The very best way to avoid being caught up in a terrorist incident abroad is to avoid travel to areas where such incidents are likely. Before taking a trip, check the U.S. State Department’s website for travel information and travel warnings concerning any area you plan to visit.
Having said that, the international reach of terrorist organizations and the increasing level of violence leaves open the possibility that, even with the best of information in advance, you could find yourself in the middle of a terrorist attack, as visitors to Mumbai last year discovered when a band of armed men attacked luxury hotels and offices in the middle of that Indian city.
If the unthinkable happens and you find yourself in the midst of, or on the periphery of an attack, how do you survive? A lot will depend upon what kind of incident is taking place. There are some slight differences in appropriate actions depending upon whether the incident is a bomb attack, an armed invasion or a hostage taking event.
Protecting yourself in the event of a terrorist bomb incident requires, first and foremost, that you remain calm and avoid taking rash action. If you hear an explosion, the first thing you should NOT do is move in the direction of the sound. It is not uncommon that terrorist groups will plant several bombs, and trigger second and third explosions to target first responders, security forces, and curious onlookers who rush to the scene of the first explosion. If you are inside a building, stay away from windows. A second explosion can shatter windows, turning them into showers of lethal glass fragments. A great many of the casualties from bombing attacks in urban areas are caused by flying glass. Avoid vehicles if you’re outside. An innocent looking taxi can be laden with pounds of explosive waiting to be triggered by a terrorist concealed nearby. It is also advisable to avoid going inside a building or other enclosed or confined space. The effect of explosions is magnified by enclosed space. You are far safer out in the open where the pressure of an explosion is dispersed, and the farther you are away from vehicles and structures the more protection you have from flying debris.
If you are outside during an armed attack, seek immediate shelter. Inside, again, stay away from windows, and if you’re in a hotel, secure the door to your room and stay away from the door. Remain quiet and wait until the incident is contained.
Hostage taking events are difficult to defend against. If you are in a group that is accosted by hostage takers, above all, remain calm and try not to draw attention to yourself. Don’t engage the hostage takers or confront them. If you see a hostage taking incident, move immediately away from the area as unobtrusively as possible and seek shelter.
Some general tips to minimize your attractiveness as a potential target of terrorist events while traveling abroad. Be aware of the appearance you convey. Avoid carrying expensive cameras or dressing in a manner that marks you as a rich westerner. And don’t dress in a way that advertises your nationality. Americans are a favorite target of many foreign terrorist groups, so leave the “I Love America” and “Washington Redskins” shirts at home in your closet. Likewise, avoid wearing clothing or carrying articles with obvious American symbols like the American flag. Above all, be aware of your surroundings at all time. Military personnel are taught ‘situational awareness’ as a survival skill. Awareness of your environment, 360 degrees, can help you avoid dangerous situations in the first place, and that avoidance is the best protection of all.