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Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Civilian Approach To Terror Bombings

(Note: This was previously published in a local daily)

One of the results of the coordinated bomb attacks in the infamous Rizal Day Bombings of December 30, 2000

THERE'S an old Chinese proverb that goes: "May you live in interesting times." Apparently, it was also a veiled curse too! As someone who has been pursuing studies related to tactics, personal protection and incident-readiness, I can say with some certainty that we again are now living in "interesting times."

With the recent discovery of an apparent car bomb on May 2 this year, in New York City, in the middle of a crowded street on a busy weekend night, people are again reminded that the specter of terrorism is at the ready to strike us when we least expect it. While I am in no way trying to be an alarmist and since we are certainly not directly affected with the incident, one thing security professionals and experts in the field try do try to remind us are of the lessons learned from all the past tragedies. This same bombing scenario happened in the Oklahoma City in 1995 which practically carved a government building in half and the explosion strong enough to extend to a sixteen-block radius taking 168 lives along with it. Only the well-known "9/11" attacks of recent history superseded its carnage.

However, we MUST take heart though. Let us remember the focal point and business of terrorism which those with evil intent wish to propagate: to sow fear, insecurity and uncertainty. Once terrorists have accomplished that, things get progressively worse and society suffers from a self-feeding, long-term anxiety.

While not intended as an "ultimate survival guide" of sorts, there are some points we as civilians can do from our end to assure that we can survive, or possibly mitigate, the potential for attacks of this nature.

Pre-Incident Scenarios:

1. Being vigilant. Let's be aware of our surroundings and be alert to that sense of warning or caution that something is not as it should be. History has shown that many would-be crimes, incidents and tragedies were averted and all it took were citizens responsible enough to alert the authorities to prevent such an attack.

2. Don't add to the "domino effect" of rumors and fear-mongering. If you sense a suspicious-looking object or an out-of-place item, contact the authorities promptly. Providing certain details would be very helpful such as describing in detail what the object looks like, where exactly it's located, how it is positioned, etc.

3. Don't be a hero. At the opposite spectrum of being complacent or panicky, being overzealous and reactionary is just as harmful. There are logistical, tactical and legal limits to what civilians can do. Leave the direct action to the authorities and responsible personnel.

4. Of particular note are bomb threats made over the phone. This is because of the added burden of determining exactly which are "real" or legitimate threats and which are merely "crank" calls. The safest way though is still alerting the authorities and let them handle the situation. It would be best though for your particular office/school/institution to have a well-developed security or contingency plan that includes possible (i.e. - a weighed decision or policy) evacuation or exit procedures based on the level of threat posed.

What we can do again is provide the authorities with specific information regarding the nature of the threatening phone call:

· Was the call made on an open line or a private/restricted line?

· Is the caller's voice a familiar one?

· Is the call a vague one or does it specify the time the bomb may go off or place the where it's located?

· Based on the caller's voice, does the overall tone of the call project a realistic threat?

· Does the caller finish the call with a strongly worded phrase like "I'm not joking" or "I'm serious"?

· Are there any ambient or background noises during the call? (This includes environmental sounds as well as other people who might be present with the caller as well)

· Does the caller give out details that indicate a certain level of planning or preparation beforehand or talks about information that would generally not be known by the public?

Post-Incident Scenarios:

1. Don't panic! In the chaotic and bewildering aftermath of a bomb blast, to be afraid is a normal and natural response. Panicking though is not. Fear can help save your life, panicking doesn't and only adds to the confusion already happening.

2. Do an initial "self-check" damage assessment. First check your breathing: Can you breathe normally? Is it labored or obstructed? The ability to breathe as normal as possible must be your absolute first priority. Then look and actually feel your body with your hands. Are you injured or bleeding? Are you feeling pain somewhere? Do you see or feel any broken bones? Try to stay conscious and responsive. This initial assessment will be the basis for the necessary steps you will be taking next.

3. If you have suffered traumatic injuries such as bleeding, apply direct pressure on the wound (i.e. - a hand kerchief/bandanna or any article of clothing, preferably porous). If there are protrusions or objects of any sort lodged in the wound, do not try to pull them out as it might exacerbate the injury. It is best to let the emergency professionals handle this. In cases of fractures or if you suspect you have broken bones somewhere, try your best to not to move too much to keep the injured area stabilized. Applying a splint, though universally recommended, might be a challenge during these chaotic moments especially if no one is there to assist you. It boils down to weighing what is best under the circumstances.

4. If you are indoors, do you know where you are located? Try to remember where you were prior to the blast, which is weighed against you hopelessly navigating aimlessly and limit your chances of being rescued immediately. This would be especially true if you were in a multi-story structure. Try to maximize your sense of hearing more. At this point, even if your vision is functional and undamaged, the dust, the darkness, obstructions or blockages may impede it.

5. How are you positioned? Are you pinned-down, held-back or trapped under some object? Even if you are free to move, only do so if you absolutely need to. This is because you might be in an "unstable" location (that is, the very real dangers of collapsing structures, debris, obstructions, protrusions, fire and electrical hazards, etc. are present). You may also have unseen or internal injuries which could worsen should you try to move. It may be best to just be still and wait for the search and rescue teams to come and get you.

6. If you determine that it's safe to move somewhere else, don't exert yourself too much. Again, this goes back to limiting what possible internal injuries you might have. Move just enough to secure yourself better and to make yourself more visible for the rescue teams in their search.

Lastly, a few useful items constantly on your person could help; besides a charged and functioning cell phone, a small handy AA flashlight and a small whistle on your keychain will help in locating you should you be trapped, as well as the aforementioned large kerchief or bandanna to serve as an improvised dust mask or wound dressing.

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