How to Survive a Terrorist Attack

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

Whether you live or die, is entirely up to you.

The responsibility to be prepared for a terrorist attack is yours, and solely yours.

There are no safe spaces, and pacifism is merely an ideology held by people who are too morally weak to bear the burden of protecting themselves and their loves ones.

This is the world we live in, where large scale / mass casualty attacks are a reality that everyone needs to prepare for.

Evil cannot be legislated away, and refusing to confront it will not make it disappear.

But you can prepare for it.

You can hoist that awful burden of protector upon your shoulders and bear it on behalf of those who can't or simply won't.

There are three primary factors to take into account when discussing the survivability of terrorist attacks, and they will serve you well in your efforts to face evil head on.


While some would recommend avoiding 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.

Brave people fought for the freedoms we have in this country, and 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 its 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 any 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, and roadside jersey barriers.

Concealment is any structure that will disrupt the attackers line of sight, 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 walls made of wood and drywall, as well as foliage.

While bullets will rip through the thin metal of a vehicle quite easily, and rounds skipping off the ground can travel underneath the frame, there are areas that will provide adequate cover.

The wheels (specifically, the thick metal of the brake rotors) will stop incoming rounds, especially at the front of the vehicle where the engine block will offer added protection.

In order to fully command your environment, you should understand and be able to utilize these defensive advantages in an emergency situation.

Unattended items

In addition to the defensive advantages, 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 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.

Suspicious / Unusual Activity

In addition to suspicious items, you should be watching for suspicious or unusual activity from persons within your immediate area.

Admittedly, the task of identifying an attacker before they have revealed themselves is very difficult.

Despite this, it should be something you take into account.

Watch for anyone who stands out from the crowd for any reason. Something as simple as an uneasiness or constant movement to something as obvious as exaggerated movements and agitated behaviour could be a dead give away.

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.

Not only that, but watch for someone who shows a disregard for social norms.

This could be a person walking into a church in the middle of the service and heading straight for the pulpit.

It could be someone entering a movie theatre alone, after the show has already started and picking a spot near the door.

It could even be someone behind you in a busy mall, invading your personal space and following too closely.

It could be nothing, or it could be the last cue you'll ever miss.

Egress Route / Exits

Finally, know where your exits are and plan an escape route accordingly.

It's not enough to simply identify your exits, you have to know how to get there.

The main doors across from the cafeteria might look like your best route, until hundreds of people stampede towards them when gunshots ring out.

Look for exits that are not as obvious, or better yet, aren't advertised at all.

Every store front in the mall has a door behind the counter that leads to an exit corridor used by staff and couriers.

Most churches will even have exits hidden behind the stage curtains, or at least doorways leading to other parts of the building.

Identify these exits before hand, and if you can't be close to them, at least have a defined path set in mind to get to one quickly.


Now that we've discussed how to be more aware of your environment, here are a few things you can bring into your environment to help you out in an emergency scenario.


The most important piece of equipment you can have in an emergency situation is an IFAK (Individual First Aid Kit).

Store it in your vehicle, on your persons if possible or anywhere you can access it quickly and easily.

The simple fact is, that most deaths in these types of emergency situations occur from blood loss.

"Micro Trauma Kit NOW!" by Blue Force Gear

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 (to be used for extreme blood loss situations where amputation is alternative to death) will dramatically increase your survival rate.


The second most important piece of equipment that will contribute to the increase of your survival rate is a flashlight.

Using the example of an active shooter, we have to understand that in order for an attacker to accurately fire rounds on a target, they must have a visual on that target.

It's a pretty basic concept, in order to shoot someone they have to see them and be aiming at them.

A bright flash of light will bleach or 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.

In dark environments such as a movie theatre, this effect will be exponentially effective.

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

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

Pocket Knife

While many people carry a pocket knife for around the house jobs and basic daily tasks, and some even carry knives designed for self defense purposes, an edged weapon could be the only offensive tool standing between you and death.

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.

Not only that, but anyone who's ever brought a knife to a gun fight hasn't lived to tell the tale.

Though all things considered, when there are no other options available an edged weapon as a last resort could be enough of a deterrent to create space between you and an attacker, allowing you to escape.


Another option that many are advocates of is to conceal carry a firearm.

While carrying a firearm for self defense purposes has its merits, there are also many things to keep in mind - 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.

Sure, you can pull the trigger at the range and hit A zone's in under a second.

But can you pull the trigger while sweat beads into your eyes and blurs your vision, adrenaline courses through your veins, and you begin to lose fine motor skills?

Can you pull the trigger knowing that your next shot determines whether you live or die?

Lives are at stake, and any doubts you have about your abilities will weigh on you like the weight of all your sins while standing before God on judgement day.

There are no heroes here, just cowards or people who have trained.

In a crowded room of people running in every direction, easily identifying the threat as well as being able to engage the threat without causing collateral damage 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, then 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.

If you are going to be carrying a firearm, it is an immense responsibility. It also means that you have a responsibility to seek out high-level training on a regular basis.

Tools At Your Disposal

Sometimes you have to think outside the box.

In the example of an attacker using an edged weapon such as a knife or a machete, your priority should be to create space.

A garbage can will do exactly that.

Using the can as a defensive weapon will prevent the attacker from getting close enough to inflict a wound.

If you aren't close to can, use a chair or a bench, or any other object that can be used to create distance.


Now that we've discussed what to bring into your environment, let's discuss how to act.

First and foremost, trust your instincts.

Your mind is extremely talented at determining threats, especially when the task relates to self preservation.

Be Alert

John Boyd's OODA Loop theory is used heavily with the combat operations process, often at the strategic level in military operations, and will prove useful in your emergency preparation.

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.

If your heart begins pounding and your breathing becomes shallow at the sound of some loud bang, it's because your subconscious processes have detected a threat.

While your conscious mind tries to determine whether it was fireworks or construction, you've already wasted precious time.

Trust your instincts, and act accordingly.

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 than 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 in November of 2015. 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.

Trust your instincts.


If despite your best efforts, you've found yourself in the middle of an emergency situation such as an active shooter scenario, the most important things you can do now is to move.

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

Having served in the military, I can tell you that 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, the shooter will also likely be moving as well. This creates a situation that is extremely 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.

Run, or even crawl if you have to, just don't freeze and become another addition to the death toll.

Movement with a purpose is ideal. Getting out of 'ground-zero' should be your priority, as there is always the possibility of a secondary attack or attacker.

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.

Getting away from ground-zero will greatly increase your likelihood of survival.

Don't Follow the Crowd

Another tactic that will help you survive will be to make your own path.

In an emergency situation, there's a high probability that stampeding will take place. Countless deaths have been caused by this, so avoid the crowd when possible.

Hop over railings, escape out windows, anything that the majority isn't doing will be your best option.

Though in some cases, running with the crowd might be your only option.

If it is, stay along the walls to be able to provide yourself with stability so that you wont be crushed by the mass of bodies, or swept away by the stampeding 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 the 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, but be aware that it is a danger area in the event of ricochets.


During a video analysis of the Christchurch mosque shootings in March of 2019, an incredibly insightful yet disheartening moment was documented.

During the opening minutes of the shooting, someone trying to escape from the shooter accidentally disarmed him.

The only escape route from within the main sanctuary of the mosque was through a narrow hallway. The shooter began his attack at the far end, and proceeded towards the main sanctuary as he was firing.

Once inside the main room, a single person attempted to run behind the shooter to escape out the hallway. As the person passed the shooter, they accidentally made contact and the firearm fell out of the attackers hands momentarily.

If that took place on accident, imagine what could have been done if someone there had the purpose and violence of action to fight.

You may not have a med kit, a flashlight, a weapon, or any avenue of escape.

But you can fight.

You can always fight.

"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. 'He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,' is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book.

A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying.

He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine." - G. K. Chesterton


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, photographer and videographer while pursing a passion for current global conflicts and how they relate to historical events.

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