I received a call at two in the morning from a rather distraught sibling who happened to be maybe a block or two away from one of the explosions in London. Of course I, being the intrepid traveller, am supposed to know a thing or two on how to handle yourself in the event of a terrorist attack in an urban centre.
These are a few of the things I told her:
-Evacuate all public areas immediately. Especially anywhere near transit vehicles and subway stations. Try and find a safe place to stay put for an extended period of time. Try not to follow large rushing crowds into unknown areas; you do not know what sort of bomb networks have been set up and you may be getting herded into another explosion to take out survivors.
You want to get the ‘feel’ of what is going on. You don’t want to make snap decisions on moving away from where you are until you are sure of the unfolding situation. When you are very near an explosion from a possible terrorist attack, keep in mind that they rarely hit in the same place twice. WITH one exception: Palestinians have demonstrated a knack for a second detonation once emergency crews arrive. Which brings me to my next point:
-Avoid emergency crews. Unless you are well and truly injured, have nothing to do with them. They are prime targets. Remember, YOU are -not- the target. You are either collateral damage or not. Remember, this entire exercise is nothing personal. Emergency crews could even try and push you into official vehicles, something else you want to avoid.
– If possible, call and let someone know you’re okay. However, do not go out of your way to find a payphone or anything like that. If you can’t call someone almost immediately, don’t sweat it. Keep your cool and assess the situation before trying to communicate.
– How long you can stay in your present position depends a lot on your geography. London’s infrastructure for dealing with these sorts of attacks is excellent and there is little concern for having to move somewhere else quickly. These terrorists will not be getting a second round of bombings in any time soon; however, they plan it this way as well. Security is always tight just after a major terrorist attack, and will slowly wane with months and years.
In more volatile regions, you need to assess more factors. If the army is moving in, try and find a way out of the area. If you can flag down a taxi, do so. I recommend taking your own taxi; remember, these bombings are about maximizing casualties. You want to be separate from the group, removed from what is going on, and away from any large gatherings or important infrastructure targets.
And most importantly, and hopefully obvious: remain calm at all times.
Remember, you are safest when you are near, but not too near, a terrorist explosion. These are intended to be discreet, quick, and coordinated attacks which catch everyone off guard. They are not directed at any person in particular. These tactics can help you to deal with yourself if you find yourself caught up in a random terrorist bombing. However, in cases where you are caught in a situation where either you or someone near you is being deliberately targeted, there are far more things to consider.
I will discuss those another time.