Run, Hide, Tell, Then What?

The first three steps for people exposed to a terror attack are fairly universal, run, hide, tell. These steps are also fairly simple to remember. But what if you’ve followed them and find yourself in a position where the threat to your safety and security is still there? Is run, hide, tell enough advice? Or are there other steps that can also be considered?

In most circumstances where a terror attack occurs, run, hide, and tell is applicable. Whether the attack is occurring on the beach, such as the attack in Sousse, Tunisia in June 2015, or later the same year in Paris, when coordinated attacks were conducted on the same night at the Stade de France, the Bataclan theatre, and numerous restaurants.

RUN – If you are in a location where you can hear or see gunfire or explosions, it is recommended to leave the area immediately using the safest route available. Stay near cover as much as possible, keeping low. Avoid using main entrances and exits, or running around blind corners. Encourage others to go with you, however do not delay leaving the area longer than necessary. Leave everything behind so that you are able to move quickly.

Recently, there has been an increase in vehicle attacks in Europe, such as in Nice, Berlin, Sweden, and London. These kinds of attacks may occur swiftly and are potentially less obvious when they start, particularly in large congested locations. In Nice on 14 July 2016, 86 people were killed and 434 injured on the Promenade des Anglais when a truck drove through the crowd. In Berlin on 19 December 2016, 12 people were killed and 56 injured in a similar attack. Situational awareness continues to be the primary key for people in unfamiliar environments.

HIDE – Dependent on circumstances, running away from the area may not be an option. The attack may have escalated quickly into a hostage situation for example.

Café-goers in Sydney, Australia suddenly found themselves being held hostage for almost 24 hours by Man Horan Monis in December 2014. The situation ended with a police raid and resulted in two persons killed, excluding the hostage-taker. The following month in January 2015, the Kouachi brothers, responsible for the gun attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, were held up in an industrial warehouse near the Charles de Gaulle airport, as the police manhunt for them continued. Unbeknownst to them, Lilian Lepère, a graphics designer for the company, was hiding under the sink in a cupboard, sending text messages to the police. Ideal hiding locations are those which would provide suitable cover from gunfire, such as thick walls. It is important to note, being discovered hiding by the attacker could significantly increase the threat to life. Indeed, after Lepère’s hostage incident, he attempted to sue the French media for reporting a hostage was hiding at the location whilst he was still concealed. Persons in hiding should ensure their phone’s ring tones and vibrations are turned off to avoid inadvertently revealing their location.

TELL – The last step is to inform local emergency services, or alert someone else who is able to do that for you. Once assistance arrives, you should follow their instructions accordingly. This advice is acceptable in developed countries with efficient emergency response services.

However, as a traveller, who do you tell locally when visiting poorer countries, with significant terror threats, and they do not speak your language? There are a number of options for this. Prior to travelling, a threat and risk assessment should be done for such countries. A traveller may simply risk it and choose to inform their family or company via phone in the event on an incident. However, this can also prove insufficient for instances where an immediate response is required. There are a variety of travel-tracking options for travellers to high risk or vulnerable areas, from GPS devices to phone applications. These measures can facilitate quick informing of an incident, and provide the travellers exact location, as well as provide access to life-saving advice or physical assistance in country as needed.

Run, hide, tell, is good initial advice in the event of a terror attack. However, there are some additional options for travellers to consider if caught in an attack.

FIGHT – This is an additional step more commonly advised in the United States, and is somewhat of a last resort. The aim is to incapacitate the attacker by using physical aggression. If pursuing this action, it is important to commit to the fight, and if others are around, encourage them to join you. It is easy to provide this advice, but another thing to follow through with it altogether.

As an example, in August 2015, three American servicemen were applauded internationally when they physically apprehended Mohammed Mera, who was wielding firearms and a sharp blade on a train en route to Paris from Amsterdam. The terror attack in London on 3 June 2017, saw the bravery of an off-duty police officer who physically confronted the attackers and was severely injured in the process. It cannot be ignored that in both instances, the men who fought the attackers had some form of training. However, in the event a hiding location is discovered, or there is no available exit, a person has to be prepared for the worst, and not fighting back could prove equally fatal.

TREAT – For potentially fatal wounds, the earlier a victim is treated, the greater the likelihood they will survive the incident. This can be particularly challenging in situations such as terror attacks in the UK, where armed police must first prioritise neutralising the threat. In these scenarios, paramedics are only permitted on the scene after the area has been secured by police, which can significantly delay professional medical help for those in urgent need.

Training exercises have shown that it may take up to 100 minutes for paramedics to be allowed onto a scene following a large-scale terror attack. However, the critical window for treating severe injuries is often within the first five minutes. In light of these delays, civilians already present at the scene sometimes step in to assist the injured. This has been the case in numerous London attacks this year, where passersby have provided immediate aid, such as during the vehicle attacks on the London and Westminster bridges.

A notable example of civilian bravery was UK MP Tobias Ellwood, who was praised for his efforts during the April 2017 Westminster Palace attack. Ellwood provided mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and applied pressure to the wounds of a severely injured police officer, although tragically, the officer had already lost too much blood. While not everyone has first aid training, simple actions like stopping excessive bleeding can still be crucial while waiting for emergency services. To aid in these efforts, CitizenAid has developed a free app that offers medical guidance on how to assist casualties who may be bleeding, unconscious, or not breathing.

However, while the impulse to rush to assist is commendable, one must also consider the ongoing threat, such as the possibility of secondary explosive devices or suicide bombers remaining in the area. The “fight and treat” steps, while potentially controversial, warrant consideration given the variety of terror attack methods globally, including everything from improvised explosive devices and gun assaults to vehicle rammings and knife attacks.

The existing “Run, Hide, Tell” strategy is simple and easy to remember, but “Fight and Treat” introduces additional risks in scenarios where the threat to life is already imminent. It is crucial to be mindful that all five steps—run, hide, tell, fight, and treat—carry inherent risks.