By Dr. Irwin Redlener
It has long made sense to promote individual, family, and community resilience, but the notion of being “prepared” took on new urgency in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. America grappled with the possibility of more complex, large-scale attacks devised and operationalized by nefarious and powerful organizations based in other regions of the world.
The possibility of such terror operations remains. Weapons of mass destruction from chemical and biological agents to the deployment of improvised nuclear devices and cyberattacks will always be “in the realm of possibility.” What has also emerged over the past few years though, is a heightened focus on smaller scale attacks that are nonetheless capable of inducing terror in a target population without needing complex, costly and time-consuming planning like a 9/11 style attack. While these less elaborate schemes generally have fewer fatalities and less evident physical destruction, they are clearly capable of causing uncertainty, panic and disruption. Such events may also lead to draconian policies and the adoption of aggressive, ill-founded reactions toward specific communities.
Attacks by so-called ‘’lone wolves” or isolated small cells can be directly or indirectly influenced by international terror organizations that have grabbed the attention of the world. Isolated shooters, slashers, and amateur bomb-builders have emerged with little more than an overload of social media, internet access and, occasionally, a supportive social network which conspire to “turn on” a local, small bore terrorist bent on killing or injuring innocent civilians.
That said, it is an appropriate time to think about what citizens should know in terms of being prepared and resilient for whatever might occur in the future. First be aware of the general, long-standing recommendations for being disaster-prepared. These are well covered in readily available websites of the American Red Cross or FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
That said, here are some other things you should know to help cope with a local terror event caused by a “lone wolf” attacker or active shooter situation:
Maintain situational awareness
Know the risks and the potential threats around you. Practice “situational awareness”, or maintaining a sense of what’s going on around you. Are there unusual activities, people acting out of sorts or carrying or dropping suspicious looking bags or packages? Do you notice an unattended back-pack or other suspicious appearing items in a crowded area? Assess whether or not this might be a reportable observation. Be aware of exits in any building that you might be in or where you might be able to seek cover in the event of an active shooter situation, especially germane in an airport or train station or perhaps at a sporting event.
Where ever you are, at an event venue or hotel, familiarize yourself with the exits, the stairways, and signage. Buildings lose power, corridors can fill with smoke. Try to rehearse your evacuation route with your eyes closed.
Assemble a go pack and an “on-the-go” kit
If there is a need to evacuate, it is a good idea to have a “go pack” that contains food, water, a flashlight, and other items like important papers or irreplaceable mementos. Also copies of medical records, current medications and supplies need for infants or children are important considerations.
If you are in an urban area, you may also consider carrying an on-the-go kit to keep with you, consisting of:
- N95 respirator mask for certain threats like a biological attack
- Key-chain size flashlight and whistle
- Bottle of water and protein snack or two
- Back-up recharger for your cell phone
- List of key phone numbers, on paper or stored in your phone.
- Pair of flat bottom shoes if your normal footwear would make it difficult to escape a dangerous situation
Maintain your own physical health
Besides the myriad of health related benefits, being fit in terms of aerobic capacity and strength can be a huge advantage in a situation where rapid escape or prolonged walking may be necessary. Good health can also improve your chances of survival in the event that you are injured.
Be prepared to be the first responder
Learn CPR and at least basic first aid. These skills may both allow you to provide assistance to an injured or ill person and have the potential benefit for boosting your own self-confidence in an emergency. Remember that in many instances where there have been multiple injuries, emergency responders may not arrive on scene for a relatively extended period of time. In almost all settings, average citizens are the actual “first responder.”
Talk to your family before, during and after disaster strikes
Talk about being prepared for the unexpected your family, but always mindful of the age of your children and their particular ability to handle information that might be anxiety producing. Some tips include:
- When speaking to young children answer questions as simply and reassuringly as possible. Use simple language they can understand while focusing on the positive actions your family is taking to keep everyone safe. Preparing for a disaster reduces stress and allows your family to have a measure of control in the event that the unexpected happens.
- In the aftermath of a terrorist attack, limit children’s access to media exposure. Repeated footage of terrorism events can be very upsetting to children and may cause the child to believe the event keeps reoccurring. If exposure to coverage of the event is unavoidable, stay close to your child, respond to all questions in ways that are appropriate for their age and emotional state.
- Try to keep up with normal family activities and routines.Again, be aware: If you see something, say something.
Irwin Redlener is director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness.