In the last several weeks, there have been a lot of headlines about hostage situations and terrorist attacks.
On November 13, members of the Islamic State killed 130 people in terror attacks in Paris, France, 89 of which were held hostage in a theater.
A week later, Islamic gunmen took 170 hostages in a Mali hotel.
Seeing situations like this in the news serves to remind us of the importance of preparedness. You need to know what to do in a situation like this, in case the unthinkable happens.
Surviving a Terrorist Attack or Hostage Situation
Although these attacks happened on the other side of the world from the United States, we know from experience that similar things can happen here on our own soil.
Terrorist attacks and hostage situations can happen at any time, anywhere. The element of surprise and unpredictable nature of these attacks make them one of the hardest situations to prepare for.
However, there are always steps you can take to increase your chances of survival. Here are a few of our tips for surviving a hostage situation or terrorist attack.
1. Take cover and hide.
The rule of thumb is “duck and cover” – but that doesn’t just mean hiding under your desk. You need to find a good place to take shelter where you will be protected. Ideally, you should hide behind a support beam or concrete pillar, which will protect you from bullets and debris.
2. Try to build a rapport with your captor.
It might sound counterintuitive, but this tip really could save your life. It’s very likely that your captor has a form of paranoid psychosis, and you’ll be safest if you appear non-threatening. At the same time, don’t become too friendly – they may distrust you and think you are “out to get them.” You never want to make them feel like they are losing control of the situation as this could lead to a violent outburst. Don’t try to convince them that they are deranged or delusional. Just remain calm and, if you can manage it, respectful until help arrives or they let you go.
3. Don’t speak unless spoken to.
Remember: you are only a tool for your captor to get what he wants. Follow his orders and don’t be aggressive and you increase your chances of making it out alive. If he allows you to speak to the police, only give ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Don’t speak about your country of origin or religion. Don’t try to reason with your captor.
4. Escape if you can, and teach your loved ones to do the same.
If you can do so without being caught or killed, run away. Don’t feel like you are “abandoning” the other victims; running away might actually help you save them. Discuss this with your family early and often, and make sure your children know that running away and finding help might be their best bet for survival.
5. Keep your cool when rescue teams arrive.
In the chaos of a hostage situation, it can often be difficult for troops to tell the good guys from the bad. Keep your head low, stay hidden, and make sure your hands are exposed – this will let the rescuers know you are not a threat. Stay down until instructed otherwise, and expect to be treated as a potential terrorist until you are cleared by troops. Don’t take it personally – they’re just doing their job.
6. Communicate with fellow captives.
If you can, try to pass notes by leaving them in common areas like a holding cell or medical area. At the same time, be wary of notes you find – you never know if the person who left it is a friend or foe. If possible, try to work out a code or some kind of bona fides with other captives.
7. Use available items as weapons.
As we’ve discussed, you should stay calm and avoid making waves if at all possible. But if the situation does call for a fight, use items you have on-hand as improvised weapons. A pen, keys, a belt or a tie can all be used as weapons and/or restraints against your captor.
8. Be prepared to take the lead.
If you are a manager or uniformed official at the site of the hostage situation, others are likely to look to you for leadership. Remain calm and take immediate and decisive action. Be aware of your surroundings and any imminent threats.