Keeping your family safe from terrorist truck attacks

HOW DOES THIS MAKERESILIENT?

Terrorism is a real threat in today’s world. One of the more recent method is a terrorist truck attack-having a lone terrorist drive a truck towards a crowd of innocent people. It may be worth rehearsing your actions in your mind in case this does happen.


Terrorist truck attacks are one of the latest methods of terrorism. They are easy to plot and skip over the entire complexity required for a bombing or shooting type of attack. Bombings require specialized knowledge and materials which open up a risk of being tracked before the attack is executed. A shooting event requires training and acquiring of the weapons and a vulnerable target. On the other hand, the truck requires an individual who can drive, and he can rent a truck from just about anywhere. The attacker will only need to pick the time and place where he can inflict optimum damage-that is about all the planning he would need.

We have seen this attack in Nice, France and a few months ago in Berlin, Germany.

It has yet to happen in US soil, but given how simple the attack is and how it has seemed effective-it is possible that someone in the US will pick up after this method and create some damage.

If it is a possibility here, how might you be able to stay aware of this danger and keep yourself and family out of harm’s way?


WHAT ARE THE PREFERRED TARGETS?

So far in previous truck attacks the targets were large crowds gathered outside. The crowds were gathered for some type of festivity, but the same risks can be found in other events. This might apply to a protest, a marathon, a concert or a busy Friday night in a downtown outdoor venue.

The key is:

  1. Lots of people
  2. Accessible to a fairly large vehicle (truck)
  3. Wide enough space to maneuver the truck for multiple attacks

The easy pattern is to find a large crowd in high density cities when they are gathered for some kind of celebration. The celebration itself has a theme that can be used as part of the message of the attack. Nice is the 5th most populous city in France, and Berlin is the capital of Germany. The significance of the city may have been part of how they were selected as targets.

2010 Parade in Nice. Photo from Wikivisually.com

Consider also the nature of the festivities. Remember, it was Bastille day (French National day) and Christmas. Similar festivities in the US might be Independence day or a Thanksgiving day parade. In both previous attacks people were in good spirits and care free. If you do decide to participate in an event where such an attack can happen, what can you do to stay ahead?


HOW DID PEOPLE REACT?

Watching the videos for both terrorist truck attacks, we can see how a lot of people stared in disbelief-some until it was too late. People can freeze in these types of situations as the mind tries to process the unusual information coming.  Some people stood still and motioned their hands up, gesturing the mad attacker to stop.

After enough people had screamed to get out of the way, most of the crowds had enough presence of mind to react. There is panic and everyone simply tries to get out of the way. There is pushing and disorientation. Some people even managed to keep their heads and found a chance to fight back. A few people tried to stop the attacker in Nice by grabbing onto the side of the driver’s door and attacking him. (In retrospect this was dangerous as the driver may have well been armed.)


WHO SURVIVED?

Mainly those who were far enough from the attack had a great chance of survival. They heard the commotion and were distanced enough that they could process what was happening. They then had enough time to get to safety. If you were far away enough, you had a pretty good chance of surviving it. The truck had a very limited maneuverability and traveled in a fairly straight line.

Those who were close to the truck had a smaller chance of surviving, reaction time is very important. If you are closer to the source of danger, you will need to react faster.

 


STAY AWARE

Does the event you are participating in have a religious or political theme that can be leveraged for the attacker’s message?

What are the socio-political hot topics right now? Would any of them be tied to this event in some way?

Are there any high value targets possibly coming to this event? Maybe a public figure is giving a speech of some sort. A quick review on the event’s website can give you most of this information. A quick online check can also give you some idea on news trends that may have some connection to the event.

It is interesting to note that the Nice attacker had lived in Nice. He was parked along the promenade of the attack earlier that day. The promenade had been closed off to vehicles for the festivities. He was a local and had rented the truck himself. He parked the truck and was waiting for the time to attack. Sometimes you will notice these kinds of signs-most of the time they will be nothing, but in this case the attacker was real.


KNOW YOUR SURROUNDINGS

Situational awareness is key. If you are going to be stationary in this event, you should plan some things. Keep an eye for a safe way to get out in the event of a panic. Can you find a driveway which is small enough that it is probably not where a truck attack might come from? Are there obstacles you can reach, which will provide you with protection? These obstacles may include:

  • Bollards
  • Walls
  • Concrete planters
  • Thick bushes
  • Trees
  • Permanent platforms or ditches
Bollards
Heavy and permanent planters

The obstacles noted above though should offer better protection. Bollards are designed to stop vehicles. If there are concrete planters and they look heavy enough they can stop a vehicle or at least make the attacker choose another route.

Take a look at where you are standing, are you at an angle that is easy to approach from a road where an attacker can build up speed? A truck will take the path of least resistance-driveways and roads-if you need to move, move perpendicular from these. If you are at right angles from such an approach you are in a much safer spot.

The path the terrorist truck attacker took in the Berlin attack-a quick swerve from the main approach to the market place.

If you are in the outskirts of the crowd, will you be aware if a danger is approaching? Or will you be wearing earphones and chanting with the crowd? It may be a good idea to take the earphones off and keep your ears open.

How far are you from the likely origin of an attack? If you have your back to the main road access to the plaza where the event is, that is not ideal. You would be safer if you are close to the sides of a solid structure or an obstacle. An attacker would have an easier time driving towards the middle, than to swipe at the crowd leaning onto the face of a building/obstacle.

Curbs are not any protection as trucks can easily hop over them. Hiding behind other vehicles will not offer sufficient protection. If you seek protection from another vehicle and the truck rams into it, then you are toast. Traffic cones and barricades will also give you a false sense of protection. Temporary structures like tents and booths will also not protect you. Stay away from these.


HAVE A PLAN IN YOUR HEAD

So you are aware of your surroundings. How about your family or the group you are with? If you don’t want to sound silly by saying “in case a truck smashes in the crowd here’s my plan…” well maybe you can say “in case we get separated we can meet over there” and pick an easy landmark you think will offer safety.

Think some details thru. If you have some bags or food with you, make a note in your mind to drop them and just run.(You’d be surprised at how people still try to hold onto these things in moments of crisis to keep their sense of normal about them). If you look at photos of the attack, there were items left behind in the panic. Quite a few shoes, but not really a ton of hand carried stuff like plastic bags or handbags. Keep in mind to drop anything that will slow you down.

If you have kids with you, who is in charge of who? Maybe the husband can carry your older child and your wife can carry the smaller one. If you have a stroller, how will you be able to get them out of the way? Survey your potential route for obstacles to your stroller or even if you are just on foot but carrying a heavy load (your child for example). Can you unstrap them out of the stroller quickly?

If you are armed, what can you do? Can you shoot at the driver as he moves? The wheels or the engine? These will be extremely difficult given that the attacker has the element of surprise and there will be a lot of innocent people running between him and your sights. You run a high risk of accidentally shooting someone. Also if you look at the Nice attack, you will notice how many bullets were shot at the windshield and both doors. How many shots did it take to neutralize the attack? (Honestly I do not know and could not find detailed info on this.) The point is that it might be wiser to focus your efforts and time on getting to safety than to fight back.

Photo of the Nice truck attack, showing bullet holes on the windshield. Police officers also shot at both doors .

CONCLUSION

We have yet to see this type of attack in US soil. But, given how effective they are and how the risk-reward ratio is pretty good, there is no reason that it cannot happen. Given how easy it can be to reduce your risks in becoming a victim to this type of attack, it should not be big lifestyle change to protect yourself and your family from this. The majority of the preparation is awareness ahead of the danger. Understand the nature of your crowd, observe your surroundings and make a rough plan in your head. Don’t go overboard, don’t overthink this or you will feel burdened. Consider it as a simple mental exercise and don’t entertain paranoia.


MakeResilient aims to help build a more resilient lifestyle and family. I believe that we need to be ready for big changes coming to our current way of life (more info at the Concerns page). I am intentionally leading my family so that we can adapt slowly over time for the changing future.

 

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