News of a terrorist attack can shake us to our very core. Intellectually, we know something like that can happen any time. Emotionally, we’re never really ready.
After learning about a terrorist attack, you may feel helpless, fearful, anxious, angry, or a combination of those. You might be wondering what you would have done if you were there…while at the same time thankful you weren’t.
The only way to make such a situation worse, though, is not learning valuable lessons from the aftermath. Looking back at event like this, we see a lot of very unusual reactions. Some people freeze in the face of unimaginable terror. Others spring into action, whether that action is escape or counterattack.
While there are a million reasons the human brain chooses one response over another, a big factor is advance planning. If you’ve invested the mental bandwidth to plan and consider what you should do in an active situation, the odds are better that you won’t freeze. Your brain is more likely to fall back on actions that you’ve already evaluated.
The most important part of a productive plan is the “in advance” part. While thinking and planning ahead for the worst isn’t guaranteed to help you, it just might make all the difference. Paralysis and indecision as to what steps to take next is not only emotionally crippling, but dangerous, so just the act of thinking and planning – now – is a productive step on its own.
Unfortunately, it often takes a personally disturbing incident that motivates us to invest the time, money, and effort capital in a proactive self-defense strategy. (I had just such a wake-up call – you can read about it here.) Ideally, you don’t want to wait for your own bad experience to get inspired to action.
We talked to a variety of experts to share some tips on how you can glean lessons from these tragedies. Here are the five skills you need in order to survive a terrorist attack, and how you can protect yourself by taking some steps right now.
1. Learn to Observe
It is absolutely crucial that you develop your observation skills. Keen observing of people and situations might help you escape, or better yet, avoid a risky situation in the first place.
You don’t have to go through life as a paranoid mess, constantly looking suspiciously at people. You can, however, start to build simple habits that just might save your life one day.
Tiger McKee, Director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, one of the nation’s premier self-defense training schools, describes simple awareness strategies:
“Avoidance and escape are always your best option when faced with danger. In order to do this you must have a plan, which means knowing where the exits are for where you spend lots of time. You also need to think about improvised exits, such as windows that can be smashed or broken and/or any other areas that may lead to safety. When entering a new environment, you locate and identify your exits, both conventional and improvised.”
A direct lesson learned from the Orlando attack is avoidance of dead-end escape routes. While details are still sketchy, many fled for the bathrooms, not realizing there was no way out. When the terrorist followed them, most of them were killed in place.
2. Always Keep in Tune with Your Environment
If you are tuned in to your environment, you just might see a bad situation developing. Worst case, you’ll have a head start on an escape plan. If you do nothing other than improve your everyday situational awareness, you’ll be ahead of 95 percent of the population.
So how do you cue in on everything around you? Honing those awareness skills takes time and practice, says Sara Ahrens, former SWAT Team Supervisor and Trainer and Range 365 contributor. “We teach new officers this by quizzing them after a call. We might ask a new officer, ‘What color was that victim’s shirt? Can you describe that person’s hair style? Did you notice anything odd about that person’s appearance?’ What we’re trying to do is get them simply to consciously notice what their subconscious has already picked up on. Witnesses may notice someone wearing a hooded sweatshirt but it doesn’t register in their conscious mind that this apparel choice is suspect given temperatures of +90-degree weather. After an incident occurs it registers because they realize the sweatshirt was concealing the individual’s identity or firearm.”
You also can make it a game, if that keeps your brain engaged.
While I’m normally loathe recommending a Hollywood movie as a training aid, this brief scene from the 2001 movie Spy Game has some scenes that might spark your thinking on how to pay better attention to your surroundings:
3. Know What’s Normal and Watch for What’s Not
John Fee, Security professional and Founder of Capable Men, a personal development and improvement resource, advocates understanding the normal state of every area in order to more easily spot abnormalities which can provide life-saving advance notice that something bad is about to happen.
“Your first step in performing effective situational awareness is establishing your baseline,” says Fee. “The baseline is the equilibrium state of what things look like, sound like and feel like at any given moment within the normal state. Each area has its own unique baseline. For example, simply think of where you live. You’re fully aware of the types of people that frequent your area, the clothes they typically wear, the eye contact that is deemed socially acceptable, the pace people move, all without little thought every single day.”
The baseline is critical if you’re to effectively spot anomalies. Small details can be important for recognizing something out of place.
You may wonder: Are you crazy if you take action based on an observed detail or gut feeling? Sara Ahrens says no. “What I hear from most victims or witnesses to violent crimes is regret, she says. “They regret not trusting something that didn’t seem right and they beat themselves up over it.”
4. Come Up with a Plan
Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.” But just because things go south once the action starts doesn’t mean advance planning isn’t valuable.
George S. Patton, one of our most successful Generals ever, had a simple philosophy. “A good plan, violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” In a situation where certain death is a matter of time, it’s hard to argue against aggressive action – almost any aggressive action. The more you prepare mentally and physically, the more likely your action is to succeed.
You never know when or how the police will enter the scene. In the Orlando case, the terrorist claimed he had explosives placed inside, so the police were hesitant to enter, fearing even more carnage. The people inside endured hours where they were completely on their own.
Twenty-year police officer and 13-year Tactical Training Officer Greg Ellifritz notes the importance of immediately assuming responsibility. “No one is coming to save you. If you are caught up in one of these shootings, you must be able to take care of yourself. There’s no telling when the cops will make their rescue attempt. You must think for yourself. Don’t depend on anyone to save you! Escape, improve your position, find cover, attack the killer, do something! Waiting for a rescue attempt is not a successful alternative.”
5. Fight Back
If you’re in a place where lawful concealed carry is prohibited, and death is imminent, it’s still up to you to fight back if necessary. “You have nothing to lose by trying to take the killer out,” says Ellifritz. “If you can organize your friends for a simultaneous attack, you will likely have a higher success rate.”
While we may not be able to prevent every intended attack, sound planning will enable us to avoid, escape, or possibly halt a terrorist incident. Like most things in life, there are no guarantees. But if you do your best to plan and prepare, your odds improve.
Is Carrying a Gun a Solution?
Deciding to get a concealed carry permit to protect yourself might be part of an overall solution. But the key words are “might” and “part.”
The first decision to be made well in advance is whether you are prepared to use lethal force. If your life or those of your loved ones are in danger, are you willing to aim a gun at another human and pull the trigger? Some people aren’t. The time to make that decision is now, not when you draw your gun. Sara Ahrens has a guide to the thought process of using lethal force here.
The most dangerous part about carrying, if you don’t approach it as a lifelong student of it, is a false sense of security. A gun might or might not help protect you. If you decide to carry a gun for self-defense use, know that it accomplishes nothing without extensive – and ongoing – training and practice. Aiming a gun at a target on the shooting range is one thing, and a fairly straightforward skill to master. But you must invest equal, if not more, effort in developing your observation skills, situational awareness, knowledge of the legal aspect of lethal force, basic defensive strategies, and of course, operation of your handgun under stressful conditions. You need to have trained your mind and body, through repetition, so your brain will know what do to when your normal reality goes out the window.
Finally, if you choose to assume responsibility for protection of yourself and loved ones, it’s not a one-time deal – you have to commit to a lifetime of continuous education. Taking a concealed carry class will teach you a little bit about the laws of your state. That’s it. Unless you take a significantly upgraded training course, and preferably more, you will not be adequately prepared to use a gun in a self-defense situation.
Are you willing to make the type of never-ending commitment? We go into the details of carrying a gun to protect yourself in the event of a terrorist attack here.