How to be ready in an age of low-tech terror: How New Yorkers should equip themselves, beyond ‘see something, say something’

March 27, 2018

This post was originally published on December 12, 2017 in The Hill.

Monday’s explosion in the underground corridor at 42nd St., much like the horrific attack in downtown Manhattan in October, reminds us that New York City is always in the crosshairs of terrorists.

And as we have seen, terrorist organizations are constantly evolving their tactics. In addition to homemade bombs, lone-wolf terrorists can exact severe physical and psychological trauma simply with cars, knives and other low-tech weapons that require minimal planning and training to use to deadly effect. And these low-tech attacks are proving incredibly difficult to stop.

Unfortunately, the traditional preparedness advice as presented by go-to websites like those of FEMA and the Red Cross do little to help citizens prepare for low-tech terrorist events.

There is no doubt that the NYPD, FDNY, the Office of Emergency Management and other city agencies remain at the cutting edge of counterterrorism, and every New Yorker should feel confident and proud of the work they do to protect the Big Apple.

But we also believe that more can be done to enhance the preparedness advice available to the public to the public about how to stay safe. Just as terrorists evolve their tactics, we too need to advance our own strategies to raise awareness.

So while the mantra of “if you see something, say something,” remains important, and a creed by which every New Yorker should continue to live, we propose an addendum: If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, think “run, hide, fight.”

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security both promote this as a critical public safety message. It prescribes that, in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other life-threatening hazard, the first action to take should be to remove yourself from danger, i.e., “run.”

If that is not possible, the next best option is to find a way to make yourself less visible and less present to the dangerous situation, i.e., “hide.”

Finally, as a very last resort, fight back if your life is in imminent danger.

Beyond “run, hide, fight,” there are other steps that ordinary citizens can take which could save lives if communicated to the public.

One is to practice situational awareness. This sounds obvious, but for New Yorkers in crowded venues or even ordinary citizens at work, being conscious of movement and people in your field of view, taking inventory of what’s happening around you, knowing where exits are at all times and keeping track of the whereabouts of family members and friends are important, learnable skills. All of this information can save lives in the event of a terror attack or serious emergency.

Another step is to learn CPR and first-aid training. In any disaster, bystanders or neighbors are typically the first people to encounter those who may be injured. Simply stabilizing a victim can make a life or death difference until medical responders arrive.

Finally, if you need another good reason to optimize your health and fitness, think about being “disaster ready.” Good endurance, the ability to move quickly and the strength to carry belongings (or a child) can be of enormous importance in a large-scale emergency.

New York is one of the most resilient cities in the world. It has survived traumatic terrorist attacks, major natural disasters and always remains under threat, and the people of this city never cease to find ways to bounce back and move forward. It is in this spirit that we encourage the city and its residents to adjust their thinking and messaging about how to maximize public safety when horrible events occur. As the terrorists evolve their tactics, we risk becoming more vulnerable if we do not evolve ours.