What To Do In The Event Of A Terrorist Attack

This blog was posted on behalf of Shaun Gowland, Managing Director or Risk Contained (http://www.riskcontained.co.uk/).

After being asked numerous times by various people for advice on what to do whilst caught in a terrorist attack, I thought it would be good to go a little further in depth, well quite a bit further in depth, than what the Government and Police have been doing, guiding you via posters and what I deem as “brushing it under the carpet somewhat.” I think it’s extremely important information and without trying to frighten most of you too much, in which some way I hope it does, as it can only heighten your awareness and knowledge and hopefully make a difference one day. It’s advice that could save your life and others, here goes!

This blog is aimed at the everyday person, yes you! Read on and take what you can from it. I’m also open to questions and if needed, can advise further of course.

It’s so hard to cover everything in such a small amount of words and without me being able to show examples and video etc. If I can only get you thinking on what you would do or think you would do in a specific situation I’ll be happy. I don’t want to push my personal thoughts or what I would do onto you, nor do I want to tell you what to do. We are all individuals and your reactions and actions certainly would be different to mine and everyone else’s. That’s the reason when I discuss and deliver training to my clients it’s specific to them and not a generic “how to” package. Imagine telling an 85 year old, partially disabled person to run etc and you get the picture of how other companies fail by delivering generic advice and training to clients. I simply want to offer up some options and ideas for you to think about. They might be right for you, they might be wrong for you that, of course, will be up to you, the situation and, more importantly, what would be happening at that very nano second in time. Hindsight is a great thing and having the opportunity to look back and plan for a situation that has already happened is a fantastic thought, unfortunately we are yet to invent the time travel and nor do we have the ability to predict the future. What we can do is learn from the past and develop ourselves to cope and adapt to future events. Let’s hope the following situation is the very last we see, personally I don’t think it will be and we must prepare and ready ourselves to survive as best possible.

The date is the 13th of November 2015, the time 21.40, the place the Bataclan Theatre on the boulevard Voltaire in the 11th arrondissement, Paris, France, just one of the places that night to be attacked. The American band Eagles of Death Metal are playing to an audience of around 1,500 people. You’re in that audience enjoying your night with a close friend. About an hour into the show a car pulls up outside and 3 men enter the building armed with once deactivated AK47 Assault Rifles purchased from a Slovakian military shop and re-activated by replacing the barrels due to poor deactivation laws in that respective country. They also have grenades. Around 22:00, the attackers took 60–100 concert goers hostage as police gathered outside the venue. The latter I’ll leave for maybe a future blog post as other factors come into play. The time they were in the building is an important factor in this and should be kept in mind.

In 2014 the FBI conducted a study into Active Shootings and discovered most end in 2 minutes or less, this was not the case in the Paris attacks and in the majority of recent Terrorist based shootings/attacks of late. These attacks are meticulously planned and executed to accomplish the largest media impact and devastation/loss of life possible. We are now also seeing a new form of attack where the Terrorist seeks to escape and is not intent on just having their own life taken as the attack concludes. In the past the Terrorist was going into an attack already knowing they were dead making them even more proficient without the reigns of preserving their own life. Take the Japanese Samurai for instance "The Way of the Samurai is found in death. When it comes to death, there is only the quick choice of death.” The Samurai went into war accepting they were already dead making them even more dangerous in battle. "Those who cling to life die, and thosewho defy death live." The sengoku daimyô Uesugi Kenshin left these words for his retainers just prior to his own death. We have the same dangerous, fanatically religious, brainwashed, hardened mindset in modern day Terrorists putting them ahead of the common day persons mindset. Whilst caught up in an attack whether they are planning to escape or to die, both ends of the spectrum are extremely dangerous regardless and need to be dealt with quickly and appropriately.

Do something!

The Fight, Flight or Freeze response is a physiological reaction that happens to all of us during a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to personal survival. In my experience individuals can go through either response and different events can bring different responses to the point even a similar event can bring on a different response to the last one at a later date. I’ve seen men curl up and cry under an armed attack, months later after returning fire and leading the team in a previous attack, so don’t think you’re going to respond the same each time, even in a similar situation. As ever, preparation is key and having a clear plan to follow backed up with practical hands on training really helps to get your mindset into dealing with what’s going on at the time and surviving. To do nothing is simply signing your own death certificate so DO SOMETHING!

“This shit ain’t easy”

Being able to do something and operate with a clear mind is hard, super hard! You’re not going to suddenly become Jason Bourne that’s for sure. Past studies show that people who have witnessed traumatic events felt like they were watching a movie, it felt surreal and like it wasn’t really happening. The ones that have survived that is. For instance how’s your weapons recognition? Do you know how many rounds a standard AK magazine holds? Is that Glock 17 made ready to fire by looking at the trigger position etc etc? Do you know when the terrorist is reloading or is he dealing with a stoppage on his weapon? How’s your skill set around fighting, disarming an attacker, using a recovered firearm? Have you been and checked for a way out of the venue before relaxing? Do you have an escape plan? Are you monitoring who's going in and out of the venue? Where’s your vehicle parked and how do you get to it once the streets outside are unsafe? How far can you run, how long can you fight, can you fight on the ground, can you even throw a punch or kick to incapacitate an attacker? I could go on and on and I only wish I could ask these questions to certain clients without scaring the living daylights out of them before they decided they didn't need my services. A mistake I hope they never have to deal with. Not everyone can afford professional protection in their everyday lives so what can you do to protect yourself in it’s basic form? Well let’s look at something you can put in place to help mitigate the risk.

- Maintain situational awareness at all times
- Take control of yourself and others in your party (children, partner, spouse etc)
- Keep a track on where others are in your party and do not leave minors alone at any point
- Have an escape plan
- Do not go with the crowd unless they present a barrier between you and the attacker and there’s no other route

- Make your choice to either Run, Hide or Attack quickly 

- Be assertive and aggressive
- Keep positive and above all else believe your going to survive
- Deal with medical matters once your clear of danger
- Report and tell the authorities, Police etc

Let’s go into these in a little more detail, I cannot go in depth, as I said this blog is to get you to think and it’s not a manual to follow under any circumstance;

1. Maintain situational awareness at all times

Most threats can be stopped through this skill alone, I have built a career from doing this, it is the primary role of any professional in protective duty. If you see it before it happens then you have the upper hand. It buys you time to react and having that time saves lives.

2. Take control of yourself and others in your party (children etc)

Being a wet blanket ain’t going to help when the rounds start to fly, you must take control of yourself and whoever you have with you. Make sure your party know when you get serious they need to listen, have an emergency word or similar for instance. Unfortunately you cannot save everyone and personally I concentrate on my family or friends should they be with me. As hard and as heartless as it sounds I will put others in the line of fire to save my family, friends and that’s just the way I am, in that type of situation I think of them and them alone, I care not for anyone else and they become a barrier to enable my families escape. Sorry if that offends but I do not know you and I will not put your life above the lives of anyone in my family. Be hard faced, you’re going to have to be when it’s time to lead and survive. Selfish? Yes, will it help you and your family survive? Yes.

3. Keep a track on where others are in your party and do not leave minors alone at any point

Have you got children with you? Have they popped off to the toilet alone? Imagine the attackers have started firing, imagine how your children would feel in the panic, witnessing the event, trying to find you, you trying to find them. I don’t think I need to add further to this other than if others in our party are not minors then they need to know the plan and what to do. Extreme isn’t it? Having a conversation with your wife before a night out about an escape plan and what to do, agreeing on a meeting point once in safety if split up etc. Yes it is extreme and how many people do it? Very little I suspect. Now put yourself in the place of the people caught in the situation described at the start of this blog post and ask yourself how many now wish they could have done this.

Can we do this every time we go out? Well it’s a hard thing to contemplate but in todays world in todays unpredictable terrorist rich environment I have a plan every time I go out, every time I take my family somewhere and until the current climate changes I’ll carry on to do that, I couldn't live with myself should I not, and something go wrong. It’s your choice, it’s your life you make that choice not me.

4. Have an escape plan

Spend 15 mins before you go out to view the locality on a map, especially if it’s a new place you have never been before. Look at the venue over view/map/floor plan on the internet, most have these. When you get to the venue look at the fire escape map/floor plans if available etc and take into consideration entry and exit points. Visible exit points and hidden exit points, for instance at the back of a kitchen or back stage etc. Keep your nearest exit point and next exit point in mind at all times that way you can make a quick escape should you need to and if your nearest exit is blocked you have a secondary in mind immediately. Once out of the venue proceed with caution take into account whats in front of you and behind they may be following you. Get to safety as soon as possible. Be aware of armed Police and how you look to them, if you are weapons trained and have picked up an attackers weapon make sure you know what to do if your in the sights of the armed Police etc they will shoot if your deemed a threat. Learn the Rules of Engagement and know when and how to react in this position.

5. Do not go with the crowd unless they present a barrier between you and the attacker and there’s no other route.

It’s a natural tendency to follow the crowd, this will only impede you escape unless they provide a barrier between you and the attacker. Think for yourself and follow your plan not others, they will not have planned as your have thus they do not know what they are doing nor do they know what they are going to do. It’s dangerous period.

6. Make your choice to either Run, Hide or Attack

Let’s break these 3 options down even further as this is a very important part of what to do. If you’re going to choose either of the 3 options then you’re going to have to take in what’s going on around you very quickly and be able to make an ongoing dynamic risk assessment as you move, this takes practice and is not easy whilst awash with adrenaline and a fully blown attack taking place with death and multiple injures around you. Either way you have to do something as we discussed earlier and you must put things happening around you into the back of your mind and move. Whenever I work I use three simple protocols:

- Remove the VIP from the threat
- Place assets and barriers between the VIP and the threat
- Remove the threat

Let’s put those into the following 3 choices;

RUN: You have chosen to run, now running poses a multitude of problems when confronted with an attack in the form of a firearm as a firearm is a distance weapon and works better when the thing your firing at is at a certain distance mostly close range pistols and carbine weapons are used and this makes your problem huge! Distance is the best weapon in the world if your distance is greater than the weapon thats being used against you but in a confined space or open space up to around 1000 yards (differing according to the weapons used of course) then the attacker has the upper hand. Running in most cases is the worst thing you can do although we can mitigate that by how we run. We must run sporadically in zig zags and take different bursts of pace and direction to make it harder for the attacker to acquire a target and hit it. Use urban furniture and place a barrier between you and the attacker and remove yourself from the threat as quickly and as safely as possible. Choose your barriers wisely, the weapons used in Paris can and did penetrate brick walls so using plaster walls and normal soft skin vehicles is not good enough. Stay Low and Move FAST!

HIDE: Now to me hiding brings it’s own problems and should be, in my mind, the last option on the list. If indoors it’s only a matter of time before the attacker either finds you or stumbles across you and it’s goodbye. If you have no other option other than to hide then you must find a secure area, room etc. A lockable door or a door you can place barriers against to stop the attacker finding a way through or breaking the seal. A place they wouldn't look, loft space hidden areas, use things to conceal yourself and others, if possible where you can see the attacker pass so you can utilise another escape route or attack them from the rear is you are capable. Turn off lights and do not make a noise, turn of mobile phone ring tones, and vibrate too! If they hear you you’re in trouble. Use your mobile and call the Police as soon as possible not to give yourself away when doing so. Do not respond to anyone knocking on the doors or trying to flush you out by saying they are the Police etc. Attackers will do this and reports of them asking for help are common place so be cautious and survive forget about others until your safe.

FIGHT: In an ideal world I’d tell everyone to rush the attackers to disarm them. I have ran this scenario alongside running many times in a controlled environment and have seen an 80% or more survival rate. Within 21 feet the attacker only gets a few shots off until they are engulfed and disarmed, that means you lose a few people and the majority survive. Now put that into real word attacks, how many sane brave people would run at an attacker firing an AK47 into a crowd? Not many our response is, as we described earlier, Fight, if you’re close enough, Flight, this is the normal response which most would run away from the attacker and the distance is increased for a distance firearm to be used even more effectively, and then there’s Freeze, again a majority of humans do this and are killed. It’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen in a real attack as we have so many variables and anyone giving a run down of what they will do need an ego check and have more than likely never been in that sort of environment or situation.


Use things around you. Chairs and fire extinguishers make great cover and instruments to land devastating blows. Rush the attacker and restrain him/her, be aggressive and, if needed, take them out. Does anyone remember the train bound Terrorist that the 3 American and 1 English hero’s took out before he started his kill on a fully packed train? Spencer Stone, a US Airman was the first to rush the attacker and choke him unconscious using Brazilian Jiu Jitsu techniques. He single handedly saved potentially hundreds of lives that day and is a personal hero of mine. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is, in my eyes, the best form of unarmed combat to learn which I’ll go into in a future blog post for all interest.

Work as a team, the more the better in my eyes. Rush the attacker and disarm as soon as possible. Go for the weapon first in a surprise attack, they will not expect this and their mindset will not cope quickly enough to overcome this in enough time as to act. You therefore, will have the upper hand.

Will you get hurt? More then likely yes. People survive gunshots everyday and to give yourself and others the best chance of survival this is the best proven and tested method to maximise the number of survivors in an armed attack. Curling up and begging for your life will not work. Think back to the execution of the Policemen on the street during the Charlie Hebdo attack. One was shot begging for his life pistol still in the holster. They do not give a damn about your life. Chris Norman a Briton aboard the train that day gave an insight into his mindset around subduing theattacker that day, “My thought was, ‘OK, I’m probably going to die anyway, so let’s go.’ I’d rather die being active, trying to get him down, than simply sit in the corner and be shot. Either you sit down and you die or you get up and you die. It was really nothing more than that.”

7. Be assertive and aggressive

Aggression is your friend use it to your advantage, if you’re running or fighting for your life it’s the same aggressive state of mind you will need to have. Going above what you think is acceptable and what you think is within the law sadly goes out of the window once firearms are involved and people are being killed around you. The use of deadly force is necessary. Take them out before they take you out. Like the heroes who subdued and disarmed the terrorist on the train they didn’t stop attacking until the attacker couldn't move or was capable of anything dangerous, neither did they go further than what was needed. Once they had him restrained they didn’t kill him, he was handed over to the Police in good health if not a little bruised and battered. If they had killed him in the fight then I’m pretty sure the law would have been on their side and they would have walked free. Killing him once restrained is a different matter all together. As I said before once firearms are involved deadly force is definitely on the cards. Not everyone is capable of taking a life, in this situation it’s either you or them and I know who will be going back to their family if it was myself. Again your choice, you make it.

8. Keep positive and above all else believe your going to survive

Mental Toughness is paramount as well as the will and need to survive. Staying positive and having the mindset that you will survive will help you. Believing your going to die will only push you into shock quickly and make you give up. The situation is far from ideal but once over, you will have your life back. Dwelling on negative thoughts breeds further negative thoughts and you’re quickly into that downward spiral. Stay positive if you want to win!

9. Deal with medical matters once your clear of danger

Medical matters must be dealt with after you have extracted to safety and all interventions must be within you capabilities. Medical training is a must in my eyes for everyone, we run various certified Medical courses which will only help in any medical emergency. We must ignore other injured persons and keep moving, they will only slow you down. Let the experts go back for them or you will find yourself joining them and at worst dead. Another hard choice to make, passing screaming men, women and children to preserve your own life, and another one you’re going to have to make yourself. Unfortunately, I can only guide you and give you the options.

10. Report and tell the authorities, Police etc

Once safe, comply with the Police or Authorities and relay the clearest picture you can to them. How many attackers? How were they dressed? Approximately how many casualties? Which exit did you escape from? What weapons have been used, if you know? These are just some of the questions you may be asked so try to take in as much information as you can as the event happens. The more information you can gather the better chance the experts have at saving lives.


These attacks are still extremely rare but being prepared can only be a positive in the pursuit of preserving lives and defeating the terrorist. You may get the time to react, you may not even see it coming, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be inevitable and when it’s your time to go unfortunately it’s your time to go and there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do to stop that. What we can do is, do something, fight for your life. It may just save it and countless others. Be brave and go out fighting. Easily said, hard to carry out in the chaos of an attack. Let’s hope we never have to but if the situation calls be ready! Do something and be the best you can be!


Shaun Gowland at 8:14pm on 5th December 2015

Thanks for posting this for me Tom, hopefully it reaches the right people and makes a difference. I'll be writing more advice based blogs towards the end of 2015 and into 2016 so fingers crossed there's something for everyone. Stay safe everyone. Shaun G

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