
If you or people in your group are injured, you’ve got to act fast with medical assistance. The first priority is to stop the bleeding. Knowing how to use (and possibly improvise) tourniquets could be the most vital skill that you could employ after a terrorist bombing. Making sure that the victim can breathe and that their heart is beating, and protecting them from going into shock will be your next concerns. Learning the fundamentals of being a First Responder and rendering trauma aid is relatively easy… get to a class! Consider carrying a tourniquet in your backpack or purse. As soon as you can, move out of the immediate area, get to professional medical support. Keep in mind that the official medical centers will be prioritizing their efforts to those in the worst condition who can be saved. If you can get away from the city and go to less congested areas for minor medical treatment, that would be best.
#2 In the vicinity, but not directly affected by the attack:
If you are in the immediate area of the attack, but not actually injured, there are two major options:
A. Assist those who have been injured:
If you know how to help and if you are inclined to do so, there is no doubt that rendering aid to others is what many people will be compelled to do. If you are alone and not responsible for protecting others (kids, family members, etc), offering medical assistance, moving debris or assisting first responders as they request could be great services to provide.
B. Secure yourself or others:
If you are compelled to get away from the area, provide protection for others or just want to secure yourself from harm, you have to consider the fact that many, many others may be trying to do the same thing. The first thing you are going to need to protect yourself from may very well be the other victims of the attack. When a crowd of people are panicking, they can be very dangerous to themselves. Trampling, crushing and irrational interpersonal violence are all potential realities in the aftermath of an attack. If you find yourself in a narrow street or choked exit point with thousands of people trying to run away from an attack, you need to get yourself (or your group) out of the stampede and up against a wall (or at least to the edge of the crowd), try not to rush to the same doorway or stairwell as everyone else. Overwhelmingly, once the attacks have occurred, if you are not injured, your biggest danger is going to be panicking or being hurt by others in that state. Take a moment to secure your group, get out of the way, then make a plan for moving to another area.
Special Note: If you are visiting an area where you do not “fit in”, possibly another part of the world or simply an area where you do not look like everyone else, be cautious about group violence or anger being directed at you as an outsider. Try to get away from the crowds.
#3 In the city, but not in the area of the attack:
If you are in a major city and there is a terrorist attack, you will probably have a hard time getting out. Transportation hubs are popular as targets for attacks and should be someplace that you try to avoid. Even if they are not targeted, they may be flooded with people trying to leave the area or be placed under dramatically increased security protocols to increase safety and/or to try to stop whoever was responsible for the attack from leaving the city. Public transportation may be similarly affected and not an option.
Major roads leaving the city may quickly become so congested that they are also not an option. If the city is on the water, as many are, one of the most efficient ways to leave may be for you to charter a boat, if you happen to be near a marina and there is a willing boat owner present. In any case, the faster you act, the better your chance of leaving before roadblocks, increased screening or congestion start working against you… if you are going to go, then GO!
If you are forced to stay in a city and do not know anyone with a private home or apartment that you can get to, I recommend getting your family secure in a place that is unlike any pattern of attack that you can identify. If hotels are being targeted, avoid them. Movie Theaters, Night Clubs, Restaurants and many other types of places have all been targeted during attacks in cities around the world. While it is almost impossible to get inside the twisted mind of a terrorist and guess where they will attack next, many atrocities have identifiable short term patterns.
Unfortunately, looting and rioting are also a very real thing in the aftermath of these attacks. Again: Avoid Crowds and get to a secure place as soon as you can.
The last question I have been asked a lot in the past 48 hours is “What kinds of things should I carry?”
Here are the things I suggest that you at least think about having with you when you are visiting a major city:
* A Map… have a quality paper map or guide book with you, don’t rely on electronics.
* Cash in local currency…. you never know when you are going to need to charter that boat, hire a car or rent a room quickly. You might also get trapped in an area while the power grid or infrastructure is down and not have the option of using credit cards/ATMs.
* Medical Equipment… a simple tourniquet, compression bandage, some hemostatic agent and other small items can easily be carried in your backpack, camera bag or purse. Have them and know how to use them. Also, make sure others in your group know where they are and how to use them as well.
* Defensive Tools… while you cannot defend yourself from a bomb with a knife or impact device, you may need to protect yourself in the extended aftermath of an attack or natural disaster. Be creative and you can probably carry or find many items that you and your group could use for personal defense in a pinch that are completely legal and generally innocuous.
This is not intended as a be-all, end-all Urban Survival Guide… just some things to think about this week as we all consider being trapped in or near an event like the Boston Marathon Bombing. Thinking ahead and having a plan…ANY PLAN…is better than pretending it could never happen to you and then being forced to improvise in the heat of the moment.