With the summer season in full swing there is going to be more family travel, vacations, and domestic/international travel. For most on T-nation situational awareness is second nature, but, there may be some new members or lurkers who are just starting to learn. I hope some of these thoughts will help someone plan out their response to a terrorist attack or active shooter situation. I am not an expert and always willing to learn, these are just some things I have learned from working in the Middle East and Afghanistan for the past 11 years.
Note: I am going to use the word “spouse” to incorporate all relationships. “Families” can mean any group of individuals you are responsible for.
Know who you are with: It is one thing to attend a social gathering, go to a ballgame, or peruse the malls with individuals who are trained for violence (Military, LEO, PSD, Corporate Security) and quite another to be with people who only have experienced violence through video games. Realize they will have no situational awareness, nor, the training to help you survive an attack. Realize that developing even a simple tactical plan will be met with skepticism and any attempt to make them understand will probably be futile. Do the best you can, but, have your own plan for survival, do not let well-meaning individuals comprise your strategy. On the other spectrum, being with someone who is trained and especially armed is a real bonus and simple plans can be made driving to the venue. Just establish who will do what, who is the driver, who is the primary shooter, who is responsible for hunting exit locations, while the other or others provide protection, etc.
Yourself: Being alone during an attack and your response will basically come down to the fight or flight reflex. IMHO, what you will do, will be based on your psychological mindset, your training, your experience with violence, your profession. Be honest with yourself and your abilities to combat violence, experience has taught me that most men have a tendency to overestimate their combat abilities and usually just die on the scene. I don’t know what yours are, but, decide what you are going to do, before you arrive at the venue. In the middle of the attack is no time to be making the decision.
Family: Unless you are trapped and facing death, this decision is already made for you. You must get your family off the “X” and out of the primary attack zone. There should be no attempt at heroics when the ones you love are counting on you to provide leadership: know what you are going to do, where to take the family, etc. Often, terrorists on a major attack will place shooters at the main exits and kill as many as they can as they run out. Know where all the exits are, take the time to drive or walk around your venue, learn where the exit doors are, where the service entrances are, where the security kiosks or police substations are, where the exit roads are, where are the bottlenecks that a VBIED could be parked.
Spouse and Children: As much as I would like to assume your spouse is highly trained (man or woman) the odds are they are not, so, it is up to you to develop a basic plan. Have a quiet, serious talk and go over some basic strategy, Outline the need to be situationally aware, inform them what can happen and stress they are also responsible for helping survive an attack. I know it’s common for families to go shopping and split up, each going to their own preferred venue, but, during holiday vacations, that is a major tactical mistake. You don’t want to have some family member on one end of the venue and you on the other. Stay together, stay close.
If you have children with you, one of you must be the primary protector, it is simply too distracting to watch the kids and watch for an attack at the same time. Having small children is a dynamic all its own, I know. I once was part of a team that was providing security for an executive and his family below the border and trying to run with a screaming 4 year old under your arm and returning fire with one hand is for the movies. Decide who carries the child and who looks for exits, who will take point and who will not.
Your spouse must recognize the threat and be able to function in a terrifying situation. Teach basic commands in a loud voice. Examples like: Get the kids! Get tommy! Grab my belt!, Run to the back of the hotel!, etc. Simple commands, they work, because they are simple. Have a daily schedule and stick to it. Know the places you want to visit, go there, do what you need to do and then leave. Try to arrange for visits during non-peak times. When the venue first opens at 1000 is much safer than 1900, remember terrorists use the maxim amount of destruction for the maximum amount of media coverage. I occasionally have to go to the Afghan government palace and I don’t go there after 1400, which is prime hit time here.
Attack Dynamics: Talk to your spouse about a possible attack and the ramifications of being caught up in the situation. The noise will be loud, especially if they detonate a bomb first to soften up the guards/resistance or create mass panic which leads to easy targets. Try to make your spouse understand that people will be screaming and dying, and, if they have never experienced this type of violence, will probably go catatonic. This is a natural reaction that you must stop immediately, either by verbal commands or simply slapping the shit out of them.
You must get off the kill zone, you must survive or the kids will die. Try to convey how bad the panic will be and stress how important it is to follow your pre discussed plan and how you need to hyper focus on leaving by a safe exit, even to the point of running by people crying for help. You and the spouse have a family and nothing else matters. Harsh, I know, but there is a reason we leave a wounded member in a door way, it’s because we have to kill the threat, or, others will die. There is a reason you are leaving, so your family will live.
Vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED): Almost all major attacks start with some type of VBIED, especially if the goal is major venue. I have been around them for the past 11 years and I am totally paranoid about vehicles. I have certain rules about parking lots around large retail outlets and sporting venues. I always park far away from the main entrance, yes, your family will bitch about the extra walking, but, car bombs are not placed where they do the least damage. Would you rather have your family walk a little or park close to an entrance and die from an explosion? Remember, terrorists don’t park anywhere except where they can kill the most and if the car is not rigged, when they exit the vehicle they are already shooting. I would think you would rather see that from a distance.
If it can be avoided, I never walk between parked vehicles, especially in front of large venues. In fact, I will often circle a parking lot just to avoid being between parking lanes. Humans are creatures of habit and terrorists know this, they know you will walk to shortest distance to the market or entrance to a venue. One terrorist with a pair of binoculars and a cell phone can detonate a car bomb at any time. Don’t be stupid and lazy, take the long way around, if possible.
Vehicles: Thou any vehicle can be used as a VBIED, I am paranoid about certain vehicles: Toyota Camrys, brown or gray in color and made in the 1990’s (the all-time favorite), small white pickup trucks, like the Hillux and especially avoid large garbage and cement mixer trucks, which can carry enough explosives to level a small mountain. I was in the wrong place when they blew the T-walls surrounding the old Baghdad hotel using a large garbage truck, outside static security died instantly and then the ground forces moved in. You see any of these vehicles parked near an entrance to a venue or driving toward one, stay the hell away until they prove what they are.
Motorcycles: a quick word about motorcycles. In Baghdad, Kabul, and Islamabad, I have had experiences with terrorists using motorcycles to drive up to a vehicle and detonate a bomb carried in a backpack or pull up in front of some café, Embassy entrances, military checkpoints, etc. and either detonate or open fire with an AK. It makes me extremely twitchy to have some biker in the U.S. pull up in the lane next to me, and never trust someone who pulls a motorcycle up to a venue entrance wearing a backpack or a large coat, never know if they are there to detonate. Vacate the area until their intentions are known.
Weapons and Equipment: Do not engage the attackers even if you are armed, unless you are simply trapped and going to die anyways. You will probably be armed with a handgun and they simply don’t match up against AK’s or similar style weapons. A major assault will not be made with .22’s, so, you will be severely out gunned. And for those of you carrying, carry at least two extra magazines. Don’t bitch about your comfort, just remember, AK’S have 30 round magazines, you don’t. Use your weapon to fight for an EXIT or fight to allow your family time to escape, not for offense. What you chose to carry is of course your decision and based on what laws your state has on the books.IMHO, always carry a small powerful belt flashlight, knife (legal length) and a cigarette lighter. Trying to find a way out for your family during a power outage, smoke, or garage tunnels is hell without a light. The knife has many uses and the lighter has abilities to create all sorts of problems.
Harsh Reality: You need to discuss with your spouse the reality that your family may be close to a suicide bomber when they detonate. You will either live or die. If you live, you will have severe disorientation for several minutes and your hearing will be completely screwed. If possible, do not make any moves until your hearing clears (if it does) and wait until the dizziness fades enough for you to try to make a rational decision on which way to flee. Where there is one bomber, there are usually two. Talk to your spouse, acknowledge that one of you will probably die and the other one has the responsibilities to get the kids or themselves out. If they cannot handle this truth, then you have a real problem.
International: I have spent the past 11 years working, training, and living in various countries in the Middle East and South West/ Central Asia. These are a few things I have learned and they apply generally to every country I worked in, including 6 in Europe. There are situations you must try to avoid at all costs: large crowds in the street, lines of people in the markets, whether the area is Shiite or Sunni, police or military checkpoints (prime targets). Always have reliable communications (I prefer two cell phones with different carriers), transportation, and in a perfect world, a backup team or direct communications with a Quick Reaction Force and if authorized, weapons.
International Travel: This is where everyone is most vulnerable. Know the airport schematics the best you can (usually maps on walls), arrive at least 3 hours early, get through customs and then walk the terminal noting the exits, bathrooms, and checkpoints. Does it have multiple levels? If so, spend time in the upper levels watching the crowds entering, because, if an attack occurs, it will usually happen on the ground floor. Locate airport security, identify if they are local police or military. Do they have roving patrols or fixed stations? If they are killed can you operate their weapons for your own survival? Visualize an attack and then decide what you are going to do to survive. What cover do you have? Where are the exits? Have a plan, no matter how simple, develop a combat mindset and focus on surviving.
Bombs: Avoid lingering around the “food court” at all times, if a mass of people are sleeping along the walls of the terminal (especially Kuwait International, Queen Alia, and Benazir Bhutto), simply walk on by. Watch everyone carefully, especially if they are carrying large amounts of luggage in boxes or other types of roped wrapped packages (nearly everyone in a third world country).Try to arrive early enough to avoids waiting several hours to check in, this has happened to me several times after late flights and waiting with several hundred people on the GROUND FLOOR of a terminal, surrounded by massive amounts of luggage is not a good situation. Most security entering the ground floor is shit, usually consisting of unarmed cops trying to direct traffic. If this happens to you, spend your time scanning the front entrance as much as possible, have a plan, no matter how simple. There is no shame in jumping past a ticket agent and crawling through the luggage conveyor belt if someone opens up with an AK behind you.
The most stupid things I see when I travel:
THE USE OF ELECTRONICS: For God’s sake, get those buds out of your ears and eyes away from that screen. How in hell can you hear gunshots, people yelling, rockets or mortars whistling in with music blasting? Example: Last Thursday I was starting my first leg back to Kabul and was waiting on a flight in the Atlanta International Airport when the alarm system went off (multiple rows of white lights) and a loud saying over and over (airport emergency, everyone remain in place). The first thing I thought was an active shooter, so, I had already made my plan and started for an emergency door. I looked around and numerous people were sitting in their chairs, eyes and ears slaving to the electronic hand God. Unbelievable.
Clothing: First, I am as guilty as anyone because my daily work clothes consist of 5.11.pants and shirts or one piece coveralls in desert brown, in fact, it is about all I own, but, have at least a pair of jeans and some plain tee shirts for international travel. Nothing marks you more as an American than 5.11 style pants and a brown or US camo style backpack in an airport. I can see you in a crowd of 5000 TCN’s and if I can see you, so can an active shooter. I stopped wearing my work clothes last year when Dubai authorities pulled me into secondary because they were looking for an “American mercenary”. Now, I travel with jeans and a North face carry on. In conclusion, never, ever wear a tee shirt with OBL’s face on the front and a “kill them all and let God sort them out on the back”. Seriously, I saw this in the Kuwait International airport and instantly knew who was going to get shot first. Be safe, watch your 6.