How to Survive a Terrorist Attack

Large scale / mass casualty attacks are an unfortunate reality that everyone needs to prepare for to ensure that themselves and their loved ones make it out alive.

There are three primary factors to take into account when discussing the survivability of terrorist attacks. We will discuss each of these to better prepare you for the worst case scenario.


While some would recommend to avoid large groups of people at places such as malls or theatres during peak times of operation, this is not advice that a majority of people can implement in their daily lives. As a proud Canadian who enjoys the freedoms we have in this country, I would not advise you to restrict that freedom we have in any way. Terrorist attacks are designed to do exactly that, inflict terror upon a country and it's people so that they don't feel safe inside their own borders.

I believe we cannot under any circumstances allow the terrorists to take away our freedoms in any way, shape or form. There are many more practical ways to command your environment and live your day to day life while still mitigating risks.

Understand Cover VS Concealment.

In an scenario where firearms or explosives are used in an attack, you will need to understand the difference between the two in order to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Cover is any structure that will protect you from incoming rounds, explosive blasts and debris. In short, cover is protection as it will stop everything from reaching you. Examples of this are concrete or brick walls, stone or marble blocks used in outdoor architecture or roadside jersey barriers.

Concealment is any structure that will disrupt the attackers sight line of you, but will not protect you from incoming rounds or explosive blasts and debris. In short, hiding behind concealment means the attacker cannot see you but will still be able to harm you. Examples of this are interior building walls made of wood and drywall, vehicles (bullets will rip through the thin metal of a vehicle frame quite easily) and foliage.

In order to fully command your environment you should be aware of the defensive advantages of your environment. In addition to this, you should be able to identify any threats within your immediate environment.

Unattended bags, boxes or any type of luggage should be something to watch for. This is important to security working within airports for a good reason, as it's unlikely someone will forget something as valuable to them as a bag or luggage full of their belongings.

Finding an unattended backpack or luggage left in the open of a crowded area should cause concern as it could be put there for malicious purposes.

An example of this was the improvised explosive device left in an unattended backpack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013.

In addition to suspicious items, you should be watching for unusual activity from persons within your immediate area. This is not an easy task as you're trying to identify an attacker before they have revealed themselves.

What your looking for is someone who stands out from the crowd. Any person about to engage in an attack will have their adrenaline flowing, which will have a very visible effect on their behaviour and fine motor skills.

Watch for something as simple as an uneasiness or constant movement to something as obvious as erratic and over exaggerated movements to agitated behaviour. An attack is not commonly done with a cool and level temperament as attackers will more than likely display signs of stress, anxiety or even anger.

Finally, know where your exits are. If you can't be close to them, at least have a defined path set in mind to get to one quickly.


IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit) - The most important piece of equipment you can have in an emergency situation is a First Aid Kit. Store it in your vehicle, on your persons if possible or anywhere you can access it quickly and easily.

Most deaths in these types of emergency situations occur from blood loss. While an average human body can survive a class 3 hemorrhage (loss of up to 30 - 40 percent of blood or 3 to 4 pints) without going into hypovolemic shock, anything past that point is very difficult to survive without immediate blood transfusions.

In the event of a terrorist attack there is a high probability that yourself or others nearby will become injured. Having a first aid kit filled with gauze, bandages, and a tourniquet (only to be used for extreme blood loss situations where amputation is alternative to death) will dramatically increase your survival rate.

Flashlight - The second most important piece of equipment that will contribute to the increase of your survival rate is a flashlight. In order for an attacker to fire rounds on a target they must have a visual on that target.

A bright flash of light will bleach (oversaturate) the retinal pigment causing temporary 'blind spots' in vision upwards of a few minutes depending on the intensity of the light. This will disrupt the attackers line of sight and give you enough time to seek cover or escape the area.

The same principals of this apply to the use of flash-bangs used by LE and MIL in order to incapacitate a hostile target.

In further ranges the light may not disrupt the attackers vision, but will still create a bright halo of light around your making it hard to distinguish your figure for sight acquisition.

Another option that many are advocates of is to conceal carry a firearm, though this is not always an option for most people.

There are many problems with conceal carrying, the most prominent is being mistaken for the shooter by first responders during a mass casualty event. Additionally, unless you have received extensive military or law enforcement training there is a high probability you will not be prepared to deal with the stress of the situation and to make good judgement calls in a rapidly unfolding scenario.

In a crowded room of people running around, easily identifying the threat as well as being able to engage the threat without causing collateral damage to nearby civilians is an extremely difficult task.

In Law Enforcement there is a priority in training to maintain 100% round accountability; meaning if you cannot take a shot without being absolutely certain that it will hit the target and not harm any civilians than you are not in a position to take that shot. Quite frankly, very few people are trained and qualified to perform this action, especially in a high stress, dynamic situation.

While many people carry a pocket knife for around the house jobs and basic daily tasks, it is an extremely bad idea to engage an attacker with a knife. Even if the attacker isn't armed with a firearm, theres an old saying that holds true here, "No one wins in a knife fight."

The vast majority of knife fights end in dual casualties as a person will be able to take multiple fatal stab wounds during the fight but not succumb to the injuries until after the fight has ended.


First and foremost, trust your instincts.

Your body is extremely talented at determining threats especially when it comes to self preservation.

John Boyd's OODA Loop theory is used heavily with the combat operations process, often at the strategic level in military operations. The OODA loop refers to the decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act. Your mind will naturally do this when determining wether something is a threat or not, but being aware of this process will help you make a conscious decision on how to act.

The Cooper Color Code is also something to implement when you are trying to maintain vigilance. The Color Code offers different levels of alertness as follows:

White: Unaware and unprepared.

Yellow: Relaxed alert. No specific threat situation.

Orange: Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention.

Red: Condition Red is fight. Your mental trigger has been tripped.

According to the Cooper Code, you should always be in Code Yellow so that you are never caught off guard. If something doesn't feel right, remove yourself from the situation even if no one else seems alarmed. It is better to leave and realize it's a false alarm then to wait around and find out there is a threat but that it's too late.

An example of this were the explosive blasts that occurred during a soccer match at the Stade de France. Loud blasts were heard during the game and a number of people were alarmed, though it was not until ten minutes after the first blast that people began to disperse.

If it feels wrong, then it probably is. Again, trust your instincts.

If you've found yourself in a situation that your instincts have told you is dangerous, the most important things you can do now is to MOVE.

This cannot be stressed enough, movement will save your life.

Having spent some time in the military and being proficient in firearms of all types, I can tell you even for someone who has spent a considerable amount of their life practicing firearms proficiency, it is still extremely difficult to hit a moving target, especially in a dynamic situation. In a scenario where a crowd of people are moving, you're moving, the attacker is moving; the entire situation becomes very dynamic and adds a great level of difficulty for any attacker trying to make controlled shots.

During the Bataclan attacks it was unfortunate to hear a witness describe the situation by saying that after the first shots rang out people laid on the floor for cover.

This unfortunately made these civilians easy targets and no doubt contributed to the high death toll.

Another tactic that will help you survive; don't follow the crowd. In dynamic situations attackers will be firing blindly into the largest groups of people as it is their purpose to inflict maximum casualties.

If possible, avoid main entrance/exits as that is where the majority of people will flock to. Think outside the box, exit out windows, hop railings; go against the flow of crowd.

Another reason to avoid the crowd when removing yourself from the attack area is that there's a high probability that stampeding will take place. Many deaths have been caused by this. To avoid this, stay along the walls to be able to provide yourself with stability so that you wont be crushed or swept away by the moving crowd.

That being said, it is also important to note that bullet ricochets tend to travel along walls and floors. When a bullet is fired at a wall in some shallow degree of parallel, it will tend to ricochet and travel 6 to 9 inches along that wall. This means that they bullet will not bounce back away from the wall or floor, but will tend to travel along the wall once it has made contact with it.

Care should be taken to travel along walls to avoid stampeding people, but be aware that there is a danger area in the event of ricochets.

Get out of ground zero as there is a possibility of a secondary attack. An example of this were the Riyadh compound bombings in 2003, when a secondary explosive was set off after the first initial blast. This increased casualties as more people flooded the area to provide help to the already injured.

While there is no way to fully prepare for a terror attack, mitigating the risks in a common sense manner will dramatically increase your survival rate. Taking these precautions will help you prepare for the worst, meaning you and your loved ones will have a better chance at survival.



Jozef Lalka is a former Infantryman with the Canadian Armed Forces and founder of War Doll. Since releasing from the military, Jozef continues to rigorously train and expand his knowledge of a variety of weapons platforms and tactics.

Having earned a diploma in Media / Video production, Jozef works as a graphic designer and photographer while pursing a passion for current global conflicts and how they relate to historical events.

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