REPOST: Random Thoughts on “What To Do If…”

by | Sep 6, 2014

[I originally wrote this in response to the Boston Marathon bombing. In light of recent chatter and the anniversary of 9/11, I thought I’d post it again. May you find it useful.]

Whenever there’s a major terrorist event, a number of mainstream television and radio news producers roll through their computer indexes and contact me for commentary. I’ve been doing this since 9/11 for outlets like Fox, NBC, ABC, Oprah, Good Morning America and hundreds of smaller affiliate stations.

Since the bombings in Boston on Monday, we’ve seen ricin attacks on the President and the Senate, an infrastructure attack on the power, internet and telephone grid in the Silicon Valley, an explosion of suspicious origin in Waco on or about the anniversary of the Waco Siege and the Oklahoma City bombing, and, today, a running firefight in Boston with what’s being reported as a Chechan terrorist.

I’m reminded of the ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

A question that comes up, often, either during or after one of these news engagements is “What can I do to protect myself or my family?” The person most often asking that is a non-professional in the world of violence; i.e. somebody just like us, a regular citizen who isn’t a cop, a firefighter, a soldier, or a first responder.

Quite often the responses I read or hear elsewhere from various authorities go like this: Avoid crowds, stay away from big public events, etc. etc.. I’ve said this myself.

And I think it’s also important to remember that the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, to get us to stay home and watch events on TV, to live in fear and demand that the government do *whatever* to make this stop.

Doing that helps the terrorists win.

Let’s not do that. Let’s get on with our lives and refuse to be cowed, refuse to allow others to rob us of joy and the simple pleasures of going about our lives.

So here’s some easy to implement recommendations that apply whether you are a professional in the world of violence, or a citizen going about his or her life. My focus here is more on the latter than the former, though professionals may find something of use here as well.


Have a plan.  When you go out with your friends or family consider these points:

*Do I know that if my phone service suddenly goes flat that I may be able to get text messages through to others even if my voice calls don’t go through?
*Do I have wi-fi on my phone that I can connect with if the cellular phone lines go down?
*Could I contact people through my Facebook, Twitter or other social media?
*Do I have flagged on my phone the URL for Red Cross People Locator or Google People Finder (these are web-based services that allow people to go on and post that they are okay, and for other people looking for missing people to post information; these go live immediately after a major incident)
Red Cross Safe and Well:
Google Person Finder:
*If we become separated and our phones don’t work, do we have a rally point? “If something happens and/or we lose cell phone contact, I’ll meet you back at the car immediately, or I’ll meet you at the Red Cross Station, or we’ll meet at the front of the Target, etc.”
*Do you have any training and/or experience in first aid?
*Do you carry any items with you that could be of use in an incident? Flashlight, first aid gear, bandanas, scarves, extra medication for you or yours, etc.?

Pay attention. Situational awareness.

Without going into the detail I teach in training aspects of situational awareness, here’s some brief points — your neurology is hard-wired to recognize certain kinds of threats. Most often people have some deep intuitive “knowing” before something or someone goes bad. Not always, and a public bombing is certainly one of those kind of incidents.

The main cue your neurology looks for is: What is out of place? What is out of place is what kills you. That’s hard-wired in the brain.

So when you’re out enjoying yourself, pay attention to any little intuitive nudges that come into your consciousness. These three questions below help keep you on task if you choose to train this skillet:

*Who is out of place? In other words, who sets off your inner warnings? Not paying attention to what everyone else is, inappropriately dressed, strange behavior, carrying a bag that suddenly is set down and he walks away from…
*What is out of place? A bag set out on the sidewalk away from the trash? A vehicle abandoned at a certain time or place? One or more people suddenly moving quickly away from your area?
*Where can I go if there’s trouble? The main rule is: Create Distance. Move away from that person/object/situation that troubles you, and look around for cover or a place to go.


*If you are not immediately injured by a bomb or shooting incident, get down and cover your loved ones. If you are within 2-3 steps of cover (around a corner, or a heavy planter, or behind a car, take those steps and then get down.
*Wait behind cover or in a down position for at least a minute (it will seem longer). Why? There may be secondary explosions; more than one blast or else explosives set to kill first responders or people fleeing along the most likely avenues of escape.
*While you are waiting, assess yourself for injuries (sometimes you won’t notice if you’re injured if you’re riding on adrenaline) top to bottom; then check out those you are with.
*Once you’ve assessed yourself determine whether you need self care or need to administer first aid to someone with you; also look for an escape route, preferably one where everyone else is NOT going — in a panic situation people tend to flee along the easiest routes. Look for alternatives if you can.
*First aid for injuries: immediate life threatening injuries are lack of breathing, massive bleeding, traumatic amputations, etc. A basic First Aid course goes a long way in giving you a useful, easy to retain under stress skill set for surveying and handling initial injuries and determining what you can and can’t do, and when to call for help. Do what you can with what you know and what you’ve got with you or you can improvise. A lot of lives and limbs were saved on Monday by trained people improvising tourniquets and using clothing and such for dressings. A small kit (see below) doesn’t take up much room and will save your life or those with you.


*Your first responsibility is to yourself and your loved ones. Take care of yourself and your loved ones first.
*Once that’s done, then take a moment to assess your situation:
Can you help? Do you have skills, equipment, experience that will help the situation, or will you just get in the way?
Should you help? Do you have others to care for? Are you injured or emotionally distraught by what just happened? Can you do something of use?
*Think it through before you jump in. Sometimes the best thing you can be is a good witness.
*Clear the area asap.
*Contact your loved ones utilizing your communications plan listed above.
*When you’re in a safe place, take stock if you have anything the authorities might benefit from: video footage, still photos, or eyewitness accounts, all of which benefited the Boston investigation.
*Give yourself time to recover. For those unused to that level of violence, and even those who are, there is a delay in reaction — you may feel edgy, jittery, jump when you hear loud noises, etc. If you feel the need, contact a counselor earlier than later. And of course, if injured in any way, get a medical check up.


All of us carry items with us every day in our pockets, our briefcases and laptop bags, our purses. Adding just a few small items and having them with you whenever you go out can mean the difference between life and death if caught in a public incident. Here’s some suggestions:

*Bottle of water (to drink, to rinse out eyes or wounds)
*Bandana, handkerchief, scarf (improvised smoke mask if dampened with water, improvised bandage or tourniquet)
*Flashlight (if you’re caught out after dark or else indoors somewhere and the power goes down)
*Sturdy walking shoes (if you’re wearing dress shoes to work, consider if you’d be able to walk home or any significant distance in the shoes you’re wearing…)
*Cutting implement (pocket knife or pocket folding multi-tool, very small and handy)
*Fully charged cell phone (consider one of the small battery back ups, too)
*Small pack of moist wipes (substitute toilet paper and general clean up)
*Hank of cord or paracord
*Small mylar space blanket

With the exception of the shoes, all of that will fit into a Ziploc bag.

Given the nature of the injuries that you might see, I’ll recommend some first aid items/kits. However, the first and best investment is to take a first aid class. It’s a really necessary basic life skill, and offered through your local Red Cross for a low or nominal fee, and quite often for free with various sponsors. Take the Basic class, along with CPR/AED. If you are serious about dealing with major trauma, consider taking advanced classes, which will require a greater investment of time and money.

There’s two categories of first aid gear: “Boo-Boo” and “Blow-Out”

“Boo-Boo” Gear: Gear to fix boo-boos. Band-aids, chapstick, moleskin, tweezers, small packs of antibiotic, Benadryl, asprin/ibuprofen, antidiarrhoeals, safety pins, duct tape, any medications you or yours require daily.

“Blow-Out” Gear: Major trauma kit, i.e. severe bleeding, loss of limb, etc. IF you have training, you can do a lot for yourself or another person with a tourniquet, a multi-purpose dressing like the Israeli or the Olaes, a nasopharyngeal airway, a chest seal (or plastic wrap and duct tape), and EMT shears.

Recommended vendors:

Boo-Boo Gear: Dave Cruz at “Pocket Medic Kit” Not listed on the website, you have to call for them. Also a great source for other kits.

Blow Out Gear: Dave Cruz at His “Blow Out Kit” was the first widely available commercial kit back in the 90s that addressed major trauma, and it’s inexpensive at $19.99. Add a tourniquet and you’re equipped like the big boys.

Dark Angel: Kerry Davis — his Pocket DARK is a high-end pocket sized package that is easy to tote around and most useful for intelligent but untrained/lesser trained individuals. His DARK kit is designed for professional level use.

ITS Tactical: A good starting point for an overview of what should be in your “Blow Out Kit” if it makes sense for you to carry one. Also provide a number of high end quality medical kits.

Chinook Medical: They offer a number of kits, below here is a list I made from their site for a blow out kit option for $25:,-4%22———————-——————————

This gives me a Olaes Modular Bandage, a SWAT-T tourniquet, a N-P airway and EMT shears for $25 or so, before shipping. For the price of a pizza, a good investment. Make two or three cheap kits and pack them in Ziplocs, then drop them in your backpack or your purse or your laptop case.

And now get out there and find something to enjoy. Don’t let them win.