The Skills Overlap…Counter Terror Training, Pandemics and Education for Safety!!

by Laurence D Freeman MLITT (Terrorism), BScHons, CPP, AMBCI

When the Government made their move to the next stage from a lockdown, in March, to ‘Stay Alert!’ it was criticised in many quarters as confusing. I believe that most people in the security industries weren’t confused by this due to the fact that we are used to assessing risk and understood what was now required. The government were asking people to make dynamic risk assessments throughout their daily lives and, using advice given, to minimise the danger of infection.

For the past few years we have advocated the teaching of dynamic risk assessment to assist in surviving a terror attack. It has been a major part of training for media crews who are attending potentially dangerous areas, HEAT  (Hostile Environment Awareness Training) courses, and since the threat that used to only be in far off lands came to our backyards it is even more applicable for the avoidance or survival from danger, which is why we have advocated it’s teaching to everyone.

We are not always in a location where there is a plan to abide by, and even if there is a plan there needs to be a degree of free (educated) thought. We look for easy answers to counter every potential adverse event and this is sometimes not possible, but we must look for something that will put us in the best position possible to make the right decision. We cannot learn a thousand different responses, to cater for every possibility, and must look for something generic; learning ‘how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’!

We have come to accept that terrorism now happens at any geographic location that we can picture and can be in many forms. In a news report in December 2018, after an exercise concerning the heightened threat of a chlorine attack on the London underground it was stated ‘A security source involved in the exercise said: ‘The chlorine vapour would be very localised and would last a few minutes before it evaporated. While fatal, the stampede to get out of the Tube station would cost far more lives than the chemical.’ (1) This is where ‘run, hide, tell’ fails as a response on its own but with a knowledge of dynamic risk assessment individuals are more likely to make better choices. I am not saying that teaching what to do is wrong…but we are neglecting our duty of care if we don’t also teach people why they are doing something and how to make the best decision as to what to do…’how to think!’ This will reduce death and injury from ‘THE PANIC EFFECT’, which must be considered. This is beyond just teaching for the terrorist attack, which may never happen, but is something that can be taught to people in all settings and children in schools to prepare them to avoid dangers without scaring or over-egging the likelihoods of any one particular adverse event. If everyone understands how to identify danger, and then what to look for, then maybe many accidents would be avoided, and children would be able to assess situations and prevent some adverse events, such as knife crimes on housing estates.

There are limitless numbers of variables as to what adverse events can happen in life, whether these be created or natural occurrences, and so we need to prepare people by not only concentrating on what the individual should think, but on how the individual should think (especially if no ‘what to think’ has been given). If we can prepare people to think for themselves then it gives the individual greater power in decision making, and thus greater survivability.

I have no arguments with the advice ‘Run Hide Tell’ or ‘Run Hide Fight’,  (in their respective locations); or whether we should fight if we consider ourselves in an advantageous position or severely subordinate position. But I consider this advisory to be purely for if directly caught up in a marauding attack. What do we as individuals do when a bomb explodes at a concert or a football match, when chemicals are released on the tube system? Current advice, without a dynamic assessment, could lead individuals into greater danger!! Just telling people to ‘run’ or ‘hide’ without giving them a more comprehensive thought process is lazy, and we are certainly beyond this.

If used in all situations, without a dynamic risk assessment model, ‘Run. Hide. Tell (Fight)’ can be a panic response and will potentially injure/kill more people in the ensuing crush if used in the wrong environment, and no other immediate response advice is offered; see the Manchester Arena attack in 2017, Turin Champions League Fan-zone 2017, and many other locations of gatherings of people.

We needed a generic thought process that works along-side response plans, that may already be in place, to give individuals a greater chance of surviving an adverse event. There are too many variables where adverse events are concerned to have a different plan to adhere to for each event, but to have a thought process that works in any situation; which is simple, relevant and easy to remember, advancing safety and duty of care, and not increasing liability should be the aim! The strategist William S. Lind (author of the Manoeuvre Warfare Handbook), an advocate of USAF Colonel and military strategist John Boyd’s OODA loop cycle of response, also believes that we should look at “how” to think, instead of teaching just “what” to think, seeing the importance in education to be the ability to think logically, and to problem solve methodically, without a predetermined set of solutions. He argued that students should be taught to make quick decisions through a coherent, logical thought process while under pressure! (2) Surely, this is what we want an individual to do when faced with any adverse event!!

I had looked at the OODA Loop (Observe, Assess (Orient), Decide, Act) and considered this a good baseline for general decision making. This model explains how agility of thought and process can overcome raw power through response repetition to break enemy response cohesion. I had previously looked at active shooter response models in the US, such as ALICE and ONE and I looked at my own life experiences of emergency operational response:

As a Royal Marine Commando if attacked; taking cover, locating the enemy (the threat), identifying safer routes and locations, making a plan from information gleaned and eliminating the threat!

As a Police Officer in a dangerous situation; making assessments of the threat, assessing where your safest locations and routes to them were, and planning on how to deal with the situation!

On many security and safety courses, for example first-aid courses, the initial action  is assessing threats to your own safety and locating safer areas and routes to them, before making a medical plan and approaching any injured persons.
As a human, an animal, we are survivors. We measure up threats, vulnerabilities and risks in most actions that we perform, to varying degrees. Consider breaking down the relatively simple process of walking across a road!!! (locate the threat, identify safe locations and safe routes, focus on plan but keep looking and listening for other threats [re-evaluate if required], and escape)

‘LIFE Principles’ are simple. This is basic survival. The honing of a dynamic risk assessment skill we already possess, with reasoned thought behind the steps you should naturally take in simple, complex or high-stress situations

‘L.I.F.E. Principles’ dynamic risk assessment thought process model

Look around and use all of your senses to locate threats to your safety…..attackers, roof collapse, gas leaks, electric cabling, chemical spills, (persons who may be carrying a virus), etc. (this is not necessarily the threat that has caused the incident, but the threats now facing the individual)

Use available cover from view and assault.

Consider that routes and exits may present greater dangers, through potential crushing or secondary attack.

Identify potential exits and safer locations, and the routes to these. If you already know where your escape routes are time will be saved when you need them.

Persons should be aware of all potential exit points.

Do not necessarily follow the crowd or be involved in a stampede or crushing situation if it can be avoided. If you know of several exits, it may be you who avoid the crush and avoid the secondary attack on an evacuating crowd from a second, third or fourth suicide bomber!!

If you are able, and can do so without putting your own safety at risk, assist others.

Focus on a clear plan to move away from identified dangers which may put you at harm, via

routes and exits you have identified, or find the safest location available until the opportunity arises to do so.

Think about staying put if this is the considered the safest place. (if you don’t know what you are running into and you don’t need to run, then don’t run there!!)

Use an educated survival instinct (not just a ‘flight’ instinct), taking into account all the prior knowledge you have, and everything picked up by your senses and judgement!

Re-evaluate your response with continual assessment required as fresh information comes to you!

Escape to a place of safety as soon as possible (this may mean staying where you are, if you consider this to be the safest place available at that time). This may save you from crushing or a secondary device targeted at the largest group of escapees.

Continually re-evaluate until this opportunity can be taken.

Everyone should be aware of basic dynamic risk assessment, and thus reduce panic response. I believe that it is important to not teach anything which conflicts with government guidance, and I believe that this dynamic risk assessment model works alongside ‘Run-Hide-Tell’ (as an addition to it). It is a model made to be memorable and suit any adverse event, not just a marauding attack! If you have plans, that’s great!…having educated people respond is even better, and if you don’t have plans but have educated people then at least their response will consider options.

At the Champions League 2017 Final in the Turin Fan Zone there was a crushing incident after a fire-cracker was let off and the crowd ran. There were over 1000 casualties/ 8 critical (including an 8 year old boy) and one death.

In the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay shooting incident in October 2017, there were 59 fatalities and over 851 injured (910 casualties in total)…..only 422 out of this were from gunshot wounds, with more than half injured or killed by other means in the panic.

In the UK, the partial IED explosion in September 2017 on the Parsons Green tube train created 23 burn injuries, with 28 others injured in the ensuing stampede. Dynamic risk assessment helps in reducing a panic response!!!

Dynamic assessment can be made in a split second…obviously the longer you have to assess a situation, the more factors you will assess and the more accurate your assessment may be….but teaching people how to think instead of what to think breeds a more natural response, and doesn’t mean learning many plans for many eventualities.

The US military continues to make studies on 6th sense survival which has saved soldiers’ lives in conflicts, showing that assessments are potentially made before we even realise that we are making them, and this further increases the significance of dynamic risk assessment.

When you are taking your measures during the current pandemic and ‘Staying Alert’ at the local supermarket, put into practice the LIFE Principles. Identify threats, locate safer locations and routes to them, focus on your plan but continually evaluate, and escape the situation!

Laurence D Freeman MLITT (Terrorism), BScHons, CPP, AMBCI


1 – Jamie Schwandt, ‘Why we should stop teaching Clausewitz’ 27/2/19

2 – Mark Nicol, Mail on Sunday, 8/12/18