How to Survive a Terrorist Attack
When horrible events happen, people want to know why. Why was a random group of people targeted to have their innocent day destroyed by violence and terror? Why did the culprit choose that group of victims, that day on the calendar, that specific location? And who? Who was the mastermind behind the event? Who were the members of the group that perpetrated the horror?
This is always followed by the speculation that things are not as they have been presented to us. Most people in the preparedness world have a very valid mistrust of the corporate-sponsored mainstream media. We look to other sources for our news, and rightly so.
Every time, that speculation includes accusations that our own government is behind it, pulling the strings. Other frequent theories are that the events never actually happened at all and that the victims are 100% made up of crisis actors.
The pursuit of the truth is an important quest. Some journalists have dedicated their entire lives to uncovering the Machiavellian plots of those who pull the strings and it’s a noble and meaningful calling.
And that is why what I’m about to say is controversial and probably won’t be well-received.
Strictly from a survival point of view, it doesn’t matter at all who committed the acts of terror that occurred on 9/11, on the streets of Boston, or on the other evening in Paris. It doesn’t matter whether the shooting at Sandy Hook was perpetrated by a kid with behavioral issues or by operatives with an agenda.
If your focus is preparedness and survival, the most important thing you can be doing right now is learning from these events.
Whether you believe what happened in Paris was at the hands of Muslim extremists waging a jihad or a state-sponsored act of terror to clamp down and take away more freedom, the single most important thing you can take away from this is a lesson in survival.
This article is not a debate about the different conspiracy theories. If you are present during a terror attack, my opinions on the culprit don’t matter and neither do yours. All that matters in those minutes or hours is surviving.
Survival is the focus
Massive disasters happen when people are going about their daily business. People go to concerts, fly to visit relatives, take vacations, run marathons, walk to work, take public transit, and shop at the mall. No matter who you are and where you live, if you aren’t an agoraphobic hermit, there are going to be times when you are part of a target-rich environment.
And if you find yourself in the midst of an attack, the motivation of the people attacking doesn’t matter at all. You are in just as much danger whether the perpetrator is a member of ISIS or a member of a secret government agency. A bomb is a bomb, an AK-47 is an AK-47, and a machete will lop off your head, regardless of the motivation of the person wielding it.
So stop with the accusations and focus on what is really important – your survival.
Think about what you would do in an event like the ones that have taken so many lives and harmed so many people. Thinking through events before they occur is what allows us to act quickly when they do happen. Believing in the possibility of bad things helps you to accept it and move to save yourself and your family, while others stand there in shock, making targets of themselves. It’s time to consider what you would do to survive a terrorist attack.
What would you do if you were swept up in a terror event?
The world has always been populated with those who seek power, attention, and control. Acts of terror are nearly always about one or all of those things. The perpetrators are predators, and the victims are the prey. If you are a target of the first wave of the attack, there may not be a lot you can do about it. If you’re hit in the back with gunfire, if you happen to be on a plane that is hijacked and crashes into a building, if you are going about your business and your location blows up, there isn’t a lot you can do.
But if you are fortunate enough not to be a victim of the first wave, then you can survive. And often, before the first wave occurs, there are minute details that can tell you something is wrong. One of my favorite movies is The Bourne Identity. If you haven’t seen it, despite Jason Bourne’s amnesia, he possesses skills that are ingrained into his psyche. As a former operative, he was trained to be highly observant and to make rapid assessments of what he has observed.
While most of us haven’t been trained as operatives, we can still maintain a high level of situational awareness merely by being observant. One way to develop your skills is to play something called Kim’s Game. My friend Scott, at Graywolf Survival, used to use the game to train his soldiers in situational awareness. He wrote:
Situational awareness is key to understanding your environment so you can know better both your circumstances and your options. There are myriad examples that could be given but would you notice the bulge (called printing) of someone’s ankle from a concealed weapon if you were asked to follow him to barter for goods? Would you remember enough details of the turn of a path you passed two hours ago to be able to find it again? If you were attacked, would you be able to give a good enough description of the subject and getaway vehicle to have him identified?
A higher level of situational awareness can help you in many ways, should you be unfortunate enough to be present during an active of terror.
It can help by:
- Allowing you to identify a threat before it becomes active
- Allowing you to locate exits and routes to the exits
- Allowing you to determine sources of cover
If you can identify a potential threat before it exists, you can sometimes prevent an attack or at the very least, you can protect yourself and your family more effectively. A book by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley describes this as being on the “left of bang”. The left of bang is a term used to describe the moments before something bad happens, when you have an inkling that something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on what it is.
The book, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, discusses how establishing a baseline can help you to identify a threat. (I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.)
A baseline is a “normal” for your immediate environment. Once you have a baseline for behavior in a specific environment, then it’s easier to spot anomalies. According to Left of Bang, it’s the anomalies that should put you on high alert. “Anomalies are things that either do not happen and should, or that do happen and shouldn’t.” Watch this video with Patrick Van Horne to learn more about positioning yourself to realize something is wrong before a disaster actually strikes.
Acceptance is the first step to surviving an attack
If you don’t realize ahead of time that something horrible is going down, that doesn’t mean that you won’t survive. It’s the actions you take immediately upon the realization that have the potential to save your life. And the first step to that is accepting that a terrible thing truly is happening. In an article called How to Survive Anything in Three Easy Steps, I wrote:
No matter what situation comes your way, the first step is to accept that whatever the event is, it really happened. This is tougher than it sounds, because our minds are programmed to protect us from emotional trauma. Cognitive dissonance means that when a reality is uncomfortable or doesn’t jive with a person’s beliefs, that person may opt to believe in something false just to assuage his desire for comfort. Psychologist Leon Festinger, who identified the principal of cognitive dissonance, suggested “that a motivational state of inner tension is triggered by logically inconsistent ways of thinking.”
If you’re wondering exactly how powerful cognitive dissonance can be, check out Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why. Ripley, a journalist, covered many disasters of immense scale: plane crashes, natural disasters, and 9/11. She became curious about the difference between those who survived, and those who did not, wondering if it was dumb luck or if there was some other quality that made survival more likely. She interviewed hundreds of survivors and got her answer. The ability to immediately accept what was occurring was the quality most of the survivors possessed.
The story that stands out in my mind the most was the one about the people in the World Trade Center on September 11. They described the last time they saw some of their coworkers. There were many people who simply could not accept the fact that a plane had crashed into the building and that they must immediately evacuate. They gathered their belongs, tidied their desks, finished reports. They didn’t feel the same sense of urgency that those who survived did, because the situation was so horrible that they just couldn’t accept it. Their inability to accept the scope of the danger caused many of them to perish in a tragic incident that other people, who acted immediately, survived.
When disaster strikes, you can’t spend 5 minutes thinking, “This can’t actually be happening.” It is happening, and moving past accepting that propels you through the first step into the second one.
The people who freeze in a mass shooting have done nothing but make themselves easier targets. Freezing is an innate reaction for some people, but you can train your way through that. Training in self-defense, first aid, and disaster preparedness can help to offset the brain’s neurobiological response that leaves some people paralyzed with fear.
When you are out in public, try going for an hour without looking at your phone to start with. Instead, observe your surroundings. Who is near you and who is walking toward you? Does anything seem suspicious? If something were to happen, what would you do and where would you go. Do you know the quickest way to get out if needed? Can you access your concealed weapon if you need to? Imagine what you would do if you were out at a mall with your family and someone started shooting. Where would you take cover? What would be your escape route? What if that was blocked?
When you have a preparedness mindset, you’re a step ahead of those who never even considered the idea that something bad could happen.
Three Courses of Action
We can’t always predict when an attack is about to happen. There might be no indications in your immediate surroundings to alert yourself to the fact that something is going down. You may be blithely unaware until the moment that a bomb goes off or a gun gets fired.
If you find yourself suddenly in the midst of an act of terrorism, your actions should be one of the following:
1) Escape. Get as far away from the threat as possible. This is where your early observant behavior comes in handy, because you’ll already know the escape routes. If you are in charge of vulnerable individuals like children, your first choice of actions should be to get them to safety if at all possible.
2) Take cover. If you can’t get away, get behind something solid and wait for your opportunity to either escape or fight back. This is something else you may have observed when doing your earlier reconnaissance.
3) Take out the threat. If you are armed (and I really hope you are) and/or trained, use your abilities to help remove the threat.
The most important thing to consider here is not necessarily which action you will take. It’s that you will take an action, not just stand there in shock. You can be a victim or you can be a warrior.
In Paris, unarmed hostages were at the mercy of their captors. One hundred people were kept in line by just a few men with guns. Keep in mind that fighting back doesn’t always mean a fancy Krav Maga move that takes down two armed men with one trick maneuver. There are many ways to fight back, and not all of them require physical prowess. Don’t let fear incapacitate you. Your brain is a weapon too.
Are you going to wait for someone to save you or are you going to save yourself? Don’t be a kamikaze, but look for your opportunity. There comes a point in some of these situations in which survival is unlikely. Don’t go down without a fight. These two videos from Mike Adams offer practical tips for fighting back.
You have to train
As a wise friend pointed out, while a plan is important, you have to train to be able to carry out your plan. If you don’t have the fitness level or skills, you won’t be able to accomplish what you’re planning to do.
- Are you working out?
- Are you fit?
- Do you practice your self-defense skills?
- Are you spending time at the range?
- Are you comfortable with your firearm in a variety of settings and applications?
If the answers to these questions are not “yes,” all of the planning in the world will be of little avail.
The Goal of Terrorism
The goal of terrorism is to spread panic, fear, and instability. By arguing amongst ourselves, we concede the victory to the terrorists.
After the fact, when we point fingers, belittle the victims, make broad generalizations, and deny the event occurred, we aren’t winning. We’re falling neatly into the plan of the terrorists.
The most important thing you can take away from a horrible event like the one in Paris is knowledge. Don’t lose your compassion, don’t become arrogant in your opinions, and don’t make sweeping generalizations. When you do those things, you become willfully blind to the nuances of your surroundings. Your situational awareness becomes shaded by your biases, which can cloud your observations.
Of course it’s important to learn the truth, but don’t lose sight of the fact that if you are IN a terror situation, all that matters at that moment is survival.
It’s time that we stopped getting distracted. While we argue with each other over which news station is full of hot air (I think we all know the answer to that) or which government funded an attack or if the attack even actually happened, our enemies are busy, too. They aren’t arguing about things like news coverage. They are enjoying watching us chase conspiracies and fight with each other. When we become increasingly divided, we become easier targets.
Have you considered what to do in the event of an attack? Do you have some special skills amd training that will help? Please share your advice in the comments below.
Remember this, my friends:
Right now, someone, somewhere, is making plans to kill you. Does it really matter who when the bullets start flying or devices begin exploding? Are you arguing over theories, or are you making plans to survive a terrorist attack?