Vehicular terrorist attacks

A summary of the advice in this article is given at the end of the post.

This type of attack is more and more common these days, for reasons that are sadly all too obvious – vehicles are very simple to get hold of, and even one person can do a huge amount of damage. So it makes sense to take a little while to think about what you might do if you suddenly found yourself caught up in this situation.

And it would be sudden. On youtube, there’s a video taken by an innocent member of the crowd at Nice, when a man ploughed a lorry through the crowd and committed mass murder. Witnessing the oncoming carnage at such close range … horrendous.

It might sound futile to ask the question, but I think it’s worthwhile: what can we do to lessen the effects of this sort of attack, if we’re caught up in it? If you see something like that start to happen, and you can see you’re going to be caught up in whatever happens, what can you do?

There seem to be three stages: driving by; crashing; and maybe exploding the vehicle and/or the terrorists may go on to further attack people. So the basic advice must be the same: RUN, HIDE, TELL still applies. Other than that, and in order:

If you’re a commuter, or out and about for your work, is there an alternate route you can take that’s less crowded, less of a target? If not:

Listen to what’s going on around you; don’t wear earbuds in the street in likely target areas. Screams may be the first notice of an attack. If you hear them, you have a chance of reacting. That can be seen in the youtube video.

If you can, walk to face oncoming traffic – a terrorist could well start off the attack from a position in the normal traffic stream. If you’re in a high-risk area, the extra effort might be worthwhile, and if you see it happening, you have a chance of reacting.

You can alert other people! This might be as simple as screaming, and you might be so shocked that that’s the most you can do while literally running for your life. That’s okay. I’ve been trying to think of a phrase that’s short enough and clear enough to potentially be of help, rather than just a scream, and I’ve got stuck at “CAR BOMB”. It’s not a car bomb, of course. CAR ATTACK: maybe. WATCH OUT. If anyone has any ideas, please speak up in the comments.

If you’re weighed down with shopping, just drop your things, of course, so that you can run and hide more effectively. You’ll lose your shopping, but better that than your life. On that note, it would be nice to think you have a few things on you: your ID, your ticket or enough cash to get home, your car keys, your key to your living space, maybe a little bottle of water. These things should be in your pockets or in a bag that’s small enough to hang from a belt, or from your shoulder,so that you can run without being impeded. Your life might depend on running fast.

So then, it’s about running. Run into a building, as far inwards as you can, because the kind of lorries and vans that are being used can still penetrate a good way into a building if they’re purposely crashed.

If you can’t get into a building, then shelter in any kind of inlet – a fire door or an alcove, for instance. Jump on to a parapet, or even a windowsill, some of them are certainly deep enough. Will somebody inside open it for you? Can you smash a window to get inside a building? If the vehicle is driving past you, rather than directly at you, this could help.

I noticed in the pictures of the Stockholm attack earlier this year, that nearly all the street furniture was still standing, I thought it was curious. But if you’re caught out in the open, and you can’t get out of the way, being behind something is better than being out in the open. But of course it might not work, and none of this is foolproof in any case.

Don’t relax and think you’re safe, run/hide still applies. The first reports about the Stockholm attack sounded like the motorised attack was being combined with dispersed gunmen. And London Bridge was motorised attack plus several attackers, though they had knives rather than guns. When there’s more than one attacker, it’s almost inevitable it will take longer to catch them than if there was a single one.

No one in the area is safe until all the terrorists are caught, and any/all explosives defused. Police advice in Stockholm, when they believed another attacker might still be on the loose, was to move away from the central area of the city, and not to walk in groups. This bit in particular is about vehicle attacks. Don’t make yourself a target: we’ve all seen war films where a plucky platoon is being strafed and the sergeant yells “spread out”. Same principle. Don’t make yourself a target.

London Bridge was a bit different – armed police were on the scene in minutes and a lot of people fought back against the attackers to bar them entry into a location, and the attackers were shot dead within 8 minutes. But even so, evacuations went on throughout the night, for the police to assume they’d got them all in the first few minutes would have been playing with the lives of everyone there.

What if something like this happens in the street where you live or are staying? Are you safe to remain? Are your windows, doors and locks still secure? If they are, it might be safest to stay where you are. But listen up, constantly, to what is the official advice for people in your situation: if there’s explosives nearby that are yet to be detonated, then you might well be advised to evacuate, but only via a certain route, for example.

Think about your situation. It’s obvious now that this is such an accessible form of attack, it’s going to be here for some time. How will you respond if you’re unlucky enough to be caught up?

Shortly after I drafted this, I was walking through Westminster, and took these snaps, one is by St Margaret’s Church on Parliament Square and the other is looking at the security furniture on the edge of Trafalgar Square.

Street furniture to dodge behind, at the Houses of Parliament
Street furniture security at Trafalgar Square

The long wait I had to take comparatively clear photos reminded me of how crowded and busy these environments are: it’s very hard to protect yourself in the way I’ve described, I’m afraid. But I’m sure complete avoidance isn’t the answer either, so I’ve been up to London twice since then from my quiet little town, for optional events. And millions of people all over the world have no choice in the short or medium term, of course – where we live, where we work, our route to and from work, these things take time and effort to change. In the meantime, we do what we can, and live our lives as best we can.

Stay safe.

Summary of advice

  1. Run hide tell.
  2. Change your route to a quieter, less obvious one.
  3. Listen to the ambient sounds around you, and take notice.
  4. Walk facing oncoming traffic.
  5. Scream, shout, make people notice that something’s terribly wrong.
  6. Drop your stuff so you can run more easily.
  7. Run into a building, as far away from the road as you can.
  8. If not, shelter in any inlet available.
  9. If not, shelter behind street furniture, as a last resort.
  10. Keep running. Evacuate the area. Don’t walk in groups.
  11. If your home is in the area, seek official advice about whether it’s safer to stay or go.



2 thoughts on “Vehicular terrorist attacks

  1. Nice advice, I like the observation about the intact street furniture – good to see this post in light of recent events.

    1. Thanks! And yes, sheltering behind anything that’s available, such as street furniture, could well give you a fighting chance. It would be good to think we’ve seen the last of these attacks, but I don’t think so, unfortunately.

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