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Surviving the attack

Mar 23, 20175 mins
Disaster RecoverySecurity

Basics of self-preparedness

london terror attack
Credit: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Recent global events have once again shown that our world is becoming more violent, with deaths from conflict and terror attacks on the rise. As a result, awareness and implementation of security measures have increased globally, with a specific focus on protecting “soft targets” and mitigating vulnerabilities to infrastructure and communities. However, public discourse largely neglects the concept of personal situational awareness and self-preparedness in the event of an attack – be it terror or otherwise.

Many people believe that law enforcement will support and advise them on personal safety in a time of crisis. This mindset likely derives from law enforcement and first responders’ precedent of speedy and accurate notification to the public around potential threats. Because responding agencies have implemented and continuously practiced emergency plans for a variety of scenarios, the general public has adopted a false sense of security and reliance on law enforcement initiatives. As such, most people lack the fundamental understanding for and development of an individual crisis response plan.

In devising a personal plan, one should consider mitigation measures to cover the “big three” of potential situations:  tactical crisis,  medical crisis, and relocation situation.  While additional sub-categories can be anticipated, these three areas provide a baseline.

Tactical crisis:  What would you do if someone started shooting, was wielding a knife, or wearing a bomb? Would you stay where you are or run away? Would you try to inject yourself into the crisis or remove yourself from the environment? As an individual, how would you make yourself safe? You should be intimately familiar with your environment, develop situational awareness, and be prepared mentally for three main options: run, hide or fight.

Run: The best option, if available, is to run from the threat and cause of harm.  This is an individual decision one must make regardless of what others may be doing. Placing distance between you and the threat is always the best option.

Hide: If running from the threat is not an option, then hiding is the next best choice. The ideal place provides concealment from the aggressor and can offer a safe haven from the threat until help arrives. This location should not trap you but should allow movement if necessary.

Fight: The absolute last option would be to fight. When faced with an imminent threat from which you cannot run or hide, an aggressive counter-attack may be the only option. This action could throw the aggressor off balance, giving you an opportunity to escape. If fighting the threat is the only possibility for survival, then commit to the action and utilize anything within your means to incapacitate the attacker.

Medical Crisis:What do you do if you are hurt? Where do you go for treatment? Can you provide self-care? These questions become even more important as we travel to areas away from familiar locations. If you are on vacation or a business trip, would you know where to get medical help?

Self-care: After an attack, you may find yourself hurt. First responders may not be able to reach you, so knowing the basics of how to care for yourself, or the people around you becomes a force multiplier for survival. If you are bleeding, try to stop the bleeding on your own. The military and law enforcement call this ‘self-care under fire.’ Learning and practicing techniques in a safe environment will ensure higher survivability rates under stress. 

Situational awareness: Having situational awareness does not just mean knowing a way out of a building, it includes knowing where to go in a medical crisis. In a mass causality event, the walking wounded take on a low medical priority for first responders. Knowing where to go for help is a priority. With over 60% of Americans owning a smartphone, there is very little excuse for not knowing in advance where to go for medical assistance. 

Relocation: Where do you go if your environment becomes destabilized? How do you remove yourself from one environment and ensure you are not entering into another dangerous situation? Relocation is often associated with natural disasters, but terror attacks can cause you to quickly leave your home or business. Where would you go? How would you get there? For how long can you subsist in that new environment?

Meeting Place: Every individual should develop a plan, designating where s/he would go in the event of relocation. During an attack, traditional means of communication may be disabled, so setting a pre-determined location away from a threatening environment to meet family and/or friends is a best practice of preparedness. 

While developing a complete plan for every type of attack is unrealistic, the tactical, medical and relocation trifecta covers the cornerstones of self-preparedness and sets the groundwork for developing proper mindset and situational awareness. Despite the burgeoning landscape of potential threats, developing and maintaining a sense of calm and measured response in the face of unpredictable and often dynamic events will increase your chances of survival in the event of an attack.

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Jonathan Wackrow is a security professional with 18+ years of high level management and operational planning experience with exceptional knowledge in risk assessments and security operations. He has spent the majority of his career in the United States Secret Service, serving as criminal investigator in New York City and on the Presidential Protection Division. He is currently a Managing Director at Teneo Risk, a strategic threat advisory firm that offers CEOs a holistic approach to identify, manage and mitigate operational risks to their businesses.

Jonathan is formerly an Executive Director at RANE, an information and advisory services company that connects business leaders to critical risk insights and expertise to drive better risk management outcomes.

As President of i4 Strategies, Jonathan advised leading corporations on critical infrastructure protection, physical security, executive protection and crisis management procedures. His philosophy towards corporate security is simple; security should be a workforce multiplier to enhance other divisions, helping to achieve the fiscal goals of the company.

Jonathan is a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst and is a regular commentator on security and risk management on other major news outlets.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Jonathan Wackrow and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.