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Imagine when a nuclear bomb hits your city, decimating everything on impact. You miraculously survive the initial blast, but will you manage to escape the lethal effects of the radioactive fallout?
Or how about when a terrorist hijacks your plane or subway train – do you know the most important safety measures you need to observe to survive?
These doomsday scenarios can happen anywhere with brutal suddenness, and you must be prepared to do everything you can to protect yourself from injury and harm.
Even today the threat of a terrorist hijacking, bombing or even nuclear attack is palpable, but you can increase your chances of survival by reading through this terrorism survival guide.
In the following sections, you can find out what to do in hijacking and hostage situations, bomb attacks, nuclear attacks and the radioactive fallout after the initial blast, biological attacks including engineered viruses, and chemical weapon attacks.
In the 1990s, the United States Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council developed a set of personal security guidelines for American business travelers overseas, including how to respond to a hijacking scenario, and hopefully come out unscathed.
Should your aircraft become hijacked, the survival guide listed pointers on how to ensure your safety.
Why Terrorists Perform Hijacking
Terrorists hijack aircraft and other public transportation in order to gain media attention and demand something from the government. As seen in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, a hijacking could also be done so terrorists can cause damage, sow fear and relay an ideological message. They will not hesitate to use you and other hostages to achieve their objectives.
What to do When a Hijacking is First Announced
- Stay calm, and encourage others around you to do the same.
- Remember that the hijackers are extremely nervous and are possibly scared.
- Comply with your captor(s) directions.
- If shooting occurs, keep your head down or drop to the floor.
- Remain alert
After initial hijacking phase, there will be a negotiation phase between the hijackers and authorities, and this period could see passengers used as a bargaining tool.
What to do During the Negotiation Phase of a Hijacking
- If you are told to keep your head down or maintain another body position, talk yourself into relaxing into the position; you may need to stay that way for some time.
- Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for a long ordeal.
- Do not attempt to hide your passport or belongings.
- If addressed by the hijackers, respond in a regulated tone of voice.
- Use your time wisely by observing the characteristics and behavior of the hijackers, mentally attach nicknames to each one and notice their dress, facial features and temperaments.
- If you or a nearby passenger is in need of assistance due to illness or discomfort, solicit the assistance of a crew member first — do not attempt to approach a hijacker unless similar assistance has been rendered by them for other passengers.
- If you are singled out by the hijackers, be responsive but do not volunteer information.
The final phase of the hijacking is the resolution phase, which can be a result of intervention by a hostage rescue team or a successful negotiation. In the case of a rescue operation which could involve noise, chaos or shooting, you should observe the following.
What to do During a Hostage Rescue Operation
- If you hear shots fired inside or outside the aircraft, immediately take a protective position — put your head down or drop to the floor.
- If instructed by a rescue force to move, do so quickly, putting your hands up in the air or behind your head; make no sudden movements.
- If fire or smoke appears, attempt to get emergency exits open, and use the inflatable slides or exit onto the wing.
- Once you are on the tarmac, follow the instructions of the rescue force or local authorities; if neither are there to guide you, move as quickly as possible away from the aircraft and eventually move towards the terminal or control tower area.
- Expect to be treated as a hijacker or co-conspirator by the rescue force; initially you will be treated roughly until it is determined by the rescue force that you are not part of the hijacking team.
After the hijacking crisis is resolved, you are advised to cooperate with local authorities and other relevant agencies in relating information about the hijacking.
Former United States Army soldier and modern conflict survival expert Jim Wagner outlined what to do to survive during different bomb attacks – from package bombs, hand grenades, car bombs, public transportation bombs and suicide bombers.
Why Terrorists Carry Out Bomb Attacks
Terrorists also like to employ bomb attacks because of the mass panic and confusion it creates, as well as its relative ease of execution. Makeshift explosives are more accessible than the likes of chemical weapons or a nuclear bomb, and even a small group of terrorists can create havoc through bomb attacks, or even just the threat of them.
How to Spot a Package or Letter Bomb
Terrorists can send out package or letter bombs, but you can spot them and reduce your threat of opening one with the tips below.
- Be careful when you get a letter or package you are unsure about. It is a good policy to refuse unexpected mail, and instruct your family and friends to also refuse forwarding such mail to you
- Do not think that bombs cannot fit into small packages – it can be made to feel like a birthday card with some cash in it
- Be wary when your mail contains these characteristics because they might be a package or letter bomb:
- Excessive postage
- Fake or no return address
- Restrictive markings such as “personal,” “confidential,” or “private”
- Excessive or uneven weight
- Unusual amount of masking tape or string tying the package or letter together
- Oily stains or discoloration which could be from leaking chemicals or explosives
How to Survive a Hand Grenade Attack
- Dive away and go face down
- Do not run away from a grenade which has just landed because you may be struck with shrapnel while fleeing or get spun in the air by the explosion shock
- Point your legs toward the grenade and bring your heels together. Your legs should be like an arrow pointing to the grenade, while your feet are the arrowhead. By placing the soles of your shoes together it acts as a shield between the rest of your body and the device, letting your shoes, feet, and legs absorb any shrapnel instead of your vital organs.
- Bring your elbows to the side of your rib cage and cover your ears with your hands. This will let your limbs act as a buffer between flying debris and your vital organs
- Close your eyes and open your mouth. This can help prevent your lungs and ear drums from puncturing. You are trying to equalize the pressure outside (which has increased because of the grenade creating a shock wave) and your internal cavities.
How to Survive a Car Bomb Attack
- If you ever see a suspicious vehicle or someone abandoning a vehicle in a conspicuous place – such as in the entrance of a crowded area or pathway – it is best to err on the side of safety and notify local police.
- If you believe your own vehicle has been tampered with as part of a car bomb attack, you should focus on searching five areas:
- Exterior (exhaust pipe, wheel wells, behind bumpers and hub caps)
- Underneath (around the fuel tank, back side of the wheels
- Interior (under the carpet and seats, inside air ducts and behind door trims)
- Trunk (around spare tire, side panels and tool box)
- Engine (battery can be used as a source of electricity for a bomb)
How to Survive a Public Transportation Bomb Attack
- Always look around for backpacks, luggage, or packages that have been left behind before you take your seat. Report suspicious containers with no visible owners
- Always observe the people who are aboard with you. If you see someone, who appears slightly nervous or crafty, and leaves behind something, then you must take some sort of action, even if it means moving further forward or back away from the possible blast zone
- Most bus and rail explosions occur in the middle of the interior. The “safest” place would be to the rear of a train car or a bus since most people are too lazy to fill the farthest cars. Terrorist tend to attack “center mass” or the area with the highest concentration of people
- Try to position yourself near an exit so if an expansion occurs, you have an easy escape
- Try to avoid busy hours. By avoiding peak hours you will keep yourself away from a potential attack. A smart terrorist is not likely going to waste his time on a few people since they want to get the most attention through higher casualties and bigger destruction
How to Survive a Suicide Bomber Attack
A suicide bomber attack often involves a terrorist strapping a bomb in his person and committing to kill himself in order to inflict damage or death.
- You have better chances of surviving a suicide bomber attack if you can spot the suicide bomber before he even pulls of his plan and follow these general guidelines
- Never assume that a suicide bomber will look a certain way – they intend to look like a “normal” person blending in with the crowd so as not to attract attention
- But often, the face gives away a terrorist. He or she will display nervousness, profuse sweating, constant scanning for fear of being discovered, a distant stare or even appear to be under the influence of a controlled substance to numb his or her natural sensibilities
- If you are aware of a possible suicide bomber attack, avoid staying in high-priority targets of a suicide bomber attack such as:
- Public transportation
- Malls or mall entrances
- Sporting events
- Places of worship
- Police stations
- Government buildings
- Crowded Restaurants
- National monuments
- Tourist attractions
- Police or security check points when terrorists feel they will be discovered
- After a suicide bombing attack, do not rush into a bomb scene and start helping people after a suicide bombing attack. Usually, there is more than one suicide bomber and the other bomber/s could be waiting for initial responders before detonating their subsequent attacks.
Terrorists and rogue nations can initiate war through aggressive action against another nation. One glaring example is the response of the United States after the terrorist group AL-Qaeda instigated violence by carrying out terrorist attacks that killed thousands.
A Stanford report also states that wars between two nations can also occur due to a failure of bargaining over religion, as an act of revenge for past transgressions, and ethnic cleansing and other ideological mass killings.
How to Survive When War Breaks Out
If and when war breaks out, either between two nations or a nation and terrorist group, Daniel Kearns, a former paratrooper for the 82nd airborne division doled out tips on how to survive a war zone even if you have little or no military training.
- Learn how to shoot. Always use your sights—never use full auto. Only shoot from a supported position, either on the ground or against a wall. Shoot at only what you can see, especially if you do not have much ammo.
- Clean your weapon as much as possible to make sure it works when you need it.
- Stay close to someone who knows what he or she is doing, such as a combat veteran or someone with more military training.
- Pick up skills that would be useful in a war zone such as first aid, using radios and other communication gadgets, as well as how to create makeshift explosives
- Do not bunch up. Stay a good 5 to 10 meters away from the group since they may likely become a target for explosives or enemy fire.
- Hit the ground when an explosion goes off or you hear gunfire. Do not duck and run. Get below the ground, if you can, such as in ditches,holes and depressions – which give better protection than a brick wall. Suppress the instinct to run when in danger, but instead hit the ground first and assess where the threat is coming from.
- If you get stuck in a ditch or a room or behind a wall, quickly plan a way to escape from that location. You are being suppressed, and they are already planning to move into you. Crawling on your belly could be a better option than running and giving enemies a clear view to shoot you.
- When do you move, jump up and say to yourself as you are running, “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down,” then hit the ground after that sentence. This lets you run a sprint and change locations but not enough time for your attacker to react.
- Do not bother shooting at aircraft or helicopters. Stay away from individuals who are doing so. This is because such actions call undue attention and are not likely to succeed anyway.
- Ensure that you have a tourniquet and that you know how to use them. Proper application of tourniquet will save your life and your loved ones’ lives probably more than any other first aid action in a battlefield.
- During a war draft, if possible, volunteer to join a special operations unit or even an elite unit because these will be given training and equipment. Reserve units and other similar lower-priority units might not receive ample training and equipment, which may lower your chances of survival.
- Drink water. Dehydration and weakness can be deadly on its own, and can also lead to crucial mistakes that will cost your life.
- The same goes for eating whenever possible. Force down food even if you are too nervous to eat as this will give you energy.
- Do not hesitate – your attacker will not.
- Keep a level of positivism. Despite the confusion and carnage, maintaining a level of faith and positivity can help push you to survive instead of giving up.
The threat of nuclear attack is a distant but nightmarish possibility. Rogue nations and terrorists may be able to obtain nuclear weapons and unleash them on the public, but will require a complex operation.
Possible aggressive reasons for launching a nuclear attack is a show of force or a desperate move of a rogue nation or terrorist that feels it has been driven to a corner.
How to Survive a Nuclear Fallout
The US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) provided some guidance on how to maximize your chances of survival when a nuclear bomb goes off and the fallout that follows.
- The lethal dose due to exposure to radiation is 100 rem or Roentgen Equivalent Man. The fallout will not be evenly spread – avoid the downwind path of the detonation where radiation will most likely be most intensely distributed. This can stretch for several miles, depending on the size of the detonation.
- Go to the nearest and most protective building and stay there for 24 hours unless told to evacuate sooner. This is an especially sound advice if your immediate shelter is a basement of an intact house, which can reduce radiation levels and lethality from radiation exposure.
- For a 5 kiloton nuclear bomb blast, adequate shelter can mean either a standing multi-story building (mid-upper floors provide the best shelter), near the center of a large concrete or brick building, or in a structurally sound basement.
- But remember that if you live in a city where most homes do not have basements, then seeking stationary shelter may not be the most optimal since staying put could expose you to lethal doses of radiation.
- It is important for you to know the wind direction after a nuclear fallout. This is so you can walk perpendicular to the plum and avoid the worst of the radiation products carried by the wind. Remember that radioactive materials require time to fall to the ground, giving you a small period to flee.
- On top of radiation concerns, you should be most worried about falling buildings, dangerous debris and fires after a nuclear bomb detonation.
Should You Stay Put or Get a Better Nuclear Fallout Shelter
Michael Dillon, an atmospheric scientist at LLNL, created a mathematical model factoring in the radiation exposures and human behavior after a blast that was detonated by a terrorist group or small state, and then came up with an easy-to-follow guide for survivors.
- If it would take you less than five minutes to reach adequate shelter (standing multi-story building, large concrete or brick building or a structurally sound basement), go there immediately following the immediate blast effects. This better shelter will offset your short exposure to higher levels of radiation on the way to the shelter.
- If adequate shelter is less than 15 minutes away, shelter in place for no more than 30 minutes, then transfer to the better shelter. Again, the combination of a short period of immediate shelter combined with a move to better shelter will offset your exposure during the move, at least statistically.
Biological and Chemical Attacks
Terrorists can choose to carry out biological attacks in order to cause illness and death, sow fear and societal disruption, or inflict economic damage against a nation or population, according to the United States Homeland Security.
Alternatively, terrorist biological attacks may also target agricultural plants and animals instead of humans in order to cause economic damage, loss of confidence in the food supply and possibly loss of life.
The rise of genetic knowledge and computational power has made it possible for terrorists to deploy biological weapons, especially engineered viruses. Genetic engineering can now be used to make viruses more ineffective, virulent and drug resistant.
How to Survive an Engineered Virus and Other Biological Attacks
RAND Corporation experts outlined your overarching goal and the best response actions.
- Your overarching goal is to get medical aid and minimize further exposure to agents
- If symptomatic, immediately go to medical provider specified by public health officials for medical treatment
- If informed by public health officials of being potentially exposed, follow their guidance.
- For contagious diseases, expect to receive medical evaluation, surveillance or quarantine.
- If “in contact” with persons symptomatic with smallpox, obtain vaccination immediately.
- For non-contagious diseases, expect to receive medical evaluation.
- For anthrax, obtain appropriate antibiotics quickly
- For all others, monitor for symptoms and, for contagious diseases, minimize contact with others.
- Leave anthrax-infected area once on antibiotics if advised to do so by public health officials.
How to Survive a Chemical Weapons Attack
Chemicals have long been used as a form weapon, and in the modern era, even terrorist have learned to create such weapons. Chemical weapon attacks are often dispersed through the air, and can leave a large number of people disoriented, disabled and even dead due to suffocation or other effects.
RAND Corporation experts outlined your overarching goal and the best response actions.
- Your overarching goal is to find clean air very quickly
- If attack is outdoors, and you are outdoors, take shelter quickly in the closest building, close all windows and doors, and shut off the flow of air.
- If inside, stay inside. Then, to the extent possible, move upstairs, find an interior room, and seal the room. Remain inside until told it is safe to leave, and then ventilate and vacate the shelter immediately.
- If attack is indoors, follow chemical attack plans specific to your building. If these are not available, open windows and breathe fresh air. If open windows are not accessible, evacuate using the escape hood if available by stairs to street or roof.
- Once protected from chemical agent exposure, decontaminate by removing clothes and showering.
- When conditions are safe to move about freely, seek medical treatment.
- You are advised to keep an emergency escape hood designed to filter out toxins in the air in the event of a fire or terrorist attack, including chemical attacks.