What to Do in a Terrorist Attack

police on streets of brussels after terrorist attack, belgium, dunheger travel blog


If you have upcoming travel plans, it’s hard to hear news of the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey and Belgium and not wonder if you’ll be safe taking an international vacation. The fact is, terrorism is a worldwide threat, and while paranoia is never a reasonable course, it’s smart to be cautious and treat the possibility of a terrorist attack as you would any other kind of emergency preparedness.

Arm yourself with knowledge

Knowledge is power. Keep a close eye on local and international news in your destination, both before and during your trip. State department warnings can also be enlightening. United States citizens can sign up for STEP – the Smart Traveler’s Enrollment Program – which sends important safety information from embassies directly to your inbox. The app TravelSafe can help you keep track of emergency numbers and even embassy contact information, if you’re willing to buy a premium version.

Have an evacuation plan

When you arrive, make a note of local emergency numbers and the location of police stations and hospitals. If you’re traveling with friends or family, designate a rendezvous point, so if you’re separated by any emergency, you can easily repatriate. Also keep an eye out for emergency exits wherever you go, especially in large, crowded public venues like concert halls, public transit stations, and major tourist attractions.

Don’t panic

If there is an attack in your destination, stay calm and stay put. Tune into local TV or radio news for instructions from the authorities. Stay away from windows and avoid getting on public transportation. If there’s been one attack, secondary attacks are possible, and even likely.

Run, hide, tell

Make this phrase as secondary nature as stop, drop, and roll is for fire safety. After last fall’s attacks in Paris, the UK government distilled its recommendations for terrorism survival into these basic points: run, hide, and tell.

If you are caught in the heat of a terrorist attack, and there is a safe route out of the area, take it. Run from guns, but walk in the event of a bomb blast so you don’t attract suspicion from law enforcement and don’t get in the way of others making their way to safety.

If you can’t safely leave the area, hide. Much as the movies make cars seem bulletproof, a heavily reinforced wall is your best cover, since bullets can still make their way through wood, glass, and metal. The UK does not recommend playing dead, but if there’s no cover available and you can’t get out, it may be your only option. Silence your cell phone and stay as still as possible.

Once you’re safely out of the area, notify your friends and family, check for injuries, and head to the nearest police station. Be prepared to see a very strong law enforcement or even military presence. They might treat you firmly. Police stations and hospitals may very well be stretched to their limits, so be patient and follow instructions.

Take solace in the fact that major terrorist attacks are in fact a rarity. Preparing for them as you would for a fire or natural disaster is typically all you need to do to stay safe.