Tips for Surviving a Terrorist Attack

There is no magic formula that guarantees protection from acts of terrorism, but there are steps anyone can take to reduce the risks. The following basic guide is based on interviews with experts.

In General

Follow the instructions of authorities. If there is an announcement over TV or radio, or if a firefighter, police officer or other official gives instructions, obey their instructions.

A crisis is not a time to second-guess the group of people with the expertise and equipment to know what is happening. Their specific instructions should take precedence over general guides such as this one.

What to do during an explosion
  • Duck and cover
  • Get away from windows and behind something solid
  • Curl up to protect the face and eyes
While outside during an explosion, or if people are choking or collapsing
  • Cover nose and mouth. The big danger with most toxic substances is inhaling them. Even thin fabrics such as a handkerchief, a scarf or a shirt will reduce the chance of inhaling radioactive particles, many chemical and biological agents, and the choking dust that ordinary bombs produce.
  • Move away at an angle. If the attack occurred upwind, then potentially dangerous substances may drift downwind. Because the wind moves quickly, the best way to get out of its path is to go sideways toward the direction that it’s blowing. Going around a corner will also allow a building to block the wind.
  • Get inside. Find an intact, sturdy building to enter. Modern buildings are fairly airtight and will keep out most toxic substances for some time.
  • Strip and shower. If toxic exposure occurred, then most of it will have settled on the outer layer of clothing. Using a shower or hose, rinse while clothed to make clothing safer to handle. Carefully undress and put clothing where it cannot be touched (ideally, sealed in a plastic bag). Then rinse with a shower or hose, thoroughly but gently, to get the residue off of the skin. EXCEPTION: A few toxic chemicals react dangerously with water; if anything strange happens, stop showering immediately.
While indoors and the problem is outside
  • Close up. Closing doors and windows and turning off air conditioners or heaters will make most modern buildings reasonably airtight, which will keep most toxic substances from drifting in. If the windows are broken (say, by an explosion) or part of the building is leaky, find an intact room to shelter inside.
  • Move away from windows. In the event of a second explosion, or a release of highly penetrating (gamma) radiation, the safest place is behind a solid wall.
  • Stay still and watch TV or listen to the radio. Watch for official announcements over television and radio. Unless there is something obviously wrong with the building (e.g., it is next to a toxic cloud being released, the windows are blown out, or it is burning down), it is safer to stay still than to go outside.
  • Wait for someone in authority to instruct on when, how and where to evacuate. While inside and the problem is inside Get out. Because modern buildings are fairly airtight, a dangerous substance released inside will stay dangerously concentrated. If people inside the building are choking and collapsing or if the building is on fire, it is time to head for another, safer shelter.