Home Article What to Do in a Terrorist Attack

What to Do in a Terrorist Attack


Recent events have shown us that we are still a risk of terror attacks inspired by extremist ideology. Given how well the Security Services are doing in disrupting the major internationally inspired terror plots it is the lone-wolf attacker that presents us with the most danger. There is still the risk of a large attack slipping through the net though. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has been much criticised for his comments that terrorist attacks are part and parcel of living in a major city, but to ignore this comment would be a great disservice to ourselves. If we live in a major city, or plan on travelling to one we should be prepared to have to react to a terror attack.

We have seen 9/11, 7/7, the Madrid and Boston bombings, the Mumbai shootings, the Charlie Hebdo shootings and Bataclan Theatre attacks in Paris; the Brussels and Berlin attacks; as well as the recent attack in London. Although there was a great loss of life there were also a great many survivors.

So, what can you do to survive?

Avoidance is always the best tactic. The first thing you need to do is to think like a terrorist.

To do this we are going to play the “so what?” game.

Ok, let’s start. If I am going to conduct a terrorist attack I want it to have the largest impact I can. So what? So, I need there to be a large number of available targets. So what? I’ll conduct my attack during rush hour or during a significant event.

So I have a time of day, where exactly am I going to do this. I need to kill as many as people as I possibly can as I’ve either only got one chance (suicide bomber) or I have a limited time before law enforcement can respond (active shooter). So what? I need people to be concentrated together. So what? I need to identify natural choke points (public transport, crowds of spectators).

I also want to make a statement. So What? I could attack something iconic. So What? I need to consider iconic buildings, museums or organisations which have spoken out against my ideology.

Now we have our first set of data from the terrorist’s point of view. He will be looking to conduct his attack most likely at rush hour (7/7 and Madrid) or during a significant event which will draw large crowds (Paris). He will also be looking to maximise his capability by identifying places where people will be concentrated such as train carriages, buses or events like carnivals or on the finish line of public sporting events (Boston Bombing). He may also be looking to attack a building or organisation (British Houses of Parliament and Charlie Hebdo).

What can you do to keep safe?

Firstly, try to avoid travelling at peak times. If you can adjust your working pattern to avoid travelling when there are more people about, so much the better. If you cannot do this, then be intelligent about how you travel. When I was working in London I had to use Public Transport every day during rush hour. I reduced my risk by not taking buses in the city centre and by only using carriages at the extreme ends of trains.

Try to avoid likely choke points. For example, I won’t walk along Oxford Street at peak times as it is very busy. I will instead use less busy roads which run parallel to it. If I am attending an event, I will also try not avoid the largest concentration of people. If I were viewing the London Marathon, for example, I would avoid the start and finish lines and anywhere the race passes an iconic monument such as Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral or Buckingham Palace.

If you can, avoid iconic locations, especially ones which are representative of the nation such as Parliamentary and Government buildings.

What about if you get caught up in an attack?

The official mantra is RUN HIDE TELL. This is the strategy backed by British Counter Terrorism Police and the British Government.


This is great advice. If you can just get away. Make a beeline (run away, but not in a straight line) in the opposite direction of the attack and don’t look back. This is not cowardice it is actually going to help the emergency services.

Firstly, you have given them one less casualty to deal with. A mass casualty situation puts a huge strain on the available resources. On 7/7 every high dependency hospital bed in central London was full. There were even adults in children’s ICU beds at Great Ormand Street. The survival rate from the latest attack was as high as it was because medical specialists were able to be on scene almost immediately as St Thomas’ Hospital lies on the opposite side of Westminster Bridge from where the attacks took place. Credit must be given to these people. They were not the specially trained team that the London Ambulance Service has to deal with these types of situations. Not the ones who have specialist training, body armour and helmets. These were A&E and ward staff who ran to help with what they could carry.

Secondly, you will make it easier for the Police to identify the attackers and neutralise them. They will be responding into a very confused situation in which they will need to identify those who are a threat from those who are victims. The fewer people there are there, the easier it will be for them. Terrorists don’t wear uniforms; they look just like you and me.

Thirdly, you are preventing the terrorists from having a hostage. The Charlie Hebdo attackers made their final stand in a supermarket where they took hostages to make an assault by emergency responders much more difficult. The terrorists at the Bataclan Theatre also took hostages, as did the Sydney Café attacker. Some terrorists will deliberately seek to take hostages such as at Beslan, the Darbouka Theatre in Moscow and even going as far back as the Iranian Embassy.

Finally, you are carrying valuable information that the Police can use to resolve the threat.

Don’t stop to collect belongings. You can come back for them later. The more you carry the slower you will be. Drop those bags of shopping, your new shoes aren’t worth your life.


Where should you hide? Well we have a shopping list that we are looking for:

Lockable – We want to be able to prevent anyone from getting inside with us. You must assess the strength of the door itself. Many builders save money by buying cheap doors that are very thin and filled with cardboard. If you can look for either a security door or a fire door. You can prevent anyone from entering by using the door lock if it has one, barricading it with furniture or, a personal favourite, using the humble rubber door wedge. Those of you who have read previous articles of mine will know about the bag I keep at work; the rubber door wedge is one of the articles I routinely keep in there.

Hard Cover – Many internal walls in buildings are stud walls. This means that they are plasterboard over a wooden frame. This is a very quick and cheap means of constructing internal walls. These will not stop bullets! If you find that your only available sanctuary has these types of walls the safest place to be is lying on the floor as close to most vulnerable wall as you can. This is because should a terrorist decide to fire through the wall they will have their weapon in their shoulder which will naturally cause them to fire down at an angle. If you are outside look for things like concrete planters or brick walls. Cars, fences and plants are not bulletproof. Just because you can’t be seen don’t think you can’t be hit!

Cover from View – If the terrorist cannot see you they will not know you are there. Or if they suspect you are there they will not know exactly where you are and it will be much harder for them to hurt you. Avoid rooms on the ground floor with windows to the outside. Also, avoid rooms where there are windows in the door.

Not Obvious – Don’t go and lock yourself in the toilet or crawl under your desk, unless you have no other choice. Make it hard for them to find you.

Other things to consider are to turn off any noises on your phone. This includes turning off any vibrating alerts as they will make a buzzing sound which a terrorist could hear


When it is safe to do so call the emergency services. Make sure you give them as much information as you can. Tell them where you are. They will need to know so they can come and get you. Tell them who else is with you, they will be keeping a database of who is safe that families will be able to search. Tell them what you have seen.

Keep it simple:
Direction from which you might have heard explosions, gunfire, screaming etc.

 Any firearms or weapons. Don’t say something unless you are sure. Don’t say machine gun or AK47 unless you actually saw one. Keep it simple say long gun, short gun, knife or machete.

Give a description of any attackers you have actually seen. Remember only say anything if you have actually seen it. That dark-skinned man with the shemagh could have been running away too. If you give a description use the A-H method to help.

A – Age
B – Build (skinny, fat, muscly)
C – Clothing (what they are wearing and colours of clothes)
D – Distinguishing marks (scars, tattoos)
E – Elevation (height)
F – Face (skin colour, big nose, beard, moustache, piercings)
G – Gait How they walk (limp, rude-boy swagger)
H – Hair (style colour)

Any injuries. Tell them if you or anyone else is injured. Use the MIST method.

M – Mechanism of injury (shot, fell over, stabbed)
I – Injuries sustained (stab wound, gunshot wound, cuts, burns)
S – Signs (are they breathing and how, are they responsive, what can you see?)
T – Treatment given.

Other things to think about

When the emergency services find you, or come to your location do not expect them to treat you with kid gloves. They will treat you as a threat until they are sure otherwise. Especially in a hostage situation. This is for both your and their safety. During the Iranian Embassy siege, some of the attackers tried to escape by pretending they were hostages. The last thing they want is to rescue you only to have you killed by a suicide bomber.

You are very likely to have guns pointed at you, to be handcuffed or otherwise restrained, and to be made to lie on the floor. If you hear the emergency services coming, sit on the floor away from any doors or windows, they may break them open. Take off any jackets or coats so they can see you do not have a suicide vest, cross your legs so they can see you will not run at them, and put your hands on your head so they can see you are not holding anything.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you must do something, make sure you know what you are doing. I have studied and taught martial arts and combatives for several years, but I would think twice about trying to take down someone with a machete.

Equally I carry a first aid kit, but I would not try to help with casualty treatment unless I had received training in what to do. You could make things worse if you get it wrong.

I would also encourage you to get the excellent citizenAID app and to check out the citizenAID website. CitizenAID is an initiative created by four outstanding clinical practicioners designed to give people advice on what to do in the event of a terrorist incident, including giving life-saving first aid, and giving advice on how you can be better prepared should the worst happen.

This Kit Pest Review article was written by Ben OToole. Hopefully you enjoyed it and if you have any thoughts or comments related to this article then leave a comment!

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