This article explores what individuals can do to prepare for and get through a terrorist incident. With the UK threat level having increased in recent days this article explores what a terrorist incident might look like and steps you can take to extricate yourself from the situation.

Prior to any terrorist attack or major crime, the suspects will usually carry out what is known as ‘hostile reconnaissance’. This is when members of the terrorist cell or criminal gang will check out and possibly test security measures, such as the structure of the building, in order for them to plan their crime for maximum effect.

The Situation

First, we’ll explore the situation and your preparedness for action.

Key Indicators

  • Be vigilant for people taking photos/videos of the building and the surroundings
  • What does their behaviour look like in the setting?
  • Is there vision fixed on any one area or subject?
  • Any items carried bags, looking unusually heavy, any marks on the bags. What is their pace like when walking fast or slow?

Situational Awareness

Try to establish what is normal behaviour in environments?

As an example, transport hubs: think to yourself what do people usually do at these locations – waiting, checking times – walking quickly to destinations (walking with a purpose), buying refreshments, etc.

This is known as baseline behaviour. Once you establish this you should be able to pick up abnormalities such as:

  • Loitering with no apparent reason
  • Fixed vision on one particular location
  • Unnecessarily interested in individuals, particularly staff members and security/police personnel
  • Erratic behaviour continually fidgeting and agitated movements
  • Unusual clothing for the conditions – e.g. excessive baggy clothing. People taking notes and photographs of locations, not normally of interest
  • Be vigilant and report behaviour that does not fit into the environment

Preliminary Actions

In any circumstance, there are some preliminary actions that you can take to increase your situational awareness and mitigate your personal risk. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you know where the exits lead – particularly in hotels and cafés?
  • Are there any obstructions that may hinder an evacuation?
  • Are there alternative exits available?
  • Are windows accessible, and, are they at a safe height to escape from?
  • Have you got a mental plan to evacuate quickly in an event?

If an Incident Occurs

REACT – Always trust your instinct, intuition, sixth sense whatever you want to call it.

As human beings, our inherent instinct has kept us alive as a species for thousands of years.
Use your fear and control your actions:

  • If somebody tells you to leave, do not take anything, just leave. You must be decisive.
  • If you hear gunfire, screams or shouts or see an attacker YOU MUST REACT

People react in different ways in critical situations; they often hit a state of denial or disbelief.

“This couldn’t be happening to me?”, “Is that gunfire?”, “Has that person got a knife?”.

You may have heard of people literally freezing in serious situations, this is known as STATUS SHOCK; people often just freeze in fear.


React on your intuition – snap out of it, taking deep breaths and exhaling out often clarifies your thought process.



Time is critical. The faster you react, the greater your chances of escape and survival. Every second counts.

  • Keep your composure; this is not a time to panic
  • Panicking will limit your response and chances of survival
  • Deep breathing will oxygenate your brain and give clarity of thought in highly stressful situations – cyclic breathing: breathe in and hold your breath for approximately 4 seconds, breathe out and repeat up-to 5 times
  • Tell others to leave, and try to assist people
  • If they refuse you must leave them, your own survival is critical


Remember you have a plan, you know where the exits are, you can evade the attackers. Your primary aim is to get out!

Think about the following: Motion, Distance, Angle, Concealment and Cover. If the attacker is armed with a firearm, they will often lack proficient shooting skills and will shoot at what they deem an easy target.

Here’s a breakdown of the actions we spoke about a moment ago:


  • It is much harder to target something that is moving rather than stationary. Move as fast as you can!
  • The attacker will often select the easier target rather than the moving one
  • Note: If you wear high heeled shoes, consider carrying flat shoes to change into when travelling to and from work
  • Do not try to run in high heeled shoes, take them off and run!


  • If the attacker is shooting, it is easier to shoot at a target that is running in a straight line. Run at angles to make it difficult for the shooter to acquire you as a target
  • Use concealment and cover, stay low and move fast – run in zig zags


  • Most people can put 25 meters between them and an attacker in a few seconds. It becomes increasingly difficult to hit a target at distance, so make as much distance from the attacker as possible when making an escape


There are differences between the two that should be considered:

  • Concealment prevents the attacker from seeing you, but does not offer any protection from gunfire and explosions
  • Concealment examples:
    • Hollow walls. (dry walling, partitioned walls)
    • Doors
    • Desks
    • Empty boxes
    • Blinded, tinted or curtained windows
    • Curtains
    • Bushes and shrubs


Cover also prevents the attacker from seeing you with the added benefit that it also provides a shield against gunfire and explosions – (you can check the structural integrity of buildings, such as your work environment or hotels, for potential cover by simply tapping on walls and supporting structures, if it sounds solid it will likely offer some form of ballistic protection in the event of an attack) Consider the following:

  • Concrete or brick walls
  • Structural columns
  • Trees (with substantial trunks)
  • Cars (behind the engine block)
  • Heavy filing cabinets that are full of paperwork. Heavy bookcases that are full

You may not be able to escape or evacuate and may have to hide as an alternative. If the incident is happening in a place you are familiar with such as a work location, you will know the best places to hide as this should be part of your planning. These hiding or safe locations will offer both concealment and cover from attack.

Police or military intervention

The security forces main objective is to dominate the threat.

You should:

  • Move away from doors and windows, remember what provides good cover
  • Remain still and low to the ground, if you can lie on your stomach do so, this protects your centre cortex and make sure your hands are visible
  • Do not approach security forces

Expect rough treatment

This can be in the form of the following:

  • Aggressive searching
  • Aggressive questioning
  • You may be restrained and man handled

You will be treated aggressively until your identification is verified.

The public are reminded to remain alert but not alarmed and to report any suspicious behaviour or activity on 101 or to the Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321. In an emergency you should always call 999.

This article was produced by our friend Andy Neal at Protaris. You can find out more about their organisation here. 

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search