How to Survive a Terrorist Attack

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Author of What to Eat When You’re Broke and Bloom Where You’re Planted online course

When horrible events happen, people want to know why. Why was a random group of people targeted to have their innocent day destroyed by violence and terror? Why did the culprit choose that group of victims, that day on the calendar, that specific location? And who? Who was the mastermind behind the event? Who were the members of the group that perpetrated the horror?

This is always followed by the speculation that things are not as they have been presented to us.  Most people in the preparedness world have a very valid mistrust of the corporate-sponsored mainstream media. We look to other sources for our news, and rightly so.

Every time that speculation includes accusations that our own government is behind it, pulling the strings. Other frequent theories are that the events never actually happened at all and that the victims are 100% made up of crisis actors.

The pursuit of the truth is an important quest. Some journalists have dedicated their entire lives to uncovering the Machiavellian plots of those who pull the strings, and it’s a noble and meaningful calling.

And that is why what I’m about to say is controversial and probably won’t be well-received.

Strictly from a survival point of view, it doesn’t matter at all who committed the acts of terror that occurred on 9/11, on the streets of Boston, in London, or in Paris. It doesn’t matter whether a middle-aged guy with a gambling problem or shadowy operatives of some government perpetrated the shooting in Las Vegas.

If your focus is preparedness and survival, the most important thing you can be doing right now is learning from these events. Hey, I love a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, but in the heat of the moment, that isn’t what’s important.

Whether you believe these acts are at the hands of Islamic extremists waging jihad or a state-sponsored act of terror to clamp down and take away more freedom, the single most important thing you can take away from this is a lesson in survival.

This article is not a debate about the different conspiracy theories. If you are present during a terror attack, my opinion on the culprit doesn’t matter, and neither does yours. In the heat of the moment, your focus should be on escaping or fighting back, not unfurling some ugly scheme. All that matters in those minutes or hours is surviving.

Survival is the focus

Massive disasters happen when people are going about their daily business. People go to concerts, fly to visit relatives, take vacations, run marathons, walk to work, take public transit, and shop at the mall. No matter who you are and where you live, if you aren’t an agoraphobic hermit, there are going to be times when you are part of a target-rich environment.

And if you find yourself in the midst of an attack, the motivation of the people attacking doesn’t matter at all. You are in just as much danger whether the perpetrator is a member of ISIS or a member of a secret government agency. A bomb is a bomb, an AK-47 is an AK-47, and a machete will lop off your head, regardless of the motivation of the person wielding it.

So stop with the accusations and focus on what is really important – your survival.

Think about what you would do in an event like the ones that have taken so many lives and harmed so many people. Thinking through events before they occur is what allows us to act quickly when they do happen. Believing in the possibility of bad things helps you to accept it and move to save yourself and your family, while others stand there in shock, making targets of themselves. It’s time to consider what you would do to survive a terrorist attack.

What would you do if you were swept up in a terror event?

The world has always been populated with those who seek power, attention, and control. Acts of terror are nearly always about one or all of those things. The perpetrators are predators, and the victims are the prey. If you are a target of the first wave of the attack, there may not be a lot you can do about it. If you’re hit in the back with gunfire, if you happen to be on a plane that is hijacked and crashes into a building, if you are going about your business and your location blows up, there isn’t a lot you can do.

But if you are fortunate enough not to be a victim of the first wave, then you can survive. And often, before the first wave occurs, there are minute details that can tell you something is wrong. One of my favorite movies is The Bourne Identity. If you haven’t seen it, despite Jason Bourne’s amnesia, he possesses skills that are ingrained into his psyche. As a former operative, he was trained to be highly observant and to make rapid assessments of what he has observed.

While most of us haven’t been trained as operatives, we can still maintain a high level of situational awareness merely by being observant. One way to develop your skills is to play something called Kim’s Game.  My friend Scott, at Graywolf Survival, used to use the game to train his soldiers in situational awareness. He wrote:

Situational awareness is key to understanding your environment so you can know better both your circumstances and your options. There are myriad examples that could be given but would you notice the bulge (called printing) of someone’s ankle from a concealed weapon if you were asked to follow him to barter for goods? Would you remember enough details of the turn of a path you passed two hours ago to be able to find it again? If you were attacked, would you be able to give a good enough description of the subject and getaway vehicle to have him identified?

Kim’s Game comes from a novel by Rudyard Kipling and is something you can play with your family, anywhere, anytime. Go HERE to learn more about how to play it.

A higher level of situational awareness can help you in many ways, should you be unfortunate enough to be present during an act of terror.

It can help by:

  • Allowing you to identify a threat before it becomes active
  • Allowing you to locate exits and routes to the exits
  • Allowing you to determine sources of cover

If you can identify a potential threat before it exists, you can sometimes prevent an attack or at the very least, you can protect yourself and your family more effectively. A book by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley describes this as being on the “left of bang”. The left of bang is a term used to describe the moments before something bad happens, when you have an inkling that something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on what it is.

The book, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, discusses how establishing a baseline can help you to identify a threat. (I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.)

A baseline is a “normal” for your immediate environment. Once you have a baseline for behavior in a specific environment, then it’s easier to spot anomalies. According to Left of Bang, it’s the anomalies that should put you on high alert. “Anomalies are things that either do not happen and should, or that do happen and shouldn’t.”  Watch this video with Patrick Van Horne to learn more about positioning yourself to realize something is wrong before a disaster actually strikes.

Acceptance is the first step to surviving an attack

If you don’t realize ahead of time that something horrible is going down, that doesn’t mean that you won’t survive. It’s the actions you take immediately upon the realization that have the potential to save your life. And the first step to that is accepting that a terrible thing truly is happening. In an article called How to Survive Anything in Three Easy Steps, I wrote:

No matter what situation comes your way, the first step is to accept that whatever the event is, it really happened.  This is tougher than it sounds, because our minds are programmed to protect us from emotional trauma.  Cognitive dissonance means that when a reality is uncomfortable or doesn’t jive with a person’s beliefs, that person may opt to believe in something false just to assuage his desire for comfort. Psychologist Leon Festinger, who identified the principal of cognitive dissonance, suggested  “that a motivational state of inner tension is triggered by logically inconsistent ways of thinking.”

If you’re wondering exactly how powerful cognitive dissonance can be, check out Amanda Ripley’s book, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why.  Ripley, a journalist, covered many disasters of immense scale: plane crashes, natural disasters, and 9/11.  She became curious about the difference between those who survived, and those who did not, wondering if it was dumb luck or if there was some other quality that made survival more likely. She interviewed hundreds of survivors and got her answer.  The ability to immediatelyaccept what was occurring was the quality most of the survivors possessed.

The story that stands out in my mind the most was the one about the people in the World Trade Center on September 11. They described the last time they saw some of their coworkers.  There were many people who simply could not accept the fact that a plane had crashed into the building and that they must immediately evacuate. They gathered their belongs, tidied their desks, finished reports. They didn’t feel the same sense of urgency that those who survived did, because the situation was so horrible that they just couldn’t accept it. Their inability to accept the scope of the danger caused many of them to perish in a tragic incident that other people, who acted immediately, survived.

When disaster strikes, you can’t spend 5 minutes thinking, “This can’t actually be happening.”  It is happening, and moving past accepting that propels you through the first step into the second one.

The people who freeze in a mass shooting have done nothing but make themselves easier targets. Freezing is an innate reaction for some people, but you can train your way through that. Training in self-defense, first aid, and disaster preparedness can help to offset the brain’s neurobiological response that leaves some people paralyzed with fear.

Pat Henry of The Prepper Journal recommends action plan simulations to help you become more prepared for a sudden crisis. He wrote:

When you are out in public, try going for an hour without looking at your phone to start with. Instead, observe your surroundings. Who is near you and who is walking toward you? Does anything seem suspicious? If something were to happen, what would you do and where would you go. Do you know the quickest way to get out if needed? Can you access your concealed weapon if you need to? Imagine what you would do if you were out at a mall with your family and someone started shooting. Where would you take cover? What would be your escape route? What if that was blocked?

When you have a preparedness mindset, you’re a step ahead of those who never even considered the idea that something bad could happen.

Three Courses of Action

We can’t always predict when an attack is about to happen. There might be no indications in your immediate surroundings to alert you to the fact that something is going down. You may be blithely unaware until the moment that a bomb goes off or a gun gets fired.

If you find yourself suddenly in the midst of an act of terrorism, your actions should be one of the following:

1) Escape. Get as far away from the threat as possible. This is where your early observant behavior comes in handy because you’ll already know the escape routes. If you are in charge of vulnerable individuals like children, your first choice of action should be to get them to safety if at all possible.

2) Take cover. If you can’t get away, get behind something solid and wait for your opportunity to either escape or fight back. This is something else you may have observed when doing your earlier reconnaissance.

3) Take out the threat. If you are armed (and I really hope you are) and/or trained, use your abilities to help remove the threat. If you’re not armed and trained, you’ll have to have a savvy plan and be bold in your attack.

The most important thing to consider here is not necessarily which action you will take. It’s that you will take an action, not just stand there in shock. You can be a victim, or you can be a warrior.

In Paris, unarmed hostages were at the mercy of their captors. One hundred people were kept in line by just a few men with guns. Keep in mind that fighting back doesn’t always mean a fancy Krav Maga move that takes down two armed men with one trick maneuver. There are many ways to fight back, and not all of them require physical prowess. Don’t let fear incapacitate you. Your brain is a weapon too.

Are you going to wait for someone to save you or are you going to save yourself? Don’t be a kamikaze, but look for your opportunity. There comes a point in some of these situations in which survival is unlikely. Don’t go down without a fight.

You have to train

As a wise friend pointed out, while a plan is important, you have to train to be able to carry out your plan. If you don’t have the fitness level or skills, you won’t be able to accomplish what you’re planning to do.

  • Are you working out?
  • Are you fit?
  • Do you practice your self-defense skills?
  • Are you spending time at the range?
  • Are you comfortable with your firearm in a variety of settings and applications?
  • Are you observant, practicing situational awareness regularly to become better at it?

If the answers to these questions are not “yes,” all of the planning in the world will be of little avail. Of course, we’re not all 25-year-old, fit ex-Marines. But we can all work within our own limitations to be as lethal as possible.

Always be ready for a second wave.

Some people set on spreading terror are just full of surprises. For example, after the initial attack of running a vehicle into a crowd of pedestrians, men armed with knives got out and began lashing. Explosives are not outside the realm of possibility after a preliminary attack. Occasionally the attacks are carried out by a team, and just when it looks like the primary attacker is down, others continue.

Evacuate the area as soon as possible to avoid getting injured or killed in the second wave. If you can’t leave the area, be on high alert for anything else that looks “off” and be prepared to respond.

The Goal of Terrorism

The goal of terrorism is to spread panic, fear, and instability. By arguing amongst ourselves, we concede the victory to the terrorists.

After the fact, when we point fingers, belittle the victims, make broad generalizations, and deny the event occurred, we aren’t winning. We’re falling neatly into the plan of the terrorists.

The most important thing you can take away from a horrible event like the one in Paris is knowledge. Don’t lose your compassion, don’t become arrogant in your opinions, and don’t make sweeping generalizations. When you do those things, you become willfully blind to the nuances of your surroundings. Your situational awareness becomes shaded by your biases, which can cloud your observations.

Of course, it’s important to learn the truth, but don’t lose sight of the fact that if you are IN a terror situation, all that matters at that moment is survival.

It’s time that we stopped getting distracted. While we argue with each other over whether the news station is full of hot air (I think we all know the answer to that) or which world government funded an attack, or if the attack even actually happened, our enemies are busy, too. They aren’t arguing about things like news coverage. They are enjoying watching us chase conspiracies and fight with each other. When we become increasingly divided, we become easier targets.

You can survive it.

Remember this, my friends:

Right now, someone, somewhere, is making plans to kill you. Does it really matter who when the bullets start flying or devices begin exploding?  Are you arguing over theories, or are you making plans to survive a terrorist attack?

Have you considered what to do in the event of an attack? Do you have some special skills and training that will help? Have you ever been present at such an event? Please share your advice or thoughts in the comments below.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.

Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Well done, reality. In real battle, its absolute chaos, one must remain focused, quiet and mean. Our second amendment, is vital, this terrible thing that happened in France, would not go down the same here, one or two concealed weapons carriers, would have ended it fast, the saddest thing i saw, was no one had means to defend. Some say God made men equal, I say Sam Colt made men equal.

  • I’m a retired interpreter.after 911 I was awaiting my assignment in an packed gym.I saw a shadow with a rifle through the rear door and the same on the opposite door.I tackled my deaf client to the floor as they burst through the door shooting. It was a mock exercise. The colonel ask me later and I explained. OBSERVANCY of something out of place. I’m not particularly strong but I am always vigilant of my surroundings

  • Once, before I became interested in preparedness, I was at a conference with a couple hundred people on the 4th or 5th floor. The fire alarm went off, and I was one of only a hand full of people who got up and left the building. The vast majority just sat there looking around trying figure out what was going on. It was a false alarm, but if it had been a true emergency, it would have been devastating.

  • Thanks for this very informative article. Some of the references you have cited show that you really have thought this article through before writing.
    I can relate to the fact that the brain can try to shield you from what is actually happening. I was a paramedic for six years and had become fairly good at responding to the situation before me when I was thrown a curve. We received a call in the early morning hours that a fellow firefighter had been stabbed just a quarter mile from the station. Our unit arrived on-scene first and what we found caused me to totally lose it. The firefighter had been stabbed in the heart with an ice pick and our efforts to administer CPR was just causing him to bleed out. I froze not fully accepting the fact that this firefighter known personally to me was going to die. Other units began arriving and I was shoved aside so that they could attempt to help the victim.
    I had training and six years of responding to these situations in the field and still froze when the situation called for some type of definitive action. I believe it was because I was totally unprepared for the patient to be known personally to me. I cannot stress how important it is to be aware that we can be caught in these types of life and death situations and that mental preparedness is just as important as physical preparation.

  • Hi, it was hard to read the whole page without unplugging the internet. The page would freeze until another page opened up on a different topic. This happened three times before I unplugged. Pretty disconcerting. I’m using Mozilla Firefox.

  • One of the first things I did when my son got to the age to hang at the mall with his friends was to show him how to escape through the stores & restaurants into the service hallways & then to the outside. He still automatically checks which way is out in stores where he shops. Having a friendly store clerk who is willing to allow the tour is helpful.

  • Very good article, I really appreciate the insight and thought that was put into it. The article mentioned some very basic truths of what really matters (mental and physical preparedness, focusing on what we can do now), which I really appreciate being publicized. Too many people get caught up on the “whys” and lose perspective. I’m passing it on to others as I see this topic and being prepared in these type of situations becoming more and more important.

  • Outstanding, solid, highly relevant piece with good pertinent links. Some will take heed, others will continue in their fog of rainbows….thank you for your quality of work, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  • Useful article, thanks. I was once with my 2 daughters at a roommate’s wedding reception on the 6th floor of a club. The fire alarm went off, and the three of us immediately raised our hands high to find each other in the crowded room, without hesitation, went down the stairs and exited the building. Many stayed, saying, oh, it must be a false alarm. When it was all over and confirmed as a false alarm, we smugly congratulated
    ourselves for our quick action and ready response. Until we realized we had abandoned another beloved friend we had brought with us to the wedding. Never even thought of her in our grand escape. We were crushed.

  • Omg this was SO helpful. I was doing a project on how to survive a terrorist attack, and BOOM. I found everything on here!!

  • Great article and something that definitely needs to stay on our radar at all times. I’ve never been in a true emergency situation but have experienced plenty of unknown emergency drills and I was one of few prepared. One of the biggest problems I see these days are people not paying attention to their surroundings. I am always on alert looking to see who is around me whether I’m grocery shopping or pumping gas. Is anyone looking/acting suspicious? I’ve taught my 12 yr old son to not be distracted or slow getting into the car. This is difficult when you have small children which is why they’re often targeted. I always keep my weapon, keys and phone on my person and not in my purse that could be grabbed. In the area where I live fans coming out of the MLB stadium are targeted because weapons aren’t allowed in the stadium. It’s been a problem for years but more so recently since it seems the criminals don’t have major repercussions for committing these crimes. I love hearing stories when the “victim” ends up being armed or defends themselves in some way to fend off the criminal, especially when the criminal is targeting someone they think is an easy target. I applaud those people for being prepared. Another thing to mention is if you have school age children as I do, make sure to have a plan with them if something happens when they’re at school (i.e. armed intruder, natural disaster, etc). Ask them what the schools plan is and go from there because the school plan may not always be the best, as we unfortunately see happen too many times.

  • Not only are these tips true for an active shooter or terrorist scenario, they are true for many natural disasters. I have a saying for disaster prep – “don’t stand on the beach to watch the tsunami roll in”. Often the key to survival is to not be in the disaster zone if at all possible. Once I realized I am a ‘deer in the headlights’ sort of person in terms of physical reaction to emergencies, I developed a plan of practice that enables me to function during most types of emergencies. For wildland fire it includes a list of exactly what to do, and practicing loading and evacuation and timing those activities. Planning, preparation and practice can overcome the freeze factor when minutes count. Of the three, I think practice is the core element to survival because it gets you moving instead of stuck like a statue. Just some thoughts.

  • Left of Bang is, in my opinion, a good book for anyone who wants to improve their situational awareness skills……

  • Silenced .308’s from 80 yards out is an effective “deterrent”. Try it sometime….the “vermin” instinctively migrate away.

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