Three Ways to Stay Safe in a Terrorist Attack

In a life-threatening emergency, remember: run, hide, and tell

Paris terrorist attack

Thierry Orban / Contributor / Getty Images

Since September 11, travelers are often seen as a target for terrorist attacks around the world. From bombs and gun attacks to those perpetrated using cars, the threat of violence remains one of the greatest challenges for modern-day adventurers. 

While nobody plans to be caught up in a terrorist attack, the danger is always present. By preparing for the worst prior to departure, everyone can make sure they stay safe in the worst scenarios. In the event of a terrorist attack, experts from Britain's National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NCTSO) and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) remind travelers to run, hide, fight, and tell.

Run: Escape the Danger in Front of You

In the first moments of a terrorist attack, mass panic and confusion can quickly take hold. This time is critical to determine their best opportunity to stay safe, and whether or not running is an option.

Experts in personal safety recommend assessing the situation as it happens. Michael Wallace, director of homeland security studies at Tulane University, recommends finding all the exits when entering a new space, like movie theaters. Knowing where the exits are can set a plan before a terrorist attack begins.

If an attack happens, the FBI recommends immediately moving for the exits and encouraging others to move with them. Being held back by another person who doesn't want to move could leave travelers exposed to unnecessary danger.

The NCTSO warns travelers should only attempt to run in a terrorist attack if there is a safe option, and if individuals can get there without exposure to even greater danger. If it is impossible to run without becoming a moving target, the next option is to hide and prepare to fight.

Hide and Fight: Shelter in Place and Fight If Necessary

While some travelers have been reportedly able to escape danger by "playing dead," personal safety experts warn this tactic could create a bigger risk of injury or death. If they cannot get out, those caught in the middle of a terrorist attack should immediately find a safe refuge and shelter in place.

NCTSO guidelines recommend finding a place that is fortified, including rooms made of brick or otherwise heavily reinforced walls. Taking cover is simply not enough, as high-power weapons can penetrate glass, brick, wood, and even metal surfaces. Instead, find a secure place away from the danger, barricade doors, and move away from any points of entry. Once sheltering in place, the next step is to be quiet—including silencing cell phones.

In some situations, hiding may not be enough. If personal safety is compromised and there are no other options, experts from the FBI recommend fighting the attackers as a last resort to staying alive. Everyday items, such as fire extinguishers and chairs, can be used as weapons if necessary. The FBI recommends arming with anything available, attacking with physical aggression, and committing to the actions in order to provide the best odds for survival.

Tell: Contact Emergency Services Immediately

Telling authorities about the terrorist attack goes beyond "see something, say something." Any details travelers can give about their situation can help authorities plan and complete a rescue operation quickly and efficiently.

Before arriving in a destination country, travelers should already have the emergency numbers for their local destination programmed into their phone. When it is safe to do so, those in a terrorist attack should call the local emergency number and give as many details as they can.

Pertinent details include the location of the attack, descriptions of the attackers, the attackers' direction of travel, and if you know if there are hostages or casualties. This information can help authorities make better decisions as they respond, ultimately saving lives.

From there, travelers should brace themselves for police response. The NCTSO warns travelers that police may point guns at them during a rescue, and treat them firmly. None the less, travelers should be prepared to follow instructions, and be evacuated when it is safe.

Finally, keeping the number of the local embassy or consulate programmed in a cell phone can help in an emergency situation as well. While the embassy cannot use military assets to evacuate travelers, the embassy can help travelers connect with loved ones, and confirm your safety to authorities.

By preparing for the worst before departure, international travelers can keep themselves safe in life-threatening situations. Although we hope you never experience a terrorist attack, knowing these personal safety tips can potentially save a life.

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