How to Survive a Lone Wolf Terror Attack

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There is no guaranteed way to avoid a terror attack, but there are things you can do that will increase your chances of survival.

Photo © iStock/franckreporter

With the number of lone wolf terror attacks on the rise across the world, and with little prospect of governments being able to prevent them, it’s time to take matters into our own hands and do whatever is possible to protect ourselves in an incident.

Security authorities around the world now agree that the best course of action is NOT to shelter in place – in other words, hide under your desk – but to RUN to safety if you can, or to HIDE in a secure location.

During the June 2017 London Bridge terror attack, UK police used this protocol for the first time: Run, Hide, Tell is their mantra, but the head of London Police’s anti-terrorism unit also adds in this video explaining the strategy, that if both of those actions fail to protect you, and you come face-to-face with an attacker you may choose to fight back – physically.

Run, hide, fight

The US Department of Homeland Security is more explicit and includes FIGHT as it’s a third part of the strategy. This is a methodology that has proven a success and was put into action in the London Borough market attack.

Scores of ordinary people confronted by the armed terrorists fought back by throwing tables and chairs and drink glasses. Reports suggest the first police officer on the scene at London Bridge took on all 3 terrorists while armed with just his baton, and was very effective – the so-called lone wolf turned out to be stray mutts it seems.

You don’t have to be armed to fight back, you can use with anything you have, an umbrella, a tape dispenser (they’re usually quite heavy), even a pen. But is vital that you commit to the fight, and don’t stop until you are dead or the attacker has stopped.

The number one survival tip


Run, Hide, Tell (and Fight) are actions to take when you’re in the moment. But how you prepare for that moment is crucial. It is natural human instinct to freeze when something unusual occurs. It is actually taking the brain a few seconds to comprehend this abnormal behavior. It’s called normalcy latency. Almost all of the deaths in an active shooter situation occur in the first few minutes while victims are stunned and try to make a decision about what to do.

If you have already made up your mind about what to do in such a situation – through preparation – you can spring into action (run, hide), and those seconds may keep you alive. There’s a theory and deep research behind this method. If you want to know more look up the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) that is credited to master military strategist John Boyd – starting with this great article, then follow the links. 

How to prepare

  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep yourself on low-level alert. Gunfire doesn’t sound like it does in the movies, it’s more like a popping sound, which is why so many people say they thought the gunfire was a car backfire or fireworks. Don’t ignore that sound. Establish as quickly as possible where the sound is coming from, and make a decision on whether you need to act (run, hide)
  • Check out all the exits from your location. Walking through a shopping mall, look for the green exit signs. Restaurants always have an exit out the back in the kitchen area, it may be closer and safer than the front door
  • Be alert to unusual behavior. If you see someone enter a building through an unusual route, such as a fire escape, be prepared. It might just be that person’s shortcut, but if he pulls out a weapon you’re already ahead of the game and ready to act
  • Avoid the worst of the crowds. Terrorists aim to inflict maximum damage so they look for crowds of people. This was the situation in the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017. Crowds of people shuffling through the venue exits were hit with the full force of the blast. Sit in your seat in the venue until the worst of the crowds have passed.

Don’t be paranoid

Be prepared but don’t be paranoid. Sadly these are skills we will have to incorporate into our daily lives, but they don’t have to be a burden. For example, we all know that stepping out in front of traffic could have deadly consequences. To combat that we know to look before we step out. We do it instinctively, but we had to learn that skill. Schools teach it to young children and parents are always reinforcing that message.

One day soon checking for exits, listening for sounds, observing unusual behavior and having a plan of action will be just as instinctive.

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